(HUNTSVILLE) Dr. Benny Ray McManus, 87, of Huntsville, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sept. 5, 2023.
Born on Aug. 18, 1936 in the Friendship Community near Wedowee, the third of six children, Ben graduated from Randolph County High School. He went on to earn both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from Auburn University, as well as his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University. A member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, Ben was elected to numerous honor societies, including Phi Kappa Phi. Named the Outstanding ROTC Graduate at Auburn and selected to join the Caissons Artillery Honor Society, Ben received an honorable discharge from the Army, having achieved the rank of Captain.
A life-long advocate of the power of education, Ben won numerous teaching awards and certificates of merit as a Professor at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, including the W.S. Overton Faculty Merit Award for Outstanding Contributions to Student Development. Moreover, he authored and co-authored many research papers. A leader in his field, Ben helped found both the Advisory Committee to the Institute of Agriculture, later serving as Chairman, and the Institute’s annual Ag Day celebration, in addition to serving as the faculty advisor to the Ag Business Club and as a Faculty Senator.
Beloved by his students for his teaching style and focus on providing real world, practical information, he is most remembered for a signature assignment he gave all his Ag Finance students, which a former intern described as “the greatest idea anyone has ever shared with me.” He required all of his students to bring a small empty can to class, and he then gave each student a sticker with a picture of an “eye” to put on the can. To be used a pencil holder on their desk, this “eye can” was intended to inspire his students to know that “I can” do anything as they completed their studies and moved into their professional fields.
Seen as a sounding board, mentor, and counselor both before and after graduation, Ben instilled in his students a sense of personal responsibility, the need to be proactive instead of reactive, and the critical importance of goal setting. Noted for his professionalism and high expectations, and with a knack for motivating students and fostering a positive attitude, Ben was dedicated to his students, colleagues, and the entire University community. As one student summed up in a letter nominating Ben for a teaching award: “He is a winner and he expects others to be winners also.”
In addition to his career as an educator, Ben was active in farming, banking, and real estate. At one point, he owned hundreds of acres of cotton, soybean, and timber farms in Alabama, and for many years, he was majority stockholder and Chairman of the Board of three community banks in Tennessee: Citizens Bank of Spencer, Citizens Bank of Gainsboro, and First State Bank of Maynardville. The founding president of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Society of Farm Management Appraisers, Ben served many years on the advisory board of Farm Credit Service of Mid-America and the board of directors of Plateau Insurance. Additionally, he built many single family homes and condominiums in the Knoxville, Tenn., area.
Ben was preceded in death by his father, Ferris “Fed” Sherrell McManus; his mother, Irene Wright McManus; and his brother, Lt. Col. Malcolm Sherrell McManus. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Maxine Whigham McManus; daughter Stacy McManus; and daughter Amy McManus and son-in-law Andrew Odewahn, and two grandchildren, Wilson and James Odewahn. In addition, Ben is survived by four siblings: Col. James T. McManus, Wilson W. McManus, DVM, Philip E. McManus, Pharm.D., and Charlotte R. McManus; as well as many cherished nieces and nephews.
Pallbearers will be Philip E. McManus, James McManus II, David McManus, Wilson Wright McManus II, Robert McManus, Andrew Odewahn and Nicolas Williams. Honorary pallbearers will be all of his former students.
Funeral services with interment following will be Thursday, Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. (CDT) at Liberty Grove Congregational Methodist Church in Woodland. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the Liberty Grove Cemetery Fund, and online condolences may be expressed at www.benefieldfhwedowee.com.
Benefield Funeral Home, Wedowee.