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Bennett retires after 25 years
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Longtime board of education member Cecil Bennett made a motion Monday night to adjourn the last meeting of 2014.

Not normally the most notable moment of a meeting, but it also happens to be Bennetts last. He is retiring after 25 years of service to the Dawson County Board of Education. Ive enjoyed it, Bennett said of his time. Ive seen a lot weve accomplished.

Bennett joined the board of education in March of 1973, filling the seat of James Pugh, who encouraged him to take the position. I was as nervous as I could be, Bennett said. But Im real pleased with it. Ive learned a lot.

Bennett served on the board until 1987 when he left to serve as a county commissioner. He returned to the board in 2004.

Hes been a pillar in the community, Board of Education Chair Roger Slaton said. Anything he has been around, he has made it better.

If anyone could make such a statement, it would be Slaton. The two have been close friends since before they completed high school. He was my very first insurance customer, Slaton said. I wrote (insurance on) his house and his cars. Hes a number one customer.

Slaton said hes enjoyed riding together with Bennett to meetings. Hes going to be missed tremendously.

Bennett has served with five superintendents during his time on the board: Clarence Denard, Randall Townley, Nicky Gilleland, Keith Porter and Damon Gibbs. Ive enjoyed all of them, he said. He was always concerned if the new superintendent would be as good as the previous. But they always have been, he said. Weve been blessed so far.

Recently retired School Board Superintendent Keith Porter called Bennett a rock on the school board, as well as in the community. His vast experience and great judgment allowed him to provide me with sound advice that benefited me greatly throughout my tenure as superintendent, Porter said. Growing up in the community, I knew that he was a great man; but having worked so closely with him, I developed an even greater appreciation for his character and concern for the children, as well as Dawson County in general.

Porter noted that Bennett took his duties seriously and was not known for missing a meeting. He had a serious medical procedure on the day of a board meeting last year, Porter said, and rather than miss the meeting, he participated by phone.

Current Superintendent Damon Gibbs commended Bennetts service to Dawson County. He has a servants heart and a laser focus on making decisions that are best for the children of our school system, Gibbs said. His impact on the school system will be felt for years to come. Cecil will always be a part of Dawson County schools.

Bennetts impact on the school system also can be reflected through infrastructure in the county. Hes been involved with every single structure we have in place, board member Doris Cook said.

Board member Elaine Wilson said Bennetts leadership has helped guide the board through difficult decisions, especially when the board had to decide on demolishing the old middle school campus to make way for new buildings. Today, the facilities that we have in Dawson County for our students are second to none in our area, Wilson said, and it is because of the hard decisions that were made by Cecil and the board during the last 10 years that have made this true.

Cook also called Bennett the rock of the board. Hes been with us through the worst of times and the best of times, she said. Hes always kept us centered and focused on doing what is right for our kids.

Vice Board Chair Will Wade said he has tried to emulate Bennetts decision-making process. He said, I will always cherish his ability to break things down into their simplest form, guided by two questions -- is it the truth and will this help Dawson County?

Wade, the youngest member of the board, said he can recall Bennett visiting his classroom in elementary school. My greatest memory is how happy he was when he was visiting our school, he said. His smile is as encouraging as it is infectious.

Bennett was honored this past weekend for his 25 years of service by the Georgia School Board Association. He will be replaced on the local board by Karen Armstrong, who is scheduled to be sworn in on Dec. 16.

I think everything is going real well, Bennett said. Im proud of Karen and I think shes going to do a wonderful job.

Even though hes retiring, Bennett still can be seen out in the community -- most likely at Walmart, where hes worked since the store opened in Dawson County in 2008.