A Family’s Chemical Bond With NC State
For more than 80 years, the Satterfields of Raleigh have helped lead the NC State Sciences family.
The first Satterfield to come to NC State was a tough-love professor who was a leading expert in the emerging science of vitamins.
His sons included a longtime Raleigh doctor who delivered more than 5,000 babies, many with generations of connections to his alma mater. Among his grandsons was a four-year varsity swimmer who has become one of NC State’s most ardent Sciences supporters.
All were chemists during their time at the university.
“Our family lives and breathes NC State,” said the grandson, Benton Satterfield, Jr. “And when you come back to campus and see how impressive the students are, it’s incredibly inspiring.”
The Satterfield legacy at NC State began in 1924 when George “Howard” Satterfield, a native of Mt. Airy, NC, came to NC State as a professor of chemistry. He remained at the university for 46 years, and his research on vitamins was considered among the most important work of its time.
On campus, Satterfield had a reputation as a no-nonsense educator. He was an imposing presence in the classroom, wearing immaculate three-piece suits and demanding the most from his students.
That tough-love approach extended to his son, Benton Sr., who took two classes taught by his father. The son didn’t want any favoritism, and none was granted.
“He told me after I finished college that he graded me harder than anyone else,” Benton Sr. said. “But I knew that and expected him to be tough.”
But Benton Sr. almost didn’t make it to those chemistry classes. As a curious 12-year-old, he was in the kitchen one day when his older brother put gunpowder in a meat grinder. The resulting explosion tore up his midsection and left hand. The News & Observer provided several days of coverage of his month-long stay in the hospital.
“The doctors didn’t expect me to live for awhile,” he said. “That experience began my interest in medicine.”
After graduating from NC State in 1958, Benton Sr. attended Duke University for medical school and, after a residency, settled in Raleigh. He became one of the city’s most respected obstetrician-gynecologists and served three generations of patients for some families. He retired earlier this year after 47 years of practicing medicine, many of those years in a partnership with his late brother, George Howard Satterfield, Jr., also an NC State graduate.
Through the years, Benton Sr. became an ardent NC State supporter, affections that extended to his first son, Benton Jr. One of Benton Sr.’s patients was Barbara Biedenbach, who was married to Eddie Biedenbach, an assistant coach on NC State’s dominant men’s basketball teams of the 1970s. As their relationship blossomed, Eddie Biedenbach started bringing the team over to the Satterfields’ house for dinner every year.
The house had a nine-foot basketball goal hanging from the garage that proved no match for the forceful dunks of David Thompson, Tommy Burleson and other members of the team. Benton Sr. remembers Thompson, nicknamed “Skywalker” for his otherworldly jumping ability, dunking the ball with one of the other players riding on his back.
Inevitably, the goal would crack and fall down a few months later, but the Satterfields didn’t mind. Hosting the team, which won the 1974 NCAA championship, was an honor.
“I remember them showing up as we were climbing off the roof from repairing the goal from the previous year,” Benton Jr. said. “We knew they were coming.”
Benton Jr. attended NC State and was a two-year co-captain and four-year letter winner on the varsity swimming team.
After graduating in 1989, he taught high school chemistry and earth science for three years before returning to NC State to get a master’s degree in integrated manufacturing systems engineering. He’s now senior manager for distribution center engineering and process at CARQUEST Auto Parts.
The family’s connections to NC State remain strong. Benton Sr. has contributed to the College at the Chancellor’s Circle level since before that designation even existed. And several years ago, Benton Sr. and his wife, Emma Garnett, established the G. Howard Satterfield Scholarship endowment for undergraduates in chemistry. He continues to contribute to it, as do Benton Jr. and his wife, Beth.
“We just wanted to do that to honor my father,” Benton Sr. said. “He loved State, and he loved teaching.”
Benton Jr. is a member of the College’s Dean’s Circle giving society, and he was the founding vice president and later president of its Alumni and Friends Advisory Board. In 2012, he won the Zenith Medal for Service, awarded to alumni who make distinguished contributions and are strong advocates for the College.
“Supporting the College is not only enjoyable, it’s rewarding,” Benton Jr. said. “The work of the students and faculty make giving back an easy thing to do.”