An 89-year-old Laguna Woods resident with a heart of gold, the energy of a teenager and the kind of smile that lights up a room, Barbara Benun, has for many years given generously to the Diocese of Orange. Her longtime desire – to help promote Catholic education – is in large part thanks to her own Catholic education.
“I was raised to be a good Catholic,” Barbara says, adding that her Catholic schooling played a significant role. “A good Catholic education made me what I am.”
In school she learned about, among other things, the importance of giving to those in need. Today the result is a new endowment fund administered by the Orange Catholic Foundation, which facilitates charitable giving throughout our Catholic community. The Barbara Benun High School Tuition Assistance Fund will provide tuition relief, today and long into the future, for students attending Catholic high schools in Orange County who can’t pay for their tuition.
Setting up the fund with the Orange Catholic Foundation was simple and easy, notes Barbara. “I came up with the idea, and [the foundation] did all the work.” The late Cindy Bobruk, then-executive director of the foundation, and current Executive Director Sue Nunn were particularly helpful, she adds. “I just let them run with it.”
For years, Barbara made donations to individual diocesan high schools, based on their requirements. “Every year, I’d ask the pastors what they needed. One time I paid for speed bumps [in a parking lot] and I once paid for new door locks.”
One day Barbara realized that an endowment fund, a means of carrying forward her generosity in perpetuity, made more sense than giving in a patchwork fashion. “I wanted to make sure my contributions went into the right hands,” she says, “to make sure that these kids could get a good Catholic high school education.”
The sense of responsibility and discipline that she learned in high school paid off – literally – as her nest egg expanded through the decades.
For 30 years Barbara worked as an accountant for a man who provided premium health coverage. Neither she nor other employees had any out of pocket medical expenses to worry about. “And he also provided a generous pension plan. … I’m frugal and always lived well below my means. So I consider all of this a surplus. It’s a surplus that God gave me.
“The [new endowment fund] makes me feel good,” she adds, “because I loved high school, and it’s troubling to think of kids who can’t go because they don’t have the money.”
Barbara’s generosity extends far beyond the financial realm. She’s volunteered for a hospice, as well as for a nonprofit devoted to helping impoverished families. In addition, she’s worked preparing taxes for those less fortunate, volunteers for the Laguna Woods Dog Club and serves as an usher for three local live-performance venues.
Barbara attends Mass at her home parish, St. Nicholas Church, five days a week. And on Mondays she volunteers (yet again) for the church’s sewing group, cutting patterns.
Barbara has always had a strong sense of adventure. Four years ago – at age 85 – she backpacked 150 miles of the Santiago de Compostela, a famous pilgrimage site in Northwest Spain. Trekking with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter in a four-generation journey, she averaged more than 20 miles a day on foot. She’s also visited Africa, Turkey and China, among many other locales. “I was one of the first Americans to visit Cuba after travel restrictions were lifted,” she adds. And wherever she’s journeyed, “God is with me all along.”
However, Barbara’s wanderlust will always take a backseat to giving of herself, her faith and her financial resources.
In addition to endowment funds, the Orange Catholic Foundation provides an assortment of other funds, such as Donor Advised Funds, Scholarship Funds and Current Use Funds. The foundation also has a variety of options for you to give to a great cause, including real estate, mutual funds, securities, IRA rollovers and matching funds. Simply put, the Catholic Community in Orange County couldn’t continue sharing God’s love and the Catholic way without the services provided by the Orange Catholic Foundation.