Theodore J. Benac, 85, math teacher, longest-serving professor at academy

November 13, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Theodore J. Benac, who taught mathematics at the Naval Academy for 56 years and was the academy's longest-serving professor, died of cancer Sunday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The Annapolis resident was 85.

Dr. Benac taught algorithms, square roots, calculus, algebra, mechanics, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics to thousands of midshipmen.

Described by colleagues as "dedicated, patient, self-confident and effervescent," he was teaching two required undergraduate math courses at the time of his death.

"Ted Benac was one of the true giants among our faculty," William C. Miller, academic dean and provost, said yesterday. "He helped build the mathematics faculty into the splendid department it is today. In his love of teaching, he serves as a role model for us all."

In a 1990 article in The Sun, Dr. Benac described himself as "an old mathematics professor who loves to get into the classroom and give his spiel, and that's about it. I have a tendency to be offbeat. I like to perform up there.

"I think of myself, as much as anything, as a salesman. I have a product to sell. I have to sell something to a group of people, so I have a pitch that will be meaningful to a group of people."

In addition to teaching the required undergraduate math courses, he was chairman of the mathematics department for 12 years and coordinated the innovative "calculus with computers" program that began in 1969.

In 1990, he was named Maryland State Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support Education.

From 1962 to 1971, he also taught graduate courses in abstract algebra at Catholic University in Washington.

Dr. Benac joined the academy faculty in July 1941. He served on the admissions board and numerous curriculum committees; wrote three textbooks; translated five textbooks from German to English; and was a prolific contributor to the American Mathematical Society and the International Mathematics Congress.

Born in Lisbon, Conn., he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and philosophy from St. Michael's College in Vermont in 1933, a master's degree in science and mathematics from Connecticut State College in 1934 and a doctorate in mathematics from Yale University in 1941.

In the 1990 Sun article, he said, "There was never any question that I would be a teacher. If I had to do it all over again, I would still be a teacher. I love math and I love to talk to people."

"It's been great," he said of his career. "It's no different than it ever was. Every night, I walk across here, and there isn't a night that goes by that I'm not stopped by a midshipman who says, 'Good evening, sir.' This is the best of all worlds. To me, teaching midshipmen is just a privilege all the way through."

Dr. Benac was a communicant of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9: 30 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Virginia Mutter; two sons, Peter Benac of Bowie and Michael Benac of Indianapolis; a daughter, Susan Benac of Crownsville; a sister, Yvonne Benac of Annapolis; and five grandchildren.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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