Distinguished Alumna 1996
Lahoma Bertram Benke


"Benke passes love of learning to future generations"
From the Fall 1996 Cameron Today

Affection for knowledge and for Cameron University are among the qualities of Lahoma Bertram Benke, one of this year's distinguished alumni honorees.

Born in 1915 in Lawton, Benke graduated from St. Mary's High School and received an associates degree from Cameron in 1935.

After raising a family, she returned to Cameron in 1984, completed 27 hours of Spanish with a 4.0 grade point and took a semester of French classes before health problems forced her to discontinue her studies. At the time, she was also finishing 30 hours in theology at Newman College in Wichita, Kan.

"I took the Spanish courses to assist with my church ministry work and because I had Spanish-speaking foreign exchange students as house guests, " she explained.

Lahoma found the Lawton campus quite different from the junior college where she obtained her degree nearly 50 years earlier. Finding a parking place within steps of the classroom was not an issue when Benke attended CU in the 1930s. She took a bus from the courthouse in downtown Lawton to the campus for a nickel, then walked home (near where the main post office now stands) at the end of the school day. Her desire to obtain an education made distance unimportant.

"My husband, Carl, (who died in 1983) had an eighth grade education, but he valued learning and encouraged his family to further their educations. My father also had a love of learning. During the Depression, he managed to save $60 to purchase a Book of Knowledge set to teach himself," she said.

The family's thirst for knowledge continues to be passed through generations. Lahoma has 11 children, 47 grandchildren and 33 great grandchildren. Through her example and encouragement, 13 of her children and grandchildren have obtained degrees from Cameron; eight others attended, and more plan to attend. Of the remaining family members, 20 have attended or received degrees from other universities.

Her influence does not stop with her family. She has hosted six foreign exchange students in her home, and two of them have received Cameron degrees.

A homemaker for 60 years, she has also found time to be a community volunteer and an active member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. St. Mary's Parochial School honored her as 1994 Matriarch of the Family of the Year. A 4-H Club leader for 20 years, she is also a volunteer for Birthchoice of Lawton. For more than 15 years, she taught religious education to teenagers and adolescents.

At Cameron, she has been inducted into Phi Sigma Iota, an international foreign language honor society. She has established an endowment fund which provides scholarship awards for foreign language students.

Lahoma summed up her philosophy for raising a family and the importance of education with the following quote:

"Train a daughter and you've trained a family. Educate a child and you've educated a family."