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Bennett retires after many years of service

Robert Samuel Bennett has endured many years facing harsh elements, careless drivers and seemingly endless miles of rural highways and byways as he's made his appointed rounds each day.

This amiable gentleman, whose slim, spry appearance belies his 72 years, has been a man with a missionone that ends officially February 2nd. On that day, Bennett retires as a rural letter carrier, having served both the Greenville and the Forest Home communities for close to 29 years.

A life-long resident of the Mt. Zion community, Bennett lives on his family farm.

"That's the way I made my living for a long time, through farming. . . Then in 1971 they were advertising for minorities to come in and apply for government jobs, so I decided to try and get on with the post office as a substitute carrier," explains Bennett.

Though a position wasn't immediately available, Bennett was later offered a substitute route that he worked for seven years.

He credits two of his 13 siblings with helping him keep the farm going while he delivered the mail.

"My two brothers, Fred and Lambert, were a real big help to me during those years . . . if I got called in to work and there were chores needing to be done on the place those two would see to them.

Really, I couldn't have done it without them."

In late 1980, the Route 3 Greenville and Forest Home routes were combined into a single route. On December 13, 1980, Bennett became the busy full-time carrier for this daily route of 112 miles.

"All those miles, they can sure wear out a vehicle fast.

You can't keep a car or truck more than two, maybe three years," Bennett comments. A dedicated "Chevy" man for years, the mail carrier can list a long line of Chevrolet vehicles he's used over the decades

That being the case, one has to ask why does he have that big red Dodge truck as his current mail chariot?

"Well, now, I was just between a rock and a hard place.

My Chevy was in the shop needing $2300 work on the engine. It had over 130,000 miles on it already.

I knew I needed me another vehicle that next day . . . when I couldn't find a Chevy I liked, I ended up with that Dodge," explains Bennett.

Over the years this mail carrier discovered that, regardless of the make or model of vehicle he drove, some people just weren't good at watching out for those sudden stops he had to make.

"If you don't have lights flashing all over you, some folks ain't gonna pay you a bit of attention . . . so I added lights and a sign on top. That helped out.

Then, when little children started running out to pick up the mail, I got worried about their safety," Bennett says.

So the concerned letter carrier added signs to the sides of his vehicle reminding parents to keep their children at a safe distance.

Bennett has seen quite a few changes come to the post office during his years of service. "Yep, I can remember when a First Class letter costs eight cents to mailand a postcard was only a penny," he exclaims, adding, "Everything's so computer-oriented nowadays, it's a whole lot different.

Computers have done a lot of good, like being able to track packages for customersI don't know, though, it's all a little too much for us older folks."

Working for the US Postal Service is, Bennett admits, a very stressful job at times.

"Covering my route everyday, going to two post offices and making dispatch on time hasn't been easybut I've always tried my best not to get stressed out from it." He pauses, then adds with a grin, "Guess that's why I'm leaving nowbefore I DO get all stressed out."

Following his retirement, Bennett plans to continue and perhaps expand his farming operations.

"I've got about 40 head of cattle so I want to get some hay fields started for them.

Plus, there's plenty of kudzu on my place and I'm hoping those cows will do away with some of that," he grins.

Bennett also plans to put in 10-15 acres of corn on his farm this year.

He says he's been wanting to do more hunting and fishing for years-"only now that I'll have the time, most of the good fishing holes have dried up," he laments.

One thing's for sure: this father of six, grandfather of 11 and great-granddad of two won't simply be sitting back in his Lazyboy taking it easy.

"When you're of my generation, it's really hard not to keep going. My kids are always saying, Daddy, you got to take it easier,' but I reckon if I don't stay pretty busy, well, I'll just die."

This hard-working family man does cherish his time with those dear to him. His children are scattered throughout the state and country.

Daughter Bobbie Jean is in Ohio; sons Carlos and Robert F. live in Greenville; daughter Florine lives in Tanner, Ala. and Mary Artimis and family make their home in Denver.

"Everybody comes down to see us now and then, so they can tell me to rest," Bennett says with a broad smile.

One daughter, Christine, still lives with Robert and his wife of 52 years, Ceola.

At age 47, Christine has long outlived doctor's expectations.

"Christine is handicapped . . . the doctors said she wouldn't live past her 18th birthday, but here she still is," says Bennett with the voice of a proud and tender papa.

As concerned parents, the Bennetts became involved years ago in the formation of a group that would eventually lead to the development of Greenville's Butler Activity and Training Center, of which their daughter is an active part.

In the past, Bennett has also served his community as PTA president and volunteer fire fighter.

Though time has slowed him down a bit, he says he is proud of every one of his 72 years and shares some words of wisdom.

"You've got to plan your work and work your plan . . . but you've also got to realize your plans aren't always gonna work out like you want. Life involves a lot of give and takesort of like a good marriage, you know?"

Come February 2nd, Bennett's wife, Ceola, will, in fact, receive a unique birthday gift: a newly retired husband.

"Well, she's been putting up with me for 52 years . . . I told her we could probably make it about 52 more," chuckles Bennett.