The First United Methodist Church of Scottsboro and Pastor Steve Screws invite the public to a special reception for longtime church organist, Grady Bennett, on Sunday, August 30, 2015 from 2 - 4 p.m.
The event is sponsored by the staff parish in honor of Bennett’s 42 years of service and dedication to the church and community.
“Our church plans to honor several people in the coming year who deserve recognition for their devotion to the Lord and to the church,” said Mary K. Carlton, staff parish member. “Of course, when we first thought of people like that, Grady rose to the top.”
Bennett, 79, first moved to Scottsboro from Harriman, Tennessee, in 1954, when he was 18 years old.
“My father, Richard Bennett, had a job with Burlington Industries and was relocated here with my mother, Edith,” he said. “I have two brothers and three sisters, but only one brother and one sister moved here with us.
“We came to the First Baptist Church on a Sunday,” he said with a laugh, “and it was very nice, but the town of Scottsboro was like an old Western town to me, and even Huntsville was just a cotton mill town. I was used to a bigger city, so I said, ‘ya’ll can move here if you want to, but I’m not. I’m going to live with my grandmother.’”
His father said otherwise, so Bennett moved to Scottsboro.
“Some friends of ours who had already relocated here with Burlington told the folks at First Baptist that I played the organ,” he said. “When we joined the church, the pastor said, ‘well, I think we’ve found someone to play.’ Miss Grace Wales was the organist then, but she wanted to play the piano instead, so she was thrilled.”
Bennett, who had no idea the church even knew he played, was surprised and pleased. He had found his place in the community.
“I had been playing since I was 14-years-old,” he said. “I’ve studied music a lot, but I also have a natural ability for it. I can listen to any song and play it.”
The Bennetts stayed at First Baptist for six years.
“Then we moved to Byron Street right across from what used to be Calvary Baptist Church,” he said. “My father was a deacon, and believed you should attend the church closest to your home, so we started going there. I played the organ for 12 years for them.”
During that time, he also filled in at several area churches.
“I played at the Lutheran church, Randall’s Chapel United Methodist, and at the Presbyterian church,” he said. “I think I’ve played in every church in Scottsboro except the Catholic Church. I’ve played for weddings and funerals there, but I’ve never been their church organist.”
In 1974, the First United Methodist Church found themselves with no organist, and offered Bennett a paid position.
“I had never been paid to play before,” he said. “They offered me a salary. At the time, that was kind of unheard of.”
In 1983, he also became the organist for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scottsboro.
“Their service was at 9:30,” he said, “so I was able to play at both churches. I stayed at St. Luke’s for 30 years. At one time, the priest thought about changing the service time. But the people said, ‘if you do that, we can’t have Grady,’ so they voted it down.”
During the week, Bennett, worked at O’linger Mobile Homes as the office manager for several years.
“I had to sell, buy and everything else,” he said. “Then I went to work for the county as the director of the Senior Rx program from 2003-2011.”
Four years ago, he suffered a terrible fall at home that almost took his life.
“I was here alone,” he said, “and I fell in the bathtub. I had to be med-flighted to Huntsville and was in the hospital for six days. When I came home, I had 47 staples in my head.
“I told my doctor I hoped and prayed we didn’t have a thunderstorm,” he said, “because if I stuck my head out the door, I’d get struck by lighting.’ The doctor said, ‘Grady, you always come up with a way to make something funny.’”
Although the fall permanently impaired some of the movement in his left hand, Bennett still plays both the organ and the piano beautifully.
After 42 years at First Methodist, he has no plans to retire.
“I’ve tried to quit, but they won’t let me,” he said with a proud smile. “I still play every Sunday. I can’t drive anymore, so they come get me and bring me back home. We have a big pipe organ there, it has the most melodic tone and it’s the best I’ve ever played.”
Considering how many he has played, that is saying a lot.
“I’ve played the organ for somewhere between 500-1000 weddings, and for even more funerals than that over the years,” he said.
“I never married. I said I was too busy getting other people married, but the first time a groom doesn’t show up, I’ll jump up and take me a bride,” he joked.
He still lives in the home on Byron Street that he shares with his brother, Dana.
“I’ve had a rewarding life,” he said with a smile. “I’ve enjoyed every bite of food I’ve ever eaten, and I thank everybody who has ever been a part of my life. The people of Scottsboro are some of the best people in the world and I have enjoyed my life here.
“I’ve had seven heart attacks in the past two years, but I’m okay right now,” he said. “I’m getting old, but I’m ready to go.
“I plan to keep playing until I can’t play any more. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t sit down to the organ and play something.”
His favorite selection in the religious genre is, ‘He Leadeth Me,’ and in the classical genre, he prefers, ‘Arioso,’ by Handel.
“Music has been my life and I don’t know what would happen to me without it,” he said.
He was surprised by the news of the event to honor him.
“When Pastor Steve called me about it,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it. I’m elated about it, and it’s something I never expected. I deeply appreciate it.”
A giving tree will be available at the event. For more information, contact The First United Methodist Church of Scottsboro at 256-574-2545.