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Minister receives award named for local historian

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Gynder Benson presents the first Parker Westbrook Award to her father, Rev. Willie Benson Jr., Saturday night at the Parker Westbrook Dinner. Leader Photo By Connie Castleberry

Nashville minister and preservationist Rev. Willie Benson Jr. received the Parker Westbrook Award Saturday night at the first annual Parker Westbrook Dinner held at the Black Pearl in Mineral Springs.

Benson’s daughter Gynder Benson made the presentation. “I was honored and humbled” by the award, he said.

The event was sponsored by the Howard County Democratic Party. It was named in memory of Westbrook, who was known across the country in both preservation and political circles.

Benson is a long-time Democrat and is a friend of many of the party’s best-known members, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. He has served on the Democratic Party’s Central Committee and is active in local Democratic efforts.

Benson has worked in preservation for years and has helped with restoration work for historic sites in Southwest Arkansas. Preservation is an area in which Westbrook received state and national recognition.

Benson is pastor of the Free Christian Zion of Christ in Nashville and has been a preacher most of his life. “I’ve been preaching since I was 8, and I’m 88 now,” he said.

About 80 people from Drew, Clark, Pike, Columbia, Sevier, Howard, Miller, Pulaski and Bowie counties attended the dinner.

Vincent Insalaco, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, spoke of Westbrook’s legacy. He told the audience about the life’s work of Westbrook and his contributions to preservation and to the state in general.

Preston Eldridge spoke on behalf of his brother, U.S. Senatorial candidate Conner Eldridge.