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October 23, 2014

Anniston family commemorates renaming of city street

A LEGACY MEMORIALIZED

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Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2014 12:36 am | Updated: 1:29 am, Sun Aug 31, 2014.

Benny Ray owned the second television ever brought to his Anniston neighborhood, but he never kept it to himself.

"It was a black-and-white TV back then ... all the kids used to come on the porch and watch mostly sports," said Curtis Ray, Benny's son. "He didn't turn none of them away."

Before he died in 1984, Benny Ray for decades spent much of his spare time mentoring the youth of his community through sports like they were his own children. A baseball field and park built mainly through his efforts has borne his name for years.

However, the city is mulling selling the park to private interests to save money, meaning it could lose its name and the legacy behind it.

A nearby street recently renamed for Ray though, will ensure his legacy is never forgotten.

Three generations of Ray's family turned out Saturday to celebrate the renaming of High Street to Benny Ray Street in Anniston. The Anniston City Council several weeks ago renamed the street, located just on the outskirts of the city near Hobson City.

Though the street is not very long — it only has three homes on it before it dead-ends — it contains plenty of history for the Ray family and the local community. Benny's wife, Ollie Ray, still lives in the family home on the end of the street. The street is also an access point for Benny Ray Park, easily visible from the back of the family home.

Ollie Ray, sitting on her porch surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, said she was glad her husband will always be remembered through the street name.

"It's good to know," she said. "I do appreciate it and the city manager and the council for what they've done concerning the street."

In a Saturday phone interview, Anniston City Councilman Seyram Selase said the council wanted to do something to make sure Benny Ray's contributions to the area are remembered should the park be sold. Selase noted the park will be sold on the condition it remain a park.

“He was a giant in the community and I'm very honored for this to be happening in Ward 3,” Selase said.

Ollie Ray said her husband building the park was part of a larger love and support of the youth in his community.

“We were the mother and father of the community," she said with a smile. "We always had kids over at the house.”

Curtis Ray said the park was built in 1965 through his father's efforts. After persuading the city of Oxford to remove all the pine trees at the site, his father organized kids in the community to help clean it off and turn it into a baseball field. For years, many local baseball teams and children used the field, Curtis Ray said.

"It gave recreation for this whole community and even Hobson City," he said.

Curtis Ray said his father helped manage and maintain the field until his death. In the 1990s, the city took control of the park and named it after his father, he said.

"He done a magnificent job with what he had to work with," he said. "And he financed it all himself ... he bought the balls and the bats."

Mark Alexander, Benny Ray's grandson, traveled from New York to celebrate the renaming of the street. Alexander hadn't been in Anniston since he was 10, and though could barely remember his grandfather, wanted to return so he and his sons could learn more about their family history.

"I wanted them to learn about their great-grandfather and what he did in his life," Alexander said.

Alexander said he was honored to know a city street will always be named after his grandfather.

"It's an amazing feeling ... I definitely have a sense of pride," he said.

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