My turn by John Garrard
Published 9:33 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Remembering Ben McKenzie
Let me tell you about my friend, Ben, who passed away on Labor Day and was buried in the Canoe Methodist Cemetery in the Robinsonville Community on Thursday morning.
Fonda and I first met Pellar Binford McKinley, along with Mr. Johnny Jones, Mr. T.C Hurd and Mrs. Mary Rushing Peavy, on Saturday, July 2, 1949, when we went to the First National Bank of Atmore. On that day we did not realize that later we would be working together for many years before we retired. He joined the staff of FNB on April 1, 1946 and retired in 1986, a total of 41 years of dedicated and faithful service to the Atmore area community. He was born in Baldwin County in 1923 and was the son of Mr. David N. and Theresa Lowrey McKinley, and had two sisters, Thelma and Kathleen, and a brother Hollis, all now deceased. He graduated from Escambia County High School and served his country during World War II for three and one half years, in the United States Army Corps
of Engineers. He served 13 months in the European theatre. He was discharged honorably as a corporal in 1946. He was a member of American Legion Post 90.
He worked for the bank in the bookkeeping department and as a teller. He was later promoted to assistant cashier, then cashier, then assistant vice president and cashier. He served many years as a loan officer and gained a host of faithful friends and followers, over the years since his retirement many still have inquired about "Mr. McKenzie."
I wanted to let you know a few things about Ben and what made him such an outstanding man. Other than his faithfulness over 41 years in the banking industry, I was much impressed with his love and devotion to his dear mother, who passed away in 1970. Ben never married and devoted all his time caring for his mother, a great plus in his favor, always keeping the Seventh Commandment … in fact, all 10 of the Commandments.
What next impressed me with Ben was his love of the Canoe Methodist Church, now the Canoe United Methodist Church and our God. He was "Mr. Methodist" in the Canoe Methodist Church. If there was any kind of meeting going on there, be assured he was there. He served as church treasurer for more than 30 years and in many other areas such as chairman of the official board, now the administrative board, church school teacher, Sunday stewardship &finance, missions, Sunday school superintendent commission on education, membership and evangelism, district lay leader of the Pensacola District, and others.
He was very active in the Methodist Men's Club and served as an officer numerous times. He and other men attended the National Rents Club Conference at Perdue University several times. He was a Methodist lay speaker in the area. He was instrumental in many improvements to the sanctuary, Sunday school area and grounds, financial and labors.
One of the big endeavors of his church was the Methodist Children's Home in Selma, and the members were noted several years as having paid more per capita as a small church, but giving more than many of the larger congregations in the Alabama-West Florida District.
He and his brother-in-law, Mike Jalis, collected paper for years and hauled it to Mobile where it was sold and proceeds given to the Children's Home. Many summers he and Brother Bill Hutto traveled to Clanton and brought back a truckload of peaches to sell, and those proceeds also went to the Children's Home. At times members of the church visited the home in Selma to see firsthand what their efforts were making possible.
Another impressive aspect of Ben's life was his working with any minister assigned to Canoe by the annual conference. Let me give you one example. In the early 1950s a young pastor by the name of Thomas Lane Butts was sent to Canoe. He found not only Ben but many of the best congregation members he's ever have in his more than 50 years in the ministry. Ben McKinley had a big hand in his climb up the ladder, now retired in Monroeville as the Rev. Doctor Thomas Lane Butts.
Where ever Ben was, he did not mind working. Let me give you one example. For many years he and Sewell Stanton have kept and maintained the most manicured cemetery in the area, the Canoe Methodist Cemetery on County Road 12, at Robinsonville. After his health prevented him from participating in this labor of love, his niece Ronda and her husband, Owen Wood, have kept this cemetery as a place of beauty. There is an ongoing project pending now at the cemetery and our contribution will be our memorial to Ben. I feel sure his two nephews, Ernie and David Wood, will assist in this worthwhile project.
Back to his banking just a minute, please. Another aspect of his life was doing business at the homes of many people in the Canoe area, on his way to work or in the evening. Now, folks, that's real person-to-person banking he participated in, and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially helping elderly people who were not able to get to the bank.
Ben was the example set forth in something someone wrote years ago, saying 'I'd rather see an sermon than hear one.' He was the shining example to many, including me, of serving our Heavenly Father and putting his faith in Jesus Christ Our Lord and serving in so many ways his fellow men and neighbors. He was a true, dedicated Christian man and never making a show in any way and did not want any recognition except approval of God.
One last bit I want to share with you. Many years ago, I approached Ben's car and saw him slouched over the steering wheel. I pecked on the window and he raised up and I saw his Bible and the Upper Room. He was having his daily devotion and praying before going on in to work, in those days about 7 a.m. Yes, he was a great Christian and Heaven is an even more beautiful place now that he is there.
Let me close by saying I think his passing on Labor Day morning is significant. He had been at the Bay Minette Veteran's Home about seven or eight years, very ill, and his days of labor and pain were over, and our dear Savior took him to live with Him. Let us live our remaining days so we will meet Ben again in Heaven!