This spring’s graduation will be the largest in the history of Lipscomb University, but no one will have a bigger smile than Neal Benson.
Back in 1987 Benson was 30 hours away from graduation from Lipscomb. But a series of poor choices and his failure to rectify those choices resulted in his dismissal from the Lipscomb Bisons baseball team at the end of his junior season.
“I had led a very poor life with poor life choices that had caused a lot of severe consequences for me and my family,” Benson said. “No matter how successful or how my life had turned around Satan was always tapping me on the shoulder saying I had not finished school.”
Benson started his return to Lipscomb a few years ago when he was invited to a reunion of the 1987 team by Andy Lane, associate athletic director for development, and Lipscomb baseball coach Jeff Forehand.
“I thought surely they didn’t mean to send that letter to me,” Benson said. “I had that whole thing of leaving and not being able to come back. Andy said that absolutely he wanted me to come back and that Jeff wanted me to come back.
“That was the first time I had been on campus since I had left. It was a big deal. It felt really good to be back on campus and to see all of the changes. It was good to see old faces at the baseball game like Lee Marsh and Farrell Owens. No one ever brought up the past.”
When he returned to Lipscomb in the summer of 2007 Benson changed his major from Kinesiology to Business Management. That move doubled the number of hours needed for graduation.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense to do this with a wife and two children,” Benson said. “But people like Andy Lane told me I needed to get my degree. The very first semester I was very overwhelmed. I went home after my first couple of classes wondering if I had one the right thing.
“It was a whole different experience to have been in the business world and then coming back and learning some of the academic part. It was a good learning experience.”
But the road has not been an easy one. Benson has endured a couple of job losses during his second tour of Lipscomb. He also has to balance a family with his wife, Diana, and two sons, Jackson, 11; and Nathan, 6. Diana works at the alumni development office at the campus school. Both their children attended the elementary school at Lipscomb.
“During this whole comeback there have been all kinds of obstacles to overcome,” Benson said. “I know that the story before is not to be dwelled on but what caused me to live that life was I ran from life and life’s troubles.
“The last five years have been full of challenges with two job losses and financial issues that Satan has tried to put in my path. I have kind of been tested not only academically, but also in life. I would like to think that I have stayed on the path of where I am supposed to go. That makes it really sweet for me.”
Benson has also renewed his enthusiasm for Lipscomb baseball. He had played against Forehand in both high school and college. At home games Benson oversees the seating for season ticket holders at Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium.
Benson’s ultimate goal is to find a job in the Lipscomb athletic department.
“I am passionate about Lipscomb,” Benson said. “I enjoy being at the games and hanging out with some of the guys and getting on the field. It brings back memories of the times I did have here that I took for granted.
“I want to serve and help people. My aspiration is to hopefully do that somewhere on the Lipscomb campus. I would love to have an opportunity in the athletic department. I love what Lipscomb stands for. I want to be a part of that.”
Despite the struggles Benson is confident and content that he is where he is supposed to be in life.
“Everybody can look back and say they wish they had done this or that. Even in my business classes I learned that you learn from your mistakes, probably more than doing it right to begin with.
“I am where I am supposed to be. My relationship with God is where it is supposed to be. It is not always perfect. But I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not gone through the struggles In order to have a greater appreciation of where I am today. I have no regrets.”