From nominations made by alumni, faculty, trustees, administrators, and students, the Duke Alumni Association has selected Edward Hartley Benenson '34 to receive the 2002 Distinguished Alumni Award. The highest honor presented to alumni, the award was established in 1983 by the Duke Alumni Association to recognize graduates who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity. Distinguished Alumni Award winners are recognized each year at Founders' Day ceremonies in early October.
Benenson, who graduated from Duke with a major in art history, is chair and owner of Benenson Funding Corporation, a real estate business. An Army veteran of World War II, he is a decorated officer of France's Ordre de Merite (Legion of Merit), and received the gold medal of Renaissance FranÁaise and the bronze medal of the City of Paris. He is also a Knight of the Order of St. John of Malta, a member of the board of overseers for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a trustee of Lebanon Hospital and the American Ballet Theater.
Over the years, Benenson's service to Duke has ranged from the Marine Lab to the athletics program. Much of his attention has been directed to Duke Medical Center, where he chaired the board of visitors and played a major role in drafting the financial plan and securing funding for Duke Hospital North. He endowed a scholarship at the School of Medicine, has been a major sponsor of the medical center's annual Palm Beach Forum, has contributed generously to the Children's Health Center, and has been on the steering committee for the "Keeping the Promise of Medicine" campaign.
A lifetime member and former chair of the Friends of the Duke University Museum of Art, Benenson has been an important advocate for the arts on campus. He established the Benenson Awards in the Arts at Duke's Institute of the Arts, along with the Benenson Lecture Series in the Arts. "At a time when there was very little financial support for artistic endeavors at Duke, the establishment of the annual Benenson Awards in the Arts met a great need for an underserved portion of the student population," says Kathy Silbiger, director of the Institute of the Arts. "That need continues, but the Benenson Awards have led the way and set the standard for how to encourage students to develop their talents to the fullest and to undertake socially meaningful projects."
Since 1981, when the first Benenson Awards were given, more than 200 students have directly benefited from the program. Their endeavors have included art-historical research leading to publications; creative summer projects resulting in exhibitions, films, or musical compositions; and participation in summer educational institutions, such as the Aspen Music Festival and the British American Drama Academy.
In 1979, Benenson was elected to Duke's board of trustees, where he served on its executive committee. He was named trustee emeritus in 1985. He and his wife, Gladys, live in New York City and Palm Beach and have four children, including Thomas Benenson '64; a granddaughter and a niece have Duke degrees, and a grandson is a Duke sophomore.