First Rod Bennett Scholarships Go to Saugus High Seniors

Saugus High Students Win First Two Rod Bennett Scholarships 4

Saugus High Students Win First Two Rod Bennett Scholarships 2Bennett Scholarships update: Saugus High School graduating seniors James Klipfel and Diego Rumer (pictured at left) received the first two Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund awards at the school’s 2017 senior honors ceremony on Tuesday night, May 16.

Rumer and Klipfel each received a check for $2,000 to put toward their college studies from the Bennett trust fund, one of 10 Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation scholarships awarded to Saugus High School students during the evening at the school’s gym.

Valencia resident Valerie Pryor established the fund in January in the name of her husband, who was killed by a hit and run driver on Placerita Canyon Road on May 25, 2016, for college-bound students graduating from Wm. S. Hart Union High School District schools.

RELATED: Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Created to Honor Fallen Teacher, Musician

Bennett, just 53, was a revered and respected math and music instructor at Arroyo Seco Junior High School and was enjoying his first semester as the school’s band director. Off campus, he was a devoted husband, sportsman, world traveler and an active recording and performing musician.

RELATED:  Guitarist Jim Hagen Grooves with Rod Bennett’s Vibes on ‘Jazzical’

Bennett was, in fact, halfway through recording a new album with longtime bandmate and collaborator Jim Hagen, who completed the album, titled “Jazzical,” and released the album May 19, dedicated it to Bennett.

Rod Bennett and Val Pryor, Las Nubes Winery, Guadalupe Valle, Baja California, April 7, 2016.
Rod Bennett and Val Pryor, Las Nubes Winery, Guadalupe Valle, Baja California, April 7, 2016.

Pryor, assistant general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, attended the Saugus High School ceremony to present the awards certificates and checks to Rumer and Klipfel.

Joining Pryor in making the presentation was Bennett’s cousin Debbie Nelson, a retired high school teacher (Family and Consumer Sciences) now serving as executive director of the Colorado Association for Career and Technical Education.

“Many of you know that Rod Bennett was a longtime math and music teacher at Arroyo Seco Junior High and was tragically killed last year, and I created this scholarship honoring his memory,” Pryor said from the podium, with Nelson at her side.

“He was an avid outdoorsman, cyclist, kayak fisherman, and musician, and he loved teaching math and music,” Pryor said. “He opened up this classroom to his students and other students to teach music, and quite a few of his students went on to play music here at Saugus High School. So, I wanted to honor his memory, but I also wanted to maintain his contributions to the students of this community, so we’re awarding two $2,000 scholarships tonight.”

The Bennett scholarships went to a pair of outstanding students who studied music at Saugus and will continue to pursue music in their college studies.

The Santa Clarita Valley Foundation Scholarships selection committee chose the honorees based on criteria Pryor established – the recipient must be a Hart District senior who has studied music for at least two of their high school years and plans to attend college.

Rumer, from Santa Clarita, and Klipfel, an Acton resident, were among the Hart District seniors who applied for the inaugural Bennett Scholarships early this year.

Saugus High Students Win First Two Rod Bennett Scholarships 4

“I’d known Mr. Bennett since the 7th grade,” Rumer said after the ceremony, above the cacophony of hundreds of students and their families excitedly exchanging congratulations on the gym floor.

“He had this rock club program, and I was interested in music, so I would always show up during lunch and I’d always play,” Rumer said. “I didn’t know about the scholarship until I checked the application, and then I saw his name. And of course, after what happened, it was terrible. And I had a personal connection.”

Rumer, an eight-year bass guitar player set to major in jazz studies at San Francisco State University starting this fall, said Bennett – a vibraphone player as well as a bassist – directly influenced his career choice.

“I didn’t know what I really wanted to do for a while, but he kind of pushed me more toward music, and I developed a love for music out of that,” said Rumer, who said he listens to many legendary bass players, but he’s most inspired by the late Jaco Pastorius.

RELATED: Santa Clarita Remembers Good Vibes with Rod Bennett

Klipfel could not be reached for comment, but in addition to taking music courses in high school, he is an Eagle Scout who helped raise funds and coordinated a food drive for the SCV Food Pantry in 2016.

Klipfel began his senior semester at Saugus High School that September considering whether to continue his studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of California, Davis, or UCLA. He is planning a career in aeronautics or aerospace, according to a recent newspaper story.

Rod Bennett (right) recording with Jim Hagen (left) and Roger Brooks, Busy Bee Studios, April 2016.
Rod Bennett (right) recording with Jim Hagen (left) and Roger Brooks, April 2016.

The Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund is one of three music-related scholarships administered by the Santa Clarita Valley Scholarship Foundation, which oversees another 152 scholarships as well.

The SCVSF grants up to $250,000 in scholarships each year to graduating Hart District high school seniors. The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization received more than 700 applications by the February 1 deadline for this year’s cash grants.

SCVSF committees made up of community members, retired Hart District employees, and current counselor representatives from each high school screened the applications and made recommendations for specific scholarships.

On the night of selections, committees used those recommendations but also considered all applications from each school. The scholarship recipients’ names were kept under wraps until announced at the schools’ respective awards ceremonies in May.

Nelson was particularly close to her cousin and his wife and flew in from Denver for the awards ceremony honoring him.

“Rod and I shared both a career in education and a love of music, and so I wanted to be here to support Val,” Nelson said. “I’ve done lots of awards nights as a high school teacher, so I knew what it would be about. And I just wanted to honor the fact that Rod loved learning and he loved teaching and he loved music, and this is a way to carry that on in these young people.”

Awarded nine days shy of a year after Bennett’s death, the first Bennett Scholarships are doing what Pryor intended they do: keeping her husband’s legacy alive.

“Rod did so much for this community and the students he taught, and I wanted to continue this legacy,” Pryor said. “And I thought just by having these scholarships, I can keep some of his contributions going.”

To contribute to the Rod Bennett Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund, or to apply for one of the future Bennett scholarships, go to

Photos & video: Stephen K. Peeples.

Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is also a Grammy-nominated record producer and award-winning radio producer. He was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal from 2007-2011, and hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music show from 2010-2015. Peeples is now VP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and CEO of For more stories and info, visit For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel. 

Article: First Rod Bennett Scholarships Go to Saugus High Seniors
Category: News & Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples

First Rod Bennett Scholarships Go to Saugus High Seniors