Posted on 07 September 2012.
by Jim Mancari
This year’s Chief Brehon of the Great Irish Fair, Bob Benya, couldn’t be a more deserving choice.
Benya, the president and CEO of iNDEMAND Networks, has thrived on his Irish upbringing and Catholic education. He’s originally from Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan but has lived the past 20-plus years in Breezy Point.
Benya’s great grandparents were born in Ireland. His father is Slovakian, but his mother (maiden name Dolan) ensured that he understood his Irish heritage.
Growing up, Benya spent his grade school years at the Epiphany School in Manhattan. His family attended the school’s accompanying parish each week. Now, the Benyas are parishioners at St. Thomas More, Breezy Point.
Benya and his wife Barbara, nee Kelly, have four children. Their oldest daughter, Caitlin, is a Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., graduate. Their son, Dylan, graduated from Loyola University, New Orleans, and is now living in Colorado. Their youngest two sons, Carson and Robby, are high school students at Poly Prep, Dyker Heights.
While he enjoys spending time with his family — especially playing golf — Benya is heavily involved in charity work at his grammar school in the form of the Epiphany School Education Foundation, which aims to raise funds to keep the school thriving.
In today’s economy, it has become a financial challenge for parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Based on Benya’s positive experience in Catholic school, he has devoted significant time to seeing that these children are given access to a quality Catholic education.
“That’s important because there are a lot of Catholic elementary schools that either have closed or on the verge of closing or in trouble financially,” he said.
Benya said that his early Catholic education shaped his beliefs at a crucial time in his life. He was an altar server and sang in the school’s choir, which taught him the importance of committing one’s time and energy to helping others.
“It’s really the most formative years of a person’s life,” he said. “I put a lot of value on making sure that I can do whatever I can do to help people that are at that stage.”
He played CYO basketball as a kid, which further emphasized the values that he practices today. He coached CYO basketball at Epiphany and now coaches at St. Thomas More.
Giving Back as a Counselor
After grade school, Benya continued his Catholic education at Xavier H.S., a Jesuit institution in Manhattan. He received a scholarship to the school’s higher achievement program, meaning he had to maintain a certain GPA all four years.
“I was fortunate that I got a lot of help when I was younger during those years so that I could attend the school that I attended,” he said.
In addition to playing on the school’s basketball team, Benya coached basketball for underprivileged youth during his high school years. He also taught the children reading, English and math as part of his scholarship program.
Also during his summers, Benya worked for Catholic Charities, which included serving as a camp counselor at the St. Vincent de Paul Camp in Monticello, N.Y. The camp was free for children from Catholic parishes whose families could not afford a summer vacation.
“We were like temporary parents,” Benya said. “We had to watch them 24/7. We had a lot of fun and got a lot out of it. To give the kids that kind of experience was just huge. It was a really great program to be involved with.”
As a counselor and today as a father, Benya has stressed the importance of having a strong work ethic and practicing Catholic values.
“Caring for others and being sensitive to others were two main lessons learned through my 12 years of Catholic schooling,” he said.
The Benya family in Rincon, Puerto Rico.
A Distinguished Media Career
Benya went on to attend New York University in Manhattan. During his junior year, he was recruited by his former CYO basketball coach to work for a Manhattan cable television company. He altered his class schedule so that he worked 40 hours a week during the day and attended class at night.
“It really set me up for future success in the industry,” he said.
Benya has worked for over 30 years in the media industry and has held a variety of positions. Three years ago, his background and experience led to his being named president and CEO of iN DEMAND Networks, a company owned by Comcast/NBCU, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks.
The company serves as the middleman in providing pay-per-view and on-demand programming for over 55 million customers in North America.
Excited for Great Irish Fair
Benya was notified by his good friend and fellow Xavier H.S. alumnus Brendan Gallagher — a board member of the Great Irish Fair — that he had been chosen as Chief Brehon. He was very excited to receive the honor.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think the cause is a really good cause. It’s similar to my role at Epiphany where I’m helping the school and helping kids. I think that’s important.”
The Benya family in Telluride, Colo.
This will be Benya’s first Great Irish Fair, so he’s thrilled to be able to share the experience and his Irish heritage with fairgoers and his family.
To further connect with his Irish roots, Benya said he and his family would someday plan a trip to Ireland once his youngest sons are finished with school. He’s looking forward to testing his golf skills on some of the country’s most challenging yet beautiful courses.
As the Irish proverb states, “The love of God guides every good.” These words ring true for Benya, as his love of God has led to his wonderful family life, successful business, rewarding charity work and, of course, his appointment as this year’s Chief Brehon.
Or maybe it’s just the “luck o’ the Irish.”