A little bit more joyful, full of song

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Lee County lost a good man last week in Lee Benham, though some of you might not know him or his name.

According to his obituary, he was a railroad man for 11 years and a trucker for some 30 years after that. He loved his family and was active in his church, directing church orchestras and choirs.

Anyone who had been involved with the Opelika High School Spirit of the South Marching Band throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries knew him, though.

He was “Mr. Benham,” the substitute teacher almost always assigned to the band classes and a constant volunteer and band booster for the music program.

Our generation of “bandos,” like the ones who came before us, would occasionally try to trick Benham when he subbed, swapping instruments with our neighbors and laughing at how clever we were.

The joke was on us – he’d make the out-of-place students try to play their newly acquired horn, and the jig would be up.

He’d help haul equipment with the loading crew, packing and unpacking the large amount of equipment you’d be surprised to learn travelled with the band.

He never complained, unless you weren’t pulling your fair share.

He hardly scolded, unless you were doing something clearly reckless or downright foolish.

He even helped us find our pitch before our pre-game warm-up circle; his internal tuning fork was always on the level, neither flat nor sharp.

Whenever something needed doing, he’d be there, willing to lend a hand or an ear because he believed in what the band, and music, meant in the lives of his students.

He knew it because he lived it, having fallen in love with band in his childhood, and he wanted all of us to have a similar, if not better, experience.

He knew that music education could bring joy, discipline and pride to kids who may not have had opportunities for growth otherwise.

While his health had flagged in the last few years, he never stopped being a strong supporter of the program and always loved to hear the Spirit of the South marching in to Bulldog Stadium.

You don’t recognize the impact folks like Lee Benham have on you while growing up.

You take for granted their time and efforts to help kids they don’t even know to have wonderful and lasting memories that they’ll carry with them forever.

It just takes a moment to make a lasting impression on a person’s life, and Lee Benham was such a person for many of us.

He gave what he had and did what he could, and tried to make our little part of the world just a little bit more joyful and full of song.

Rest in peace, Mr. Benham, and I hope Heaven’s Marching Band met you at the gate to play you in. You certainly earned it.

A native Opelikan, Cliff McCollum is an amateur field herpetologist, news editor and chicken salad mogul.

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