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Prep Friday : The Happy and the Happy-Go-Lucky : For 60 Years, He Has Been Mr. Brea : Bennett, 78, Is a Dyer-Hard Fan

November 07, 1986|GERALD SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

A large part of Brea history, and a large part of Dyer Bennett, will be forever lost after tonight.

After tonight, no more football games will be held at Brea High School's antiquated, quaint on-campus stadium, a fixture in the community for 60 years. After tonight's Orange League game between Brea and Western, the wrecking ball will move in, soon to be followed by land developers and local merchants.

Within two years, a new high school and stadium will be completed at a site about a mile from the current Brea campus on Birch Street. Although everyone is pleased that the area students will have a modern facility to use, the old stadium will nonetheless be missed.

And nobody in Brea will miss the old stadium more than Bennett, 78, a resident of Brea since 1926.

Although Bennett never actually attended Brea, he has been involved with school activities for so long that he seems to have an appreciation for the place that some other actual Brea graduates might lack.

Bennett estimates that he's seen about 10 Brea football games per year for the past 60 years, meaning that he's seen a good 600 Brea varsity games (home and away) and more than 1,000 counting junior varsity, sophomore and freshmen games.

Bennett was here before the first game at Brea Field was played, before the first students at Brea High opened their books.

"Yep," he said, looking around an area that has gone from a strictly small town atmosphere to a suburban expanse. "I helped them build the school when I came out here from Arkansas in 1926. Drove a team of mules turning over the dirt.

"And the stadium that used to be here was all wood, with ivy running down the sides and back. They didn't have lights in those days--they were all Friday afternoon games, so the whole town of Brea would close down and everybody'd go to see the football games."

Bennett remembers all the numbers and all the names that have worn the green and gold of the Wildcats on this turf.

"A lot of good people played on this field, you know," Bennett said. "The Sweet family, the Ledbetter family--Talbert Ledbetter played back in the 1930s, and Adrian Ledbetter, he was a good one, too.

"Dick Tucker coached here--the 1961 CIF championship team was his, I think. Yes sir, a lot of good memories from this field."

Listening to Bennett's crisp voice, giving life to memories that seem to get more vivid instead of fading with time, it's easy to see why he is often a guest speaker at the high school to tell stories of local history, the Great Depression, and World War II, events that still mark his character to this day.

Bennett doesn't come right out and say so, but it's easy to see why he has such a love affair with the school, why he thinks he has to give Brea something back--whether it be the lectures, the scholarships that he sponsors, or the many school functions that he attends.

It begins with Edith Mallory, Brea High School Class of '32, the woman that the young oil field worker would meet, fall in love with, and marry. Their marriage lasted 45 years before Edith died of cancer in 1977.

To Bennett, Brea High gave him Edith--something that he believes he can never repay. Edith's sister was a film editor in Hollywood during the 1920s and 30s, and thanks to her, Bennett was able to meet actress Joan Crawford, director John Huston, and singer Patty Page.

More important, Edith was there when Dyer came home from World War II. Edith was Dyer's world, making the heartbreak and repulsion of war bearable.

Was she pretty, Dyer?

"Was she ever!" Bennett said. "She was a cheerleader and a songleader. Editor of the annual. Very active in the school. Good citizenship, too. One of the top, top people I ever met.

"Why, there were some hard times then, people wearing cardboard to patch their shoes or clothes with, but a feller could take his gal to the movies in Fullerton, get a hamburger, popcorn and a Coke, and still have change from his dollar.

"Of course, it cost a nickel extra to sit in the loges, but you could neck there, so we went all of the time."

Bennett says a major reason why he revels in the success of Brea sports teams is that he simply gets a kick out of watching youngsters grow and learn what lessons in life they can from winning and losing on the athletic field.

You see, Bennett saw his share of children who didn't have those types of opportunities during World War II, when he served as a navigator with the 5th Air Force in the Pacific. Bennett fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea and still has the papers from a dead Japanese soldier he came up against in the Philippines.

Also, as an airman, Bennett was one of the first people to view the carnage and destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the weeks after the atomic bombings of those cities in August, 1945.

Here, Bennett speaks very softly, very reverently.

"You just can't imagine that kind of destruction--you just can't imagine it. They wouldn't let us fly below 1,000 feet because of the radiation. A concrete building that has melted is something to behold. It (Hiroshima) was black as far as you could see.

"Seeing that still bothers me to this day, you know."

After the war, Bennett returned to Brea and finished his working career at Union Oil, retiring in 1969. Other than the war years or an occasional sickness, watching the Brea football team was a way of life.

Bennett took another look at the sidelines and goalposts and the wooden bleachers. Here, tears welled in his eyes.

"Maybe nobody world famous ever came out of Brea," he said. "But I've been all over the world--the Philippines, Japan, Corregidor, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea--and some of the finest people in the world are right here, let me tell you.

"Yes sir, some of the finest people in the world are right here in Brea, and you better not forget that, mister."

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