By Morgan Bryce
A special ceremony this Friday afternoon will see the name of the Lee County Meeting Center be changed to the Bennie Adkins Meeting Center in honor of the Opelika native and Medal of Honor recipient.
Spearheaded by District 2 Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence, the new center will not only commemorate the service of Adkins and other local military heroes, but shine a spotlight on the importance of community service.
A longtime friend of the Adkins family, Lawrence was invited to Washington D.C. on Sept. 15, 2014 to attend the Medal of Honor ceremony where then-U.S. President Barack Obama would present the award to Adkins.
That experience would set into the motion the idea of creating a space named in Adkins’s honor that would recognize his contributions and service, according to Lawrence. Fellow commissioners voiced their support for Lawrence’s plan in 2016, enabling him to proceed with the project.
In February 2017, Lawrence found a group of sophomore Auburn University engineering students who were willing to conceptualize and develop a plan for the facility’s layout and interior design.
“They came back to me with all these great ideas and I was sitting there thinking to myself how I wish I had a 50,000 square foot building with 20-foot ceilings in it that were blank and design something utilizing all of these concepts. They included static military displays and some other stuff we really liked,” Lawrence said.
The Final Product
After conversations with Adkins about what the focus of the center’s artwork and decorations should be, they decided to blend the ideas of a military tribute and community service together.
“As a member of the Green Berets (U.S. Special Forces unit), Adkins and his colleagues were there to help build communities. And that’s ultimately what led us to the center focusing on community,” Lawrence said.
The military exhibit will include an interactive kiosk for children to learn more about Adkins, fellow Opelika native Col. Robert Howard and the rest of the Medal of Honor recipient family. Through a partnership with the Local VA office and the Red Cross, children will be able to write thank-you notes to active service members in a conference room simply known as “Bennie’s Room.” There will be other commemorative artwork, photos along with a large, fiberglass tiger shrouded in jungle shrubbery, the animal that ultimately saved Adkins’s life during an assault from North Vietnamese forces and enabled him to escape.
Across the center’s back wall will be the message, “We can all serve our community,” which, along with the military exhibit up front, will remain illuminated at all times. Silhouettes of doctors, firefighters, nurses, police officers and others will be represented to bolster the concept of community service.
Commemorative plaques will be placed on the front wall to honor the commission’s efforts to back this project and the hard work and dedication of the students who helped make this dream a reality.
Adkins was unable to give an interview but representatives of his family’s foundation expressed their gratitude in a statement on this significant recognition.
“Bennie appreciates Commission Lawrence and all of Lee County, the city of Opelika, the city of Auburn, as well as everyone who made this happen. He also wants to thank the (Auburn University) students and instructors for their talent and hard work to make this happen. Bennie is honored that his community is naming the center after him. He looks forward to students attending the center to learn more about what he, as well as, others have done to serve their country.”
Two years after starting on this project, the mostly senior group of Auburn students will have a chance to see the majority of their final vision pieced together, according to Lawrence.
“After talks with Command Sgt. Maj. Adkins, we decided to schedule this for a date before finals and their graduations so the students could come and see the fruition of their work and be recognized for their hard work,” Lawrence said.
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at the meeting center 1 p.m. on Friday, which is located at 205 S. 10th St. For more information about the foundation, visit www.bennieadkinsfoundation.org.
Visit the following link to read more about Adkins’ career and service: https://opelikaobserver.com/hometown-hero/, which was published in the Nov. 14, 2014 edition of the Observer.