He’s a jolly good Fellow

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Andalusia Rotary Club presented its Spirit of Andalusia award to Bill Benton, and recognized fellow Rotarians Tim Bryan and Wilbur Williams as Paul Harris Fellows at a social Tuesday night.

Benton, who is credited with the development of South Alabama Regional Airport as an industrial hub, retired as director of the airport last year. During his tenure, the facility’s annual revenues grew from $13,000 per year to $4 million.

When he took over the management of the facility in 1998, he was literally managing a field of weeds, Andalusia Mayor and Rotarian Earl Johnson said while making the presentation.

During Benton’s tenure, he developed the airport’s capital improvement program, which has contributed more than $40 million to the infrastructure and growth of the facility.

He also secured the first-ever defense fuel contract given to a general aviation airport to provide rapid refueling services. As a result, the airport has sold up to 1.3 million gallons of fuel per year to the military.

The Aviation Council of Alabama recognized him with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. That same year, the Andalusia-Opp Airport was renamed South Alabama Regional Airport — Bill Benton Field in his honor.

Prior to his work in Andalusia, Benton retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam, and flew more than 100 combat missions.

“He is truly a hero of mine,” Johnson said, describing Benton’s dedication to Andalusia and the airport. He said Benton continued to work every day despite numerous physical ailments that “would have stopped most men in their tracks.

Paul Harris Fellows

Rotary International recognizes a person as a Paul Harris Fellow when a contribution of $1,000 or more is made to the international organization in that person’s name. This year, the Andalusia club honored Bryan and Williams.

A native of Brantley, Bryan moved his family to Andalusia in 1999 to pursue an opportunity with State Farm Insurance.

Bryan was a walk-on player for the Troy State University football team who later won a scholarship and started at center for the Trojans. After graduation, he and his wife moved to Greenville, where Bryan worked at First National Bank. He also worked in Linden, Ala., as an insurance agent, and worked in the management end of the insurance industry for 10 years in Dothan before moving back into an agency in Andalusia.

He is a former president of the local Rotary club.

Williams was appointed chief of police in Andalusia in 2000. Prior to coming to Andalusia, Williams spent almost 28 years with the Mobile Police Department, from which he retired in 1998 with the rank of major. During his MPD tenure, Williams worked in every division of the department, but spent the majority of his time in criminal investigations. During his career, Chief Williams has investigated or supervised the investigation of more than 600 criminal homicides.

He also served as director of the Mobile Police Academy and helped develop the criminal justice program at Bishop State Community College in Mobile. He also has taught criminal justice courses for the University of South Alabama.

He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Troy University and a bachelor’s in criminal justice administration from the University of South Alabama. He was one of the first chiefs of police to complete the intensive 740-hour continuing education program offered by the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police and the University of Alabama Partnership for Continuing Education.