MMI hails new chief

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

In the short time he has been president of Marion Military Institute, Col. James H. Benson has already won some major battles.

After being welcomed to the school’s sprawling campus on July 15, Benson went straight to work easing tension between alumni and securing the military institution’s place in Perry County.

“A portion of the alumni wanted to stay in Marion, while there was a group wanting to move the school to Anniston,” Benson said. “There was some friction between the alumni the (Board of Trustees) wanted me to fix. I created an agreement called the Alumni Brigade and now everyone is into the school 100 percent.”

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Charles Holmes, a recently retired MMI Trustee Chairman, said Benson “hit the ground running” after joining the school’s faculty.

“Enrollment had not quite reached its goal by the time he started. In alumni affairs, there were some problems,” he said. “We needed to get the alumni at the school to work together, and in 67 days (Benson) got that taken care of.”

During his short time in office, Benson helped the school meet its enrollment goal for this year.

There are now currently 306 cadets attending the nation’s oldest military preparatory school and junior college.

Last year, Benson says, there were only around 283 cadets in the school.

Benson is the 15th MMI president since its founding in 1842 and the fourth president to join the school in the past 10 years.

His predecessor, Gen. Richard Foley, left his post to focus on several speaking and traveling engagements.

Holmes said that before Foley was hired as president of MMI in 2000, Benson had been one of top three finalists in the interview process.

“I never forgot how I was treated here at Marion,” Benson said. “When I learned that Gen. Foley was retiring from MMI, I decided to again apply for the position.”

Benson, who retired from the Marine Corps in 1995, served as Executive Assistant to the President and Director of Planning, as well as Vice President of Administration, at Bridgewater College in Virginia.

He is also a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, including two Bronze Stars with “V” for Valor.

Benson said moving to the small town of Marion was never an issue for him or his family.

“The Southern hospitality has been first class,” Benson said. “The biggest challenges were just packing up and moving.”

In honor of Benson’s new appointment, MMI held a special parade and flag ceremony at the school on Tuesday.