To know the late Benjamin Brinson “Ben” Overstreet was to know genuine selflessness and kindness.
“Over the years, he donated so much time and effort to improve the community… [for] things that weren’t a benefit to him personally, but they were just good for the community,” said Louise McPherson of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Longtime Dawsonville resident Overstreet, 95, died peacefully at his home on Jan. 11, 2022.
Overstreet was born in Orlando, Florida on December 4, 1926 to parents Samuel Joseph and Annie Belle Brinson Overstreet.
His family moved to Emanuel County, Georgia, while he was a young boy, and he graduated from Emanuel County Institute in 1942. After that, he attended North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia when the school was just a two-year college.
After graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines during World War II and served in the Pacific theater of the conflict, ending his service on Chi Chi Jima in 1947.
He returned to North Georgia College after the war and met Mary Joe Thompson. They wed and moved to Dawsonville, where he farmed from 1949 until 2016.
Overstreet farmed corn, soybeans and tall fescue grass. He raised cattle, hogs and poultry. His land was producing 126 bushels of corn per acre in 1956, and by 1973, he became the first farmer in Georgia to produce more than 200 bushels of corn per acre.
Throughout the years,he won over 200 awards from the state and national corn growers associations. He and Mary Joe received the Centennial Family Farm Award from the Department of Natural Resources for continuously operating a farm that had been in her family for more than 100 years.
As an avid conservationist of his land and the greater Etowah Valley, he served as a volunteer supervisor for the Upper Chattahoochee Soil and Water Conservation District for 40-plus years. In 2005, he was inducted into the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts Hall of Fame.
He also served as the vice chairman of the Dawson County Farm Bureau at one point.
Clark Buesse, a retired UGA Extension agent for Dawson County, knew Overstreet for 35 years through his job and called the farmer “probably the best man I’ve ever known.”
Not only was Overstreet respected for his conservation and agricultural knowledge, his character was also solid.
“He (Overstreet) was always mild-mannered and had a concern for his family and community. I never heard him say anything bad about anyone,” Buesse said.
Louise McPherson likewise praised Overstreet’s passion for teaching people about conservation and encouraging youths’ interest in farming.
She mentioned his willingness to try new conservation methods, like planting Coastal Bermuda grass for his pastures or having trees moved and anchored to the banks of the Etowah River on his property.
“He was one of the first people around to do no-till farming…meaning you didn't plow your ground every year,” McPherson said. “You leave it (crop remnants) on top of the ground to protect from erosion.”
She explained that Overstreet would also host field days for other local farmers to come and observe his practices so they could then return to their farms and implement those same measures.
“He cared a lot about people, and he’d take time to talk to people,” McPherson added. “Even [with] my kids when I was little, he’d show them his old seed machine over there and old tractors…even though they’re grown now, they love Mr. Ben.”
Overstreet’s care for people extended to his advocacy to help water service come to Dawson County three decades ago.
A 2010 DCN article by Frank Reddy explained that Overstreet was a founding member and vice chairman of the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority. In 1980, the Georgia General Assembly created the authority as a political subdivision of the state and a public corporation. Five years later, a groundbreaking was held for a water treatment plant and distribution plant to serve eastern Dawson County. The plant’s service began in August 1986.
Getting to that point required an extra amount of effort by Overstreet and other board members.
“He literally went door-to-door selling water meters and trying to get people service established,” Etowah Water and Sewer president Brooke Anderson said. “Everything that’s made Dawson County fantastic has been built on the foundation he laid as a board member…we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”
The authority’s board then spearheaded getting sewage in the area. The addition of a wastewater treatment plant in 1995 to serve west Dawson ultimately convinced the people with North Georgia Premium Outlets to locate the outlet mall in the county.
“Our county wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for water and sewage,” said Overstreet in 2010, “because there’s no way businesses would have come here without it.”
Overstreet was likewise a charter member of the Dawson County Lions Club. He also served as a director of the Dawson County Bank for a number of years and continued after it was acquired by United Community Bank. Other organizations he served for include the Dawson County Board of Education and the Etowah Lodge #222 F & AM, where he was a member for 50 years. He and Mary Joe were members of the First Baptist Church of Dawsonville.
James Askew, the president of United Community Bank in Dawsonville, called Overstreet one of the most “common-sense people I’ve ever met.
“If you needed to know something about the community or needed to ask questions…he’s somebody that I always valued his opinion,” Askew said.
Askew remembers Overstreet as very personable and charitable, the kind of person who’d help crank out hotdogs during customer appreciation events or talk to all the employees and learn their names when visiting the bank.
“He had a knowledge of the community going way far back that was invaluable to us,” Askew added.
Ted Bearden, who also served on the bank board with Overstreet, reaffirmed the late man as a “pillar in the community.”
He also mentioned his respect for Overstreet and view of him as a worthy mentor.
“The only [other] way I would know to describe Ben Overstreet was that he was the ultimate gentleman,” Bearden said. “His demeanor was the same every time you saw him. He had a smile on his face and always had a kind word…I was honored to call him my friend.”