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Daily file photo
Al Benn, right, with the late Daily editor-publisher Barrett C. Shelton at a newspaper event marking Shelton's 50th anniversary as the newspaper's head in 1974. Benn will return to the Daily on Thursday for a book-signing session.

Ex-Daily writer who helped launch: Spirit of America to sign books here

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

Here's something you probably don't know about Decatur's Spirit of America Festival.

The two major attractions for the first festival in 1967 were the greased pig chase and the beauty competition.

"People loved the pig chase and it attracted a lot of people," Al Benn of Selma said.

Benn, a former Decatur Daily reporter, was one of the people responsible for the first festival , held at Delano Park.

Now in semi-retirement, he has written a book that includes stories about his 7 as a writer and editor at The Daily.

Benn, 66, will be at The Daily for a book signing Thursday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The self-published book titled "Reporter: Covering Civil Rights . . . and Wrongs in Dixie" is about 400 pages and costs $25.

Some of the most captivating stories in the book are about events Benn covered in Decatur.

He writes about the kidnapping and killing of Ray Lovett, a Daily employee. Lovett was attending an Austin-Decatur football game when Glenn Dolvin and his wife, Sue, stole his car.

When Lovett went to the Decatur Police Department to file a report, investigators had already captured the Dolvins at Gateway Shopping Center.

The Dolvins, who were professional thieves from Florida, posted bond.

Fearing that Lovett might testify against them, they kidnapped and murdered him and buried his body in a shallow grave in Ocala, Fla.

About 10 years later when Florida was widening a highway, workers found Lovett's remains. The Dolvins were tried and convicted of Lovett's murder in Morgan County Circuit Court.

Benn writes also about covering the rape and killing of Mary Faye Hunter, who played piano in a local church.

"I don't remember the year, but she disappeared around Halloween," Benn said. "I went to the church to cover the story. About six months later, they found her remains in the Tennessee River. The case was never solved."

Spirit festival

The event Benn said he was most proud to write about was the Spirit of America festival.

He said he was having coffee with then-Decatur Daily City Editor George Biggers when protest against the Vietnam War appeared to be at an all-time high.

"We wanted to do something to show the patriotic spirit of America and that America supported its troops," Benn said.

"We had a shoe-string budget in 1967, but I'm proud that the festival has grown to where it is today."

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