Fred Beneby, an 85-year-old Army veteran has been taking to the street to inspire residents to go to the polls.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Fred Beneby could be relaxing and enjoying himself, but instead he is out trying to make a difference in the world.
The 85-year-old is a retired telephone human resources assistant manager for AT&T and Southern Bell, and a U.S. Army veteran now turned volunteer extraordinaire.
He is now urging people to get out to the polls.
“I am an activist for voting and education. I’m just trying to show people that even at my age, I can’t get out and knock on doors, but I can make myself visible. I am happy with it. I just want to encourage people to get out to vote,” Beneby told the Daytona Times this week.
If Beneby’s name sounds familiar, that’s because for years he has helped assist Bethune-Cookman University with fundraising and recruitment efforts.
Last year, he was involved in fundraisers at Mt. Zion AME Church in Daytona Beach that helped B-CU students with tuition.
Beneby sets up his operation outside, just west of the Seagrass Village independent living community on Yorktowne Boulevard in Port Orange.
There he sits or stands with signs that say, “Go Vote.’’ Beneby wears a mask and T-shirt that both say “Vote.’’ He waves and gets honks from cars passing by.
On Tuesday morning, a Hawk even landed in a nearby tree and looked on.
“I’ve been out here all month. Well, this location is just about the only one that I can get. I think it is still a pretty good spot. I still think I reach enough people here,” said Beneby.
The endeavor is his one-man show.
“I can’t get people out constantly. I know there are organizations doing this work,” he said.
“There are some sorority members that have put my fliers out, but I am a committee of one. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble with their jobs and stuff.”
Honoring Lewis, others
Another reason Beneby is doing this is to honor the late Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights activist. Beneby also is honoring those who lost their lives so others can vote.
“I feel strongly about getting out to vote and honoring John Lewis who encouraged us to vote and stand for justice. I also learned of at least 17 others who died for us to vote,” he related.
“They were both Black and White. I am remembering those who died for the cause.”
Beneby is being bipartisan while on this mission.
“I ran into a little problem. Where I am at, 70 percent of the people favor President Donald Trump. I have been welcomed and accepted. I haven’t had any real problems except for one guy,” Beneby said.
“I explained to him my intentions and he became OK with it. It’s a slippery slope, but I’ve been through this before. I am not telling people who I voted for,” he said.
“I already voted. My hope is people will vote for whoever they think will make the country better.”
Beneby was born in Miami and grew up in Hollywood. He is the son of Bahamian immigrants.
Fred Beneby served in the Army from 1956 to 1958; he was stationed in Korea in 1957 and 1958. In 1961-1962, he was a military police officer in the Army Reserve.
His wife, Anathia, died in December. He has two daughters, Vonshelle and Crystal. His son, Jerry, is deceased. Beneby also has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
During his tenure working for AT&T and Southern Bell, Beneby did numerous jobs before working his way up. He held several positions, from janitor to management.
In addition to volunteering with B-CU he has worked with several other non-profits such as Family Renew, where he helped to secure items for children and adults. Beneby also is a former baseball player, having played in the Southern Negro Amatueur League.
Beneby also enjoys reading, history and baseball. He is a member of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Daytona Beach.
Black voting hopes
Beneby hopes for a large voter turnout, even in the Black community. Out of more than 30,000 Black voters, only 8,864 voted in the primary election in August.
“I am surprised with how many people don’t vote. People have their reasons. My hope is that they find reasons to vote,” he said.
“My parents were from the Bahamas where 70 to 80 percent of the people vote. They always encouraged me to make sure I vote and to encourage others to vote.”
As for what can be done to get more people to vote, there is no clear answer.
“I don’t think that we can do no more than what we are doing now,” he related.
“Just continue to encourage people to vote and educate them on why it is important.”
Beneby is also aware of voter suppression; he has seen it throughout his life.
“I am a little concerned about it. It has happened in my lifetime. It is happening now. That is why we must inform voters on what they need to do to ensure that they can vote,’’ he added.