Union benefactor leaves legacy

Benny Fesmire poses with his wife, Norma, on the Fesmire Baseball Field which was named for the couple's support of Union University. Fesmire passed away on Dec. 14, 2009, after an extended illness. | Photo by Morris Abernathy

By Megan Seals

Two words can be used to describe Benny D. Fesmire and his wife Norma Fesmire — dedication and love.

This couple has shown dedication and love throughout their lives, in more ways than one. “Mr. Benny,” as he was known by most of his friends and family, passed away last Dec. 14, after an extended illness. Fesmire’s love and dedication was not only expressed toward his family, but he also extended passion to Union University.

Benny D. Fesmire wed Norma Jean Sheppard on Feb. 21, 1952. The Fesmires then started a family by adding two children to their household. While starting a family, Fesmire’s career began when he spent 10 years with the National Guard. He was also employed at the Milan Arsenal, IBM, People’s Protective Life, ITT and Kellogg, along with doing accounting work for Whilite’s Union.

Fesmire later became vice president of First National Bank where he worked for 11 years. He then founded and co-owned B&H Investments, Inc. in 1984.

Benjie Fesmire, freshman business major and Fesmire’s grandson, said his grandfather’s passion was work.

“Working was definitely one of his passions,” Benjie said. “He was always working and trying to provide for his family so they could live a good life.”

Fesmire’s benevolence came out through working. He is remembered as having a passion for making the dreams of his customers become a reality.

Not only did Fesmire show a passion for his career, he also displayed his love toward Union.

It all began when Fesmire served on the board of trustees for the university. Being an avid sports fan, Fesmire developed a deep connection with the athletic program at Union.

“We started going to all the athletic games at the campus’s old location,” Mrs. Fesmire said. “Then, when Union moved, we moved with them too. When we saw the students at Union, we developed a love for the school and wanted to become a part of it.”

It was at that time the couple started showing their dedication to the university. They began to support the program at Union, giving anything they could to help and even traveling with the athletic teams, such as the women’s basketball team, on away games.

In recognition of their support, Union had the field house, along with the baseball and softball fields, named after the couple, calling them the Fesmire Field House and Fesmire Fields in their honor. The couple was also inducted into the first class of Union’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

“Traveling with the basketball teams, feeding the women basketball team with pizza and drinks in our hotel rooms when we traveled with them, that was our life,” Mrs. Fesmire said. “We were either on the basketball court, on the baseball field or anywhere we could be to support the program at Union in any way.”

As a strong supporter of the Union athletics program, Fesmire also got to see five of his grandchildren attend Union and even see some participate in the athletic sports program. The most current grandchild is Benjie and the newest addition is Katie Beth Fesmire, a senior at the University School of Jackson, who signed to play softball for the Lady Bulldogs starting in the 2010–11 season.

Fesmire’s most prized memories were seeing his grandchildren participate in athletics at Union. Just before he passed away, his granddaughter Katie Beth had the pleasure of sharing the news with her grandfather about her recent commitment to Union.

“Benny had not spoken in several days or even opened his eyes, he would just lie there,” Mrs. Fesmire said. “Katie Beth had just come back from playing travel ball and kept getting letters from colleges about playing for them, but she would not make a commitment to any.

“One night she came into the nursing home and shook him until he opened his eyes. She then told him that she had made the decision to go to play for Union’s softball team.”

Mrs. Fesmire, who was married to Mr. Benny for 58 years, described the next moment after Katie Beth’s conversation with her sick grandfather.

“The most peaceful expression came on his face and a tear started rolling out of his eye,” she said. “He responded and told her that she had just made him the happiest grandfather in the whole world.”

Fesmire’s contributions have aided in the development of Union’s campus. He has left a mark on the campus that will not be forgotten.

Whether he was spending time at his lake house with family or cheering on the student- athletes at Union court side, Mr. Benny lived a life full of passion, love and gratitude.

Image courtesy of Cardinal & Cream|Cardinal & Cream
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