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A Master in Adventures - Fall 2021

by April Marciszewski

man in plaid shirt

At 75, Dale Bennett still has a bucket list. He and his late wife, Marilynn, traveled “all over Europe, Canada, Mexico, South America, China. Never did make Australia and New Zealand — they’re still on my bucket list.”

In January, Bennett embarked on another life goal: earning a master’s degree. He moved back to Oklahoma City from Dallas to attend his alma mater, Oklahoma City University.

“The thing that really caught my attention was the new program in fraud and forensic accounting,” he said.

“My goal is to finish it in the next two years so I can graduate at the same time my oldest grandson graduates from OSU,” he said. His grandson has already suggested a photo of the pair in graduation robes.

In 1968, Bennett completed his bachelor’s in accounting. Back then, tight-knit business classes met in barracks where the Freede Wellness and Activity Center is now. Bennett got married between his junior and senior years and went to work for the prestigious Arthur Andersen accounting firm after graduation. After a couple of years, he realized he was giving advice as a consultant that companies didn’t take to heart, so he went into industry as a controller to “do the things that I thought needed to be done,” he said.

When he got bored with that work, he followed the itch to travel, accepting a job as controller that sent him to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa in the mid-1970s.

“I seemed to always pick a time to go visit a job where there was a coup about to happen or there was a flare-up,” he said. “I was 25 at the time. It was a really interesting and fun experience because I wasn’t old enough to know better.”

In Lagos, Nigeria, he’d sit outside the fence of the compound where he was staying, having drinks and watching soldiers go by in almost a formality of passing the leadership torch. He waited two months for the coup to play out before he could return home to his wife and children.

“It wasn’t so much the problem of being trapped but the problem of not communicating,” he said. “The only way to place a long-distance call was to go to the telephone company, find the operator, give her a gift, and sit and wait for the call to be connected, which generally took some number of hours.”

In Iraq, he recalled seeing an armed person at every major intersection, but feeling safe in the city at late night restaurants. “We walked all over Baghdad at 1 or 2 in the morning.”

“I think it probably made me more independent and a bit more intellectually curious,” Bennett said. “One of the things I wanted to do was make sure I got all the grandkids to Europe before they started college. I think it’s really good for them to see the world’s a little bit different than Oklahoma City or Dallas.”

“Dale has always been very enthusiastic about whatever he’s doing,” said his longtime friend Gary Weed of Oklahoma City. “He was very successful in moving up the corporate ladder. He’s bright, intelligent and honest.”

Weed and James Seikel, of Edmond, both met Bennett in junior high. They kept up over the years when Bennett visited family in Oklahoma, they and their wives traveled together extensively over the past 10 to 15 years, and now with Bennett back in town, they meet for lunch several times a week.

“Dale is just a really unusual guy,” Seikel said. “What you see is what you get. He’s even-tempered. The Dale you know today is the Dale I knew five years ago and 50 years ago. He’s one of the smarter people that I know, and I know some pretty smart people. He uses 100% of what he’s got. He’s just a remarkable guy. He’s pretty much an expert on everything, as far as I know.”

Earlier this fall at lunch, the trio discussed forensic accounting and an ammonia scam from the 1950s, Seikel said. “Dale went home and researched it, and in two days, he knew more than I know about it.”

In the late ’70s, when cable TV was beginning to proliferate, Bennett began working in communications, helping build cable TV in Houston, along with three radio stations and a TV station. He went on to work for Telecommunications, Inc., the world’s largest cable TV company at the time, and essentially operated a freestanding business regionally, with his own budget and staff.

He was recruited by a hedge fund to take a company through bankruptcy. They turned that into Suddenlink Communications and started buying cable systems all over the country, he said. And for several years, he served as president and CEO of Classic Communications Corp., a cable TV company in Tyler, Texas, serving 350,000 people in 300 communities and nine states.

“I enjoyed challenges, so that’s why I moved from market to market or assignment to assignment every two or three years. Once you move to a particular marketplace, that market and that operation usually has problems, and it’s fun to spend a couple of years trying to solve those problems.”

When his wife, Marilynn, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Bennett decided to retire and spend time with her. They moved to Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma, where Marilynn’s sister and brother-in-law had retired, and operated a ranch on about 1,000 acres. Bennett had lived on a ranch in northwestern Oklahoma until he was 10, and even when the family moved to Oklahoma City, his father kept several dozen acres on the edge of town. Bennett didn’t appreciate it at the time, but he remembers rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. on Saturdays as a teenager to feed cattle, fix fences or otherwise handle that week’s chores. As an adult in Texas, he appreciated the outdoors so much, he became a North Texas Master Naturalist, restoring prairies and volunteering in state parks.

Weed thinks the master’s degree at OCU may be a new beginning for Bennett, after his wife died four years ago. “He doesn’t need the feather in his cap,” Weed said. “He’s a curious person, and he enjoys doing the work.”

Bennett said he never wants to stop learning. “It’s a little bit difficult to not dominate discussions in class. I think I’ve learned that lesson,” he said. “That, and I’ve learned, unfortunately, that my short-term memory is not nearly what it was 50 years ago. Quizzes are harder. The technology is challenging. Those are the major challenges. But it’s much more fun than it is challenging.”

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