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University of Michigan mat champ, business leader Ralph Bahna dead at 71

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Ralph Bahna, a 1964 Big Ten conference wrestling champion at the University of Michigan whose name graces the school’s Bahna Wrestling Center, passed away Monday in Stamford, Conn., the Wolverine wrestling program announced Thursday. He was 71.

Born in Grand Rapids, Mich. in August 1942, Bahna was a three-time Michigan letterwinner at 123 and 130 pounds from 1962 through 1964, wrestling for legendary coach Cliff Keen. A two-time NCAA qualifier, Bahna won the 123-pound title at the 1964 Big Tens, shutting out Ralph Trail of Purdue University, 9-0, in the finals, helping his Wolverines win the conference team title that year.

After graduating from Michigan, Bahna launched a successful business career, primarily focused in the travel industry. He was a founding investor and chairman of Priceline.com, as well as chairman and founder of Club Quarters, a chain of private hotels in major city centers. Prior to that, Bahna served as president and chief executive of Cunard Lines Ltd., earning the honor of being named “Cruise Industry Leader of the Decade" in 1990 by Travel Trade magazine. In addition, he had been a senior marketing director for Trans World Airlines (TWA).

Bahna was a philanthropist who contributed to a number of organizations, including Columbia New York Presbyterian hospital’s atrial fibrillation research and served on its heart steering committee. He was also involved in developing the Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut.

He also supported his college alma mater, providing the lead gift for the Wolverines' state-of-the-art wrestling facility, the Bahna Wrestling Center, which opened in January 2009. The 18,000-square-foot facility houses comprehensive training and support facilities for the Wolverine wrestling program, including 7,500 square feet of mat space, locker rooms, coaches offices, an athletic training room with a separate hydrotherapy room and a second-floor strength-and-conditioning area. The facility is one of only two stand-alone collegiate wrestling training centers in the country.

Bahna is survived by his wife Dorothy, two daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren.

The family will receive friends on Monday, March 3 from 4-9 p.m. Eastern at the Hoyt Funeral Home, 199 Main Street, New Canaan, Conn. A private service will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday (March 4) at St. Cecilia's Church in Stamford, Conn.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Bahna Fund for Electrophysiology/ New York- Presbyterian Fund, Inc. c/o Adele Conner, Office of Development, New York Presbyterian Hospital, 654 West 170th St., New York, NY 10032.

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