Tri-City Ledger -

By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Barnes had huge love for Century


August 20, 2020

Benny Barnes. Love him or hate him, but the one thing you can say about him is that he loved the city of Century and did what ever he could to move the town forward.

Barnes died early Tuesday morning at the age of 86. The last time I saw him was last year at the Sawmill Festival in Century right down the street from his house.

Barnes rubbed some people the wrong way. He rubbed me the wrong way on many occasions. We yelled at each other a few times, but deep down he knew he had a job to do and he knew I had a job to do and sometimes our jobs caused friction.

I can't count the times Benny would call my office, cancel his subscription and tell me he'd never read another Tri-City Ledger. A few weeks later he'd call back complaining about something in the paper and I asked him how he knew since he didn't read the paper any more.

What I do know is Barnes cared a lot about Century.

As Catharine Jeter told me this week, Benny always told her 'if you don't ask, you don't get, and he always asked'.

I tried several times to tone down his asking. He'd go to Pensacola or Tallahassee 'demanding' this and that for Century. I tried to explain that Century didn't have the number of votes that legislators and/or commissioners really needed to win an election. I said he needed to go with his hat in his hand and honey dripping out of his mouth and ask for help. That wasn't Benny's style. When he wanted something from Tallahassee or Pensacola he went with a plan to present and demanded action.

Benny was one of those who believed that the squeaky wheel got the grease and he let that wheel squeak.

Benny was able to establish a friendship with Florida State Sen. W.D. Childers, who still holds the record of the longest state legislator in the state at 30 years. W.D. was called the 'Dean' of the Senate during his tenure from 1970 to 2000. Only a new term limit forced him out, but Benny knew who to go to when he needed something for Century and it was W.D.

Benny played a big role in getting the Century Correctional Institute, possibly with the help of Sen. Childers, to come to town and had his finger on many other projects to make Century better. The prison project allowed Century to develop a sewer system.

I say Benny's biggest coup for the town of Century was getting Starter Sportswear to locate in the back on the industrial park. Starter had announced it was interested in coming to Century. Century was set to receive an economic development grant from the state to put the infrastructure in place to the Starter building.

Starter officials first wanted to build their building on Highway 4 at the entrance of the industrial park property where the 'agriculture' building or community center now sits. Benny was able to convince them to build the building at the back of the park.

That allowed the town to get the road, drainage and utilities to the back of the park. Had Starter insisted on being on the front of Highway 4, I doubt Century would have an industrial park today. Benny, and again, probably with the help of Sen. Childers, made it happen.

Sen. Childers had the power and Benny knew it. He knew which greasy wheel to go to.

But outside of politics, Barnes spent a lot of his time helping other community events with his barbecuing skills. He cooked for special occasions and cooked for fundraising efforts. Benny never charged for his services, he simply liked helping the people of Century. I liked being around him when he was cooking because he'd always cut off a slice of this or that and say 'how'd you like it'. Most times I'd say I needed another taste and another until I was full.

We butted heads many times, but it never got personal. When I saw him at Sawmill Day we recalled some of our 'disagreements' and laughed. They didn't seem funny at the time.

As Flomaton Mayor Dewey Bondurant, Jr., said 'he was a legacy' for the town of Century. I've never known anyone who loved Century more than Benny Barnes.

He will be missed, but his legacy will last.


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