On February 23, the angry misfit pointed his hunting rifle at a group of middle school students, firing indiscriminately into the crowds and wounding two teenagers, one critically. As the shooter tried to reload his bolt-action rifle, a 6-foot-5 man tackled the assailant, subduing him before he could hurt anyone else.
Being hailed as a hero by Denver media, his colleagues and students, middle school math teacher Dr. David Benke risked his life to take down a violent man who could have expanded the meaning of “Columbine” to yet another Littleton school. The students of Deer Creek Middle School on Columbine Drive are doing okay today, thanks to Dr. Benke’s quick action and courage under fire.
There is another reason to admire the laconic, soft-spoken Dr. Benke, age 57. His career is heroic. With a Ph.D. in math, he could have chosen numerous ways to make a living, from becoming a college professor to a globe-trotting business consultant. He could have made a larger income than a middle school teacher’s salary.
That Dr. Benke chose to be a public school teacher is part of why he was present when the shooter attempted to cover Littleton soil with more young bodies. This was Dr. Benke’s day for parking lot duty after school. When he witnessed the danger unfolding, he didn’t back away or hide. He saw an opportunity and tackled the dangerous gunman.
But the former finalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year demonstrates another kind of courage: the strength of conviction to make a difference at a grassroots level. He’s done so for more than 25 years, earning a distinguished teaching record.
He also personifies a fundamental Boomer value. Millions of Boomers who came of age during the socially active years of the 1960s and 1970s have chosen to make a difference with their careers. They’ve chosen social and community service occupations over more lucrative careers, and they’ve created thousands of nonprofits to serve disadvantaged and dispossessed.
David Benke became a very visible hero in one instant on February 23. He’s been an unsung hero for more than a quarter of a century. He’s one among millions of Baby Boomers who have quietly gone about the business of having an impact on their communities and society, whose careers have been about enduring significance.