By STEVEN NALLEY
Dolphus Weary was convinced he would never return to Mississippi.
Weary ultimately spent decades working with Mendenhall Ministries to bring a recreation center, medical service, a law firm and other building blocks to Mendenhall. Before those decades, he said he left his native Mendenhall area on a basketball scholarship to Los Angeles Baptist College with no intent to ever come back.
He said everyone who has ever grown up in a small town can learn from his change of heart.
“We’re always dreaming about being somebody else,” Weary said. “We’re always dreaming about, ‘How can I just get out of here?’... rather than saying, ‘How can I make this community the best community it can be?’”
Weary was the keynote speaker at the Maben Chamber of Commerce’s biennial banquet Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Maben.
Chamber President Shawn Nygard said this year’s banquet drew more attention and sales than the previous one, which was the first. Whereas 120 tickets were sold for the last banquet and about 11 businesses attended, 168 tickets were sold this time, bringing in 29 businesses. He said he was grateful to First Baptist Church, all the businesses in attendance, and several others who helped make the event possible.
“I think the banquet went a lot smoother this year than it did the first year,” Nygard said. “We had a lot of hiccups last year trying to put it on for the first time. We learned from a few mistakes, kept our time limit a little closer to the two-hour limit, didn’t draw it out like we did last time (and) had a lot more participation from businesses.
“Our speaker was very dynamic,” Nygard added. “Dolphus brought us a message here specifically for Maben in our own growth and unity. I think it was a message well-received. I think the night was an opportunity for the community to come together, and I think they did just that through the message.”
Weary emphasized unity across racial, denominational and political lines in his speech. During a mission in Liberia, he said he learned an African proverb small communities need to live by.
“If you want to travel fast, go by yourself,” Weary said. “If you want to travel far, you travel together.”
To make such unity possible, Weary said people in small communities need to develop trust by listening to each other, acknowledging and discussing the fears which drive distrust. He said people need to learn why others hold different views instead of trying to change those views. By building a dialogue on these principles, he said a community can learn from its past and make progress.
“Today I want to talk about looking back and dreaming forward,” Weary said. “I talk to people all the time, and they either want to one or the other. I believe it’s important for us to do both. We have to have the courage to look back, and we have to have the fortitude to dream forward.”
In his closing remarks, Maben Mayor Larry Pruitt said he was grateful for the businesses’ participation and for everything they give to the community. He said he looks forward to businesses’ feedback, and he wants to make efforts to promote the unity Weary described.
“You all mean so much to us, to the city of Maben and to the people,” Pruitt said. “We’re just proud to have great businesses like you. This is one of the greatest small towns in Mississippi.”
Marvell Howard, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors president, said he thought the banquet was a success, and he looks forward to the next one.
“It had a great speaker, great food, great support,” Howard said. “I think they’ve got something special going here that just seems to get better and better each year.”