Couple with Richmond ties establishes endowed scholarship to give back

It was a simple decision for Mike and Wendy Bennett to leave a lasting legacy at Indiana University East.

The Bennetts like the university’s energy, inclusiveness and results; they think IU East is a jewel in Wayne County.

Wendy and Mike Bennett

“We have been blessed in many ways,” says Wendy, who retired in 2016 after three decades as an educator. “Our youngest son, Brett, has traveled the world, even while an IU East student. IU East was a perfect fit for him.”

The Bennetts are donating $50,000. It’s expected that other gifts and matches will more than double that amount when the Bennett Scholarship becomes available. “We are not rich by any means, but we believe in giving back. Fortunately, we have a way to do that,” Wendy says. “We hope that this gift challenges others to create scholarships, too.”

The scholarship serves as a way to honor the lives of Mike’s younger brother, Steve, who died by suicide as a teenager and Wendy’s older brother, Wes, who died in 2001 after battling physical ailments for much of his life.

“It’s not a requirement, but we are asking that students be highly considered after overcoming an adversity in life, whether that be physical, mental, legal or familial,” Mike says about the scholarship criteria. “We believe in second chances and in institutions that encourage them.”

The Bennetts want to inspire and help non-traditional full-time students, such as mothers and fathers going back to school or those seeking changes in careers. The scholarship will be available for tuition costs to sophomores, juniors or seniors that have graduated from a public high school in Wayne County and have had at least a three-year gap between high school and starting at IU East.

Because of financial reasons, both of the Bennetts weren’t able to start college immediately after high school. They both graduated in 1979 from colleges in Springfield, Missouri, with a lot of help from grants, scholarships and summer jobs.

Mike worked 33 years as a writer and editor for Gannett Newspapers, including 10 at the Palladium-Item in Richmond.

Wendy worked for three decades as a teacher and principal, including 13 years with Richmond Community Schools.

Brett Bennett is employed at the University of Western Sydney in Australia as a researcher and professor of environmental history.  He received a Bachelor of Arts in History in 2006 from IU East before earning his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Texas-Austin. He has authored many books and also written numerous articles for professional publications worldwide.

He also has pioneered a program that brings college students from UWS into the Kruger National Park of South Africa for two weeks of study.

“Brett developed his love for forestry and for worldwide travel while attending IU East,” says Mike Bennett. “His story and the stories of dozens of other graduates prove that IU East isn’t just connected to Wayne County and the region: It’s connected to the world.”

Mike works part-time as a writer for IU East. “I love writing positive articles about the creativity and the successes of the university’s students, staff and administration,” he says. “This is a special place with many special people.”

One reason it’s special, he notes, is that it also serves as a valuable community leader.

“I have met dozens of people of all ages who have attended IU East and gone on to successful careers,” Mike says. “Hopefully, our gift helps students find their paths to a better life and a better world.”

This gift will count toward the $3 billion campaign, For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign. IU East’s campaign goal is $7 million, which will help fund a variety of campus initiatives, student scholarships and strategic projects. Find out more about IU East and ways to assist the campus at

For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign is taking place on all IU-administered campuses including IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU South Bend, and IU Southeast. The campaign will conclude in June 2020 to coincide with IU’s bicentennial year celebration. To learn more about the campaign, its impact, and how to participate, please visit

Founded in 1936, the Indiana University Foundation maximizes private support for Indiana University by fostering lifelong relationships with key stakeholders and providing advancement leadership and fundraising services for campuses and units across the university. Today, the IU Foundation oversees one of the largest public university endowments in the country, with a market value in excess of $2 billion. IU is consistently ranked among the top four of Big Ten universities in annual voluntary support.