He's overcome his handicap
Published 4:09 am Wednesday, January 7, 2004
By BY LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Most people are born with a healthy body and mind, ready to face the world, but there are those who have a bigger struggle making a future.
Gary "Buddy" Benefield is one of those who started his life with some big handicaps. It takes someone with determination and tenacity to overcome the problems that he faced from the very first day of his life.
Gary was born between Castleberry and Brooklyn in the Cedar Creek Community. He was born during the dark days of World War II, delivered at home as was the custom of the time for country folks. It was a time when little was known of birth defects and no one noticed that something was wrong. It was only later that it was learned that he had been severely injured at birth.
Gary's parents, Jack and Daisy Benefield, were unaware of what the real problem was and did not understand why he cried so much. He was punished by his parents for the crying until one day, a neighbor, Dollie Moorer, confronted the parents and told them that they should consider that there were medical problems with the boy. This possibility had never occurred to the Benefields. They listened to the neighbor and took him to a specialist in Mobile. Dr. Hammon called the father in and gave him the bad news.
He told the father that Gary might never walk, go to school or drive a car. He said that the whole right side of Gary's body was useless and that their son was a cripple. One leg was shorter and deformed. One arm was deformed and both his right eye and right ear were weak.
The doctor did tell the father that there was a 50-50 chance that he could walk if he had leg surgery while he was young. At that time Mr. Benefield was just a farm hand with no insurance, no job and no money. The March of Dimes was brought in on the case and they provided the surgery that was needed.
Gary started school at the age of seven and rode the school bus. He was designated the seat right behind the school bus driver. He remembers his early days of school as being very hard.
When he entered the fourth grade, tragedy struck him again. He fell out of a moving car and was almost killed. Most of the blow was to the head leaving him so weak that he couldn't get around wearing the leg braces. He was forced to leave school and missed a whole term. He was determined to return to school and made a vow that he would finish his education. In the meantime he continued to draw more and more.
When he entered high school, he was elected by the school to be the school's artist and in 1959 while he was in the ninth grade he founded Gary Benefield Signs and almost 45 years later he still paints signs.
The late Margaret Nelson, his English teacher, told him one day that she wanted to see him after school one afternoon. He couldn't figure out what was wrong as he was making all A's and B's in his classes. One afternoon he went by her classroom and she asked him if he would take an art test from Norman Rockwell's Art School to see how good he was in art. He agreed to take the test and she sent off to have it mailed to her. When the test came he stayed after school and completed it for her to send back to the school.
The results of the test didn't come back by the mail; it came back with a field representative of the school. He wanted Gary to enroll in Norman Rockwell's Art School for that summer. But it just so happened that Gary had other plans for the coming summer. He was scheduled to enter Mobile Infirmary for arm surgery on his right arm.
After he graduated from Conecuh County High School he went to Nashville, Tenn. to enroll in the College of Engineers to get the basics that he needed for engineering. After two years there he was employed with Southern Coach, designing buses and spent the next 23 years designing buses for Southern Coach, Flxible Southern, Mobilux, Leisure Time and Transi-Corp.
It was while he was designing buses that an old school buddy of his came to see him. The buddy wanted to build a home and the loan company requested a set of plans in order to obtain the loan. Gary was asked to draw the plans and thus began a whole new career. He began drawing house plans for additions, commercial buildings, churches and homes.
When Transi-Corp moved their operation to Orlando, Fla., Gary did not want to move so he went to work with Lazenby Enterprises in Monroeville drawing precast buildings. He spent 18 years drawing buildings for Lazenby Enterprises and Gate Precast.
After the disaster of 9-11, work began to get slack and orders were pulled. Gate began to down size their operation and all employees that were retirement age were given a retirement package. This group included Gary Benefield. He went back to painting signs and drawing house plans full time.
This past summer, Gary hired his sister, Charlene Wilson, and a friend, Elsie Brewton to log all of his house plans that he has done since 1969 into a book. It took three weeks to log over 400 house plans. He hopes to complete the material within the next five years and have it printed. At that time his plans will be offered throughout the United States.
Within the last year, he has done house plans for homes in Washington, Mississippi, Florida and all over Alabama.
One of his works is his own home in Castleberry. For 15 years he and his family lived in a mobile home on the land he bought while he prepared to build. He caught every sale that he could and bought materials, stockpiling them in a large shed he built on the back of the property. He even gathered rocks that he later made a part of the house's facade. He said that he estimated he put $23,000 dollars into the home that is today free and clear.
Gary has been married to the former Maxine Cooper since 1978 and they have one daughter, April, who was born in 1980. She is employed at the Colonial Bank in Brewton and is married to Jamie Crawford who is employed at T.R. Miller Mill Company.
Gary is a member of the Appleton Free Will Baptist Church where he served as the Sunday School superintendent, a trustee, usher and CTS secretary for the Adult Class. He is also a District Superintendent for the Liberty # One Association which covers four south Alabama counties.