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Bridgeport prepares for annual Benedum Festival

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Festivities are slated for next weekend in Bridgeport to celebrate the life of a man who greatly affected the city.

The annual Benedum Festival will kick off Thursday with an awards dinner and continue through Sunday with activities in the Bridgeport City Park.

"He was a great man," said Dwight Fowler, a member of the festival committee who knew Michael Benedum, the man whose life the festival commemorates and honors. "He was kind and generous and was always looking to help people."

According to Bob Allen, a chairperson for the event, much of Benedum's charitable work has been done through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, named after his son who died in World War I. Grants from the foundation are to be used "exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals."

Although the foundation is located in Pittsburgh, Benedum directed 75 percent of the money be used in West Virginia.

The list of projects Benedum helped finance in Bridgeport is a long one. The city's pool, Methodist church, civic center, cemetery and airport are some of the things Bridgeport has received through the Benedum's help. Allen said foundation contributions have been made to every college in the state.

"This was his home and he never forgot the people who helped him when he was getting started," said Fowler, who first met Benedum when he was on the Bridgeport Methodist Church's committee.

According to Fowler, Benedum's life was an eventful one, full of historic events and impressive achievements in addition to his enormous charitable work.

Benedum was a friend and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War II, he looked after the nation's oil business. Because he "discovered more oil than any one man," according to Fowler, he was known as the "Great Wildcatter," which is also the name of his biography.

The awards dinner at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Via Veneto will honor "people who are like Benedum," said Fowler.

Awards will be given to people, called Benedum Fellows, who positively impacted the community. Humorist Bill Lepp and musician Don Hamilton will provide entertainment for the banquet, while Bridgeport children will read their winning "If I Could Be Like Mike" essays. Banquet tickets are available at the Benedum Civic Center.

On Friday, activities will begin at the Bridgeport Civic Center Pool with Splash Bash at 7 p.m. Allen said the whole family is invited to enjoy the games, races and music. The cost is $1.50 per person.

Saturday will begin with a fishing derby at Deegan Lake from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. for children ages 5 to 12. At 8:30 a.m., the festival's 5K Run will begin at Bridgeport High School. Free T-shirts will be available to the first 200 who register. Entry fee for the race is $8 and registration forms are available at the civic center.

At 10 a.m., a pet parade will take place at the Bridgeport Middle School, where the Harrison County Humane Society will have pets available for adoption. A pitch-in golf contest sponsored by the Bridgeport Parks and Recreation starts at 4 p.m.

Performances by the Bridgeport High School Majorettes, the Shinnston Area Community Band, country music singer Candy Baker and rock band Rick K. and the Allnighters will also mark Saturday's festivities and will take place at the city park. A magician, games and food will also be at the park.

The festival ends Sunday, fittingly Benedum's birthday, with a vesper service and live gospel music in the park sponsored by the Bridgeport Ministerial Association. "We try to have the festival every year close to his birthday," said Fowler. "It's kind of a birthday party for him."

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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