Don Benninghoven '55 Joins Cal Beta SAE Chapter Eternal

Don Benninghoven '55 lost his battle to cancer on Nov. 17, 2023, in Santa Barbara, CA. He fought the disease as he dealt with all aspects of his life: with humor, grace, and a positive attitude. He passed peacefully with his family by his side.

Don is survived by Sheri, his wife of 31 years; sister Ann Hammond and Dr. Richard; sister-in-law Anne Benninghoven; three children - Dr. Scott Benninghoven and Pam, Kim Benninghoven and Monte Short, and Jill Keimach and Ron; four grandchildren - David Benninghoven (Shannon), Alyssa Maruyama (Danny), Stephen Keimach, and Rowen Short; and numerous nieces, a nephew and their children.

Born in Bakersfield in 1933, Don grew up in San Mateo, California, the middle child of Dr. Carl and Hazel Benninghoven. Carl had a successful radiology practice on the Bay Area Peninsula. Hazel was active with numerous charities. They raised three children: Don’s older brother, Jim, who died in 1985 and younger sister, Ann.

Some of the traits that were the result of being the middle child proved key to Don’s success in life, including being a skilled negotiator, able to resolve conflicts, having tremendous empathy, and able to find common ground. 

Don was expected to attend UC Berkeley and eventually attend medical school - a vision made clear by his parents but, as with most children, he eventually found his own path. After two years at Berkeley, and considering fields from medicine to forestry, he enlisted in the US Army. His stories of his Army service in Heidelberg, Germany during the Korean War were legendary and quite hilarious, especially the notion of serving as a medical technician based exclusively on his high school job driving X-ray films between medical offices for his father. 

Following military service, Don returned to UC Berkeley to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration, a choice based on his serving as mayor in a high school youth-in-government day. He found a passion for city government, leading him to the League of California Cities in Sacramento. There, he and his former wife Lynne raised their family enjoying weekends at a family cabin in Pinecrest and sailing on the San Francisco Bay. They enjoyed skiing, camping, sailing, and socializing with neighbors. 

Don’s remarkable 40-year career with the League of California Cities, the last 26 as Executive Director, saw him work with some of the major figures in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., including seven California governors, from Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan to Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also worked with and became friends with several leading mayors, including Tom Bradley and Dianne Feinstein. He found a calling that ensured local government leaders had the flexibility and resources to carry out local goals. He influenced major legislation that continues to impact the lives of all Californians. And while the accomplishments were major, he felt his career was a great one because of the dedicated people he worked with, including the League staff, elected officials, and staff from all the cities he encountered during his career.

Don met wife Sheri while both worked at the League, she as the director of communications. They married after several years of working together, knowing each had found in the other a true love and someone with whom to have fun, enjoy life, and spend their remaining years. 

Don and Sheri moved to Santa Barbara in 2000. They found a church home and dear friends at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. They enjoyed activities where they could be together, whether at church, fly fishing throughout the western US, playing golf, tennis, and lawn bowling, or traveling. Theirs was a special relationship forged in love and respect.

In retirement, Don was asked to carry out one more major public policy initiative: to help pass the Marine Life Protection Act to address overfishing of marine life along California’s coast. In partnership with a veteran capitol staffer, Ken Wiseman and large team of talented scientists and others, Don’s tireless ability to negotiate among virtually an unlimited list of opponents was on full display. His appointment to the California Fish and Wildlife Commission to ensure passage was quite a ride.  Don was incredibly proud that this work would have an impact for generations. 

A memorial service will take place on March 16 at 1 p.m. at All Saints-by-the-Sea, 83 Eucalyptus Lane, Santa Barbara CA 93108. Donations may be made to All Saints Outreach or to the Institute for Local Government, Sacramento.