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Longtime University athletics photographer dies

| Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mike Bennett, a photographer who spent nearly 40 years capturing major moments in Notre Dame athletics history, died Monday after a short battle with cancer, according to a University press release published Tuesday. He was 69 years old.

Bennett was a ubiquitous presence at University sporting events, the release said.

Photo courtesy of Zach Zeller

University athletics photographer Mike Bennett died Monday after a short battle with cancer.

“Often armed with multiple cameras and brightly colored shirt-and-tie combinations, Bennett had a warm smile and positive demeanor that made him a beloved figure among student-athletes, coaches and anyone who spent enough time around the Irish program,” the release said.

A native of South Bend, Bennett aspired to photograph Notre Dame athletics since a young age and started working in photography in 1974, according to the release. He photographed his first Notre Dame football game in 1982.

Since 1986, the company Bennett founded, Lighthouse Images, has “furnished a large majority of Notre Dame athletics’ photography needs,” the release said.

Athletics director Jack Swarbrick saluted Bennett’s service to the University, saying the photographer brought a spirit of optimism to everything he did.

“Mike Bennett made everything and everyone he touched better — the natural consequence of his uncompromising professionalism and unfailingly positive personality,” Swarbrick said in the release. “Mike’s smile and his willingness to help both were ever-present. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him, but his memory, his impact and the images he captured will remain part of the fabric of Notre Dame Athletics for years to come.”

Many current Notre Dame athletics officials, including head football coach Brian Kelly, head women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw and men’s head basketball coach Mike Brey paid tribute to Bennett.

“Mike’s impact on people went beyond Notre Dame and our football program,” Kelly said in the release. “He was always willing to lend a hand to the Kelly Cares Foundation and so many other organizations over the years, asking for nothing in return. He was always there to tell a story, which he did through pictures. Paqui and I will miss him greatly, as will the Notre Dame family.”

McGraw said Bennett was present for all of her team’s big moments over the years, including two national championships in 2001 and 2018.

“I can’t think of a celebration that we have had at Notre Dame in which Mike Bennett wasn’t a part of. He was there for every big moment, from the start of our season with the team photo, all the way to the Final Four,” McGraw said in the release.

Bennett wasn’t just the team photographer, McGraw said.

“He was always so much more than a photographer to us — he was a part of our women’s basketball family,” she said. “Whenever I think of him it brings a smile to my face. He will always be a part of us and we will treasure his memory every time we see one of his iconic photos.”

Brey said Bennett always stood out among the photographers covering a particular event.

“After games or at athletic department events, there can be a number of different photographers taking photos, but I always knew to look for Mike and his lens,” Brey said in the release. “He was such a class act.”

Bennett married his wife Sue in 1975, and the couple has three daughters.

In 2003, the release said, Bennett was presented with an honorary monogram jacket. In a note written the next day, the photographer reflected on his work and expressed a hope that he was contributing, at least in a small way, to the ethos of the University.

“I have had the honor and privilege to capture many Notre Dame moments over the past 20 years,” Bennett wrote. “… But Notre Dame has done so much more for me than I could ever do for Her — the roar of the football stadium, the quietness of the Grotto and the friendships. It’s amazing, only at Notre Dame! So if I can capture a moment in time to bring back a memory or stir up an emotion, then I hope I am contributing a very small part to the Notre Dame Spirit, past, present and future.”

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