According to the 1965 Pacemaker, the yearbook of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (COMS), now DMU, William “Bill” Benyak came to Des Moines “after securing his degree in chemistry and his lovely wife Donalie.” As a COMS student, he was a pathology assistant, did research in biochemistry, served on the student council his second year and “was a key man on the sophomore championship bowling team.”
“Bill’s talents and ability assure him a successful lifetime of practice,” the yearbook stated.
Those were prescient words: Dr. Benyak went on to practice in Flint, MI, for more than 25 years. After retiring in 1987, he and Donalie moved to Fort Myers, FL, where he helped establish a free dental clinic for needy children. He founded Special Equestrians, a riding program for children and adults with disabilities and served as its first president and treasurer. He volunteered for and was a board member, for 15 years, of The Nations Association, which provides food, clothing and jobs for the homeless. He also tutored anatomy and physiology at a local community college. The recipient of a heart valve replacement, he volunteered at Health Park Hospital, talking with patients and families about their heart procedures.
“He was very active in the community,” Donalie says. She met him pre-COMS, when he was a chiropractor in Flint. “I was his first patient. When I left his office, I said, ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry.’ I just had the feeling this is the guy for me.”
She was right. They enjoyed a loving partnership for 60 years until Dr. Benyak died on Aug. 10, 2018. And while the couple hasn’t visited the DMU campus since he graduated, she plans to attend this year’s reunion. DMU alumni of 50 years and more are honored as the University’s “gold medallion” graduates.
“I got his invitation to the reunion, saw the University was going to honor all those classes and that spouses of deceased alumni were invited,” she says. “I decided that I’ll go in his stead as a way to honor him. Bill would have liked that.”
Donalie had her own career adventures. She always wanted to go to college but didn’t have the opportunity until the couple moved to Florida. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees – sometimes taking the same classes with their daughter, Val – and practiced as a mental health counselor for 10 years, working with children and teens. Though retired, she continues to volunteer at nursing homes, offering friendship and conversation to residents.
Counseling wasn’t her first job, however. While her husband was a COMS student, she worked at Bankers Trust and then Armstrong Rubber and a grocery store near their apartment in the Beaverdale neighborhood. Meanwhile, Bill worked at Westover Funeral Home, which had just opened; the two would go there on hot summer days because it had air-conditioning. On some holidays they’d go to the home of David and Evelyn Celander, professor/chair and assistant professor, respectively, of biochemistry. Their years in Des Moines were not without friction, however.
“I’m an activist and very outspoken. This was the ’60s,” Donalie says. “The college told Bill that I’d better not be caught marching in any parade or demonstration, or he wouldn’t graduate.”
Are you a medallion graduate as a member of the classes of 1994, 1979, 1969 or earlier years? Then you’d better not be caught missing the fun of your reunion! To see the schedule of events, find out who’s coming, register your attendance and more, visit the reunion website.