By Bill Robinson
RICHMOND — Michael Benson has been president of Eastern Kentucky University for a little over three months, but the Richmond community is still rolling out the red carpet to make him feel welcome.
On Sunday, the Telford YMCA took its turn. The Y’s board of directors, including some past directors, invited Benson to an afternoon meet-and-greet at the Bennett House.
James Shannon, a past YMCA board member who for many years was president of the Madison County Historical Society, presented Benson with a copy of Madison County’s bicentennial history. The book was commissioned and published in 1986 during Shannon’s tenure as historical society president.
The gift volume was autographed by its three authors as well as Shannon and the late Dr. Tom Clark, who was the state’s historian laureate when the county celebrated its 200th year.
Benson, a historian by training, said he appreciated the gift and how the community has welcomed him and his family.
He also shared some personal experiences with the YMCA, starting with his Texas childhood when he participated in the organization’s youth activities.
During his final year as a graduate student, Benson said, he lived and studied in Jerusalem where the Rotary Club met each Tuesday at the YMCA.
The Jerusalem Y was an inclusive organization, he said, recalling the time a Jewish orchestra performed Handel’s “Messiah” there. That was one way the YMCA fulfilled it mission of bringing people together regardless of creed, Benson said, adding that he appreciates the role the Telford YMCA plays in this community.
In addition to good food and drink, no social event would be complete without entertainment, said Rita Smart of the Bennett House. Most at the gathering probably didn’t know Benson is a concert pianist, she said, but the EKU president could show them by playing the Bennett House’s baby-grand piano.
Benson then obliged by sitting down at the piano and delighting his audience with a rendition of “Misty” and “Girl from Ipanema” from memory.
The Telford YMCA is in the midst of its annual Magnify the Impact fundraising campaign that has a goal of $40,000. The effort, which began Oct. 1 and continues through Dec. 31, will allow the Telford Y to serve many who cannot afford to pay for participation, said Dave Wallace, its executive director.