COLUMBIA — Jill Kovacs said her stepfather was the most intelligent person she’d ever met.
In 24 years of working at the Electronics Instrument Lab at MU, William Bennett helped to design electro-shock fishing boxes, instruments measuring hip dysphasia and electronic insect monitors.
At home, Mr. Bennett read thousands of books. He invented and patented machines. He was a Civil War history buff. He had a green thumb. He built his own color TV.
Nothing was beyond Mr. Bennett. He even taught himself to bake focaccia bread. People who knew him said he could do anything he put his mind to.
William Hughes Bennett, of Otterville, formerly of Columbia, died of cancer on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, at his home. He was 66.
Mr. Bennett was born Aug. 28, 1945, in Tulsa, Okla., to William K. and Ruth (Hughes) Bennett. He married Joyce Brumback on Feb. 1, 1992.
Joyce Bennett said her husband was self-taught in everything. He would start from scratch and then build things that “made a difference in the world.”
Mr. Bennett rebuilt the organ at Bunceton Federated Church several times. “He had been told it couldn’t be fixed and he fixed it,” she said.
He influenced his oldest stepson's career interest in computer software.
“I can remember him showing me how I could edit files in the computer game to boost my stats,” Ryan Gerling said. “Basically, he taught me how to cheat in the computer games.” Gerling would then spend hours figuring out how to hack the games himself.
The four to five pots of coffee Mr. Bennett drank a day might have aided his productivity. “He drank coffee right before he went to bed and it wouldn’t faze him a bit,” Kovacs said.
He was also a remarkable cook and would work “from a recipe in his head,” she said.
“My friends, too, would say he should open a restaurant.”
Mr. Bennett volunteered for several years at the Bunceton and Pilot Grove schools. He worked alongside Terry Lorenz, the technology coordinator at Pilot Grove.
“He was very good at identifying and troubleshooting workstation problems,” Lorenz said.
Despite never finishing his bachelor’s degree, Mr. Bennett co-authored scientific studies with USDA entomologist Elaine A. Backus, a former MU professor.
Mr. Bennett graduated from Landon School in Bethesda, Md., where he was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. He then attended Washington University in St. Louis. Just prior to graduation, Mr. Bennett joined the Navy and served his country for seven years.
Mrs. Bennett explained her husband’s decision to join the Navy.
“He saw on the cover of Life magazine, in 1967, his father’s best friend’s son. He was in a rice paddy. He knew if Col. Grace’s son was over there, serving, that’s what he needed to do.”
Trained by the Navy as a data systems specialist, he was stationed aboard the USS Jouett, DLG-29.
Mr. Bennett worked for 24 years at the Electronics Instrument Lab, which supported all electronics on campus. He retired in 1999 and continued working with Backus through his in-home business, EPG Equipment.
Mr. Bennett patented an electronic, insect-feeding monitor together with Backus in April. They had developed the device for 15 years, she said.
The machine allows researchers around the world to learn how some of the world’s “most devastating” insects feed on crops, Backus said.
Mr. Bennett co-authored scientific papers and a chapter in an entomology book with Backus and spoke at entomology workshops she presented.
He served on the board of Bunceton Federated Church, where he and Mrs. Bennett also brought vegetables from their home garden, his stepson Michael Gerling said. He was also a moderator for the electronics bulletin board allaboutcircuits.com
“I think Bill was a stand-up guy,” Lorenz said. “He understood the importance and value of work. He had a work ethic that was just second to none.”
Mr. Bennett is survived by his wife, Joyce Bennett; three stepchildren, Ryan Gerling, and his wife, Sarah, of Columbia, Michael Gerling, and his wife, Jennifer, of Edwardsville, Ill., Jillian Kovacs, and her husband, Ryan, of St. Peters; and three grandchildren, Charlotte Gerling, Marcus Gerling and Emily Kovacs.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to: Smithton Public School’s Backpack Program, 505 E. Myrtle Ave., Smithton, MO 65350; the Boonville Animal Shelter, 525 East Spring St., Boonville, MO 65233; or the Bunceton Federated Church, 201 E. College St., Bunceton, MO 65237.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Arrangements will be made by Harmony Crematory in Sedalia.