“Family is not an important thing - it’s everything,” actor Michael J. Fox once said. Irving Bennett, OD ’44 knows this firsthand; it was his family that pointed him in the direction of optometry, and it was he who passed optometry on to two of his children, and his granddaughter.
At a time when student loans were not the norm, Dr. Bennett’s older brother made him a generous offer: select a healthcare profession and go to school, as long as it was no longer than four years, and he’d pay the college tuition. With that incentive, Dr. Bennett started exploring his options. He consulted his mother’s foot and eye doctors, both of which felt optometry was a relatively “new profession with great potential.”
“The profession of today is so much different from the profession of the 1940s and 1950s,” Dr. Bennett said. Just after World War II, Veterans, including himself, were unhappy being in a drug-free profession when during the war, they were allowed to do much more in eye care. He and others knew the path to diagnosis and treatment was possible through political action.
After beginning his optometric practice in Beaver Falls, Pa., he became active in the community; he served on the Board of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club in addition to the Western Pennsylvania Optometric Society and the local chapter of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind.
Dr. Bennett continued to fight for optometry’s bigger role within healthcare and eventually became an internationally renowned authority and published author in optometric economics and practice management as he also founded a publishing company, Advisory Enterprises, dedicated to eye care and practice management. This venture combined both his love of writing and his business and optometric expertise. Under Advisory Enterprises, he founded magazines Optometric Management, Contact Lens Forum, Ophthalmology Management, and Optical Management. He also founded Optifair, an annual exposition of product introductions and continuing education, held several times a year across the United States.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also served on the American Optometric Association (AOA) and was the second-ever editor of the Journal of the American Optometric Association, in addition to being a member of the AOA’s Board of Trustees. In 1973, Dr. Bennett was honored by the AOA as the National Optometrist of the Year. He was also a National Optometric Hall of Fame member and recipient of the prestigious AOA Distinguished Service Award.
1980 Alumni Reunion - Class of 1944
Back at his alma mater, Dr. Bennett was named the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) Alumnus of the Year in 1961, and served on the Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1980. Thanks to Dr. Bennett’s generous support and commitment to educating students and practitioners in the business aspects of the practice of optometry, PCO was able to establish the Irving Bennett Business and Practice Management Center (now Bennett Career Services Center). In 1993, Dr. Bennett was appointed professor of Business and Practice Management at PCO. At PCO’s 71st Commencement, Dr. Bennett received his Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, a special degree to recognize unusual merit, creative leadership, or distinctive accomplishments in scholarship, arts and letters, individual professions or service to mankind of national or international significance. In essence, PCO (and later Salus) became Dr. Bennett’s second family - as he continues to support the institution as it has grown.