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Meet Our 2018 Peter John Loux Award Winner!

December 22, 2018

About Erlena Benning

Born with cerebral palsy, Erlena has used a wheelchair since kindergarten. Throughout the many challenges and losses life has presented her, Erlena’s mantra has been to maintain a positive attitude and in her words: “Just take it one day at a time”.

Erlena has been a dedicated employee at The Great Plains Nature Center for 22 years. She began her tenure as a volunteer, working 40 hours a week as a receptionist. Initially, her husband Jeff provided transportation for her to and from work. When Jeff passed away, her faithful companion and service dog, Yule, joined her on her morning commute as she continued to make the trip to work each day in her wheelchair. She is there, rain or shine, and values being able to come to a job she loves. As someone who is always willing to help with special events or projects, Erlena has been invaluable to the nature center.

“I am absolutely amazed at Erlena’s perseverance,” said Marc Murrell, Director of the Great Plains Nature Center.


Erlena has experienced profound loss in her life, with the deaths of her husband and father within just a few months of each other. Both of these men were a great source of strength and support for Erlena. The house that she lives independently in today was even built by her father. She and her husband opened their home over the years to several foreign exchange students, taking trips with them to attractions around the country. Some of these students still remain in touch with Erlena today.

Known for being involved her community, Erlena has been part of the Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. She even attended college classes with a student from the program who was unable to write due to a disability. Erlena became the student’s “hands,” writing answers and taking notes for her in classes. Erlena is also active in Kansas Specialty Dog Services, traveling the state for events and providing classroom presentations with Yule.

“Erlena is one of the bravest people I know. Despite the fact that she’s spent her life in a wheelchair, she has gone tent camping and snow-skiing! When there’s something she wants to do, she tries really hard to figure out a way to do it.” said Linda Thom, a friend from Erlena’s church.


According to those that nominated her, Erlena is an exceptional example of kindness, resilience, and ambition.

We at CPRF are honored to present Erlena with the 2018 Peter John Loux Award. Surrounded by her family, friends, and the whole CPRF team, Erlena received a check for $1,000 at an awards banquet.

Congratulations, Erlena!

To learn more about the Peter John Loux Award, click here.