By MELODY JAMESON
SUNDANCE — When brothers Ryan and Brent Bennett were kids, they loved to ham it up for the family.
Along with a sidekick cousin or two, they would sing, dance, mimic and mime, entertaining with their youthful antics whenever, wherever the Bennett clan assembled.
And, those clan bakes were not infrequent – especially at the Wimauma home of grandparents, Gil and Anne Bennett. Theirs was the kind of house where their own offspring, the neighborhood kids, the friends of offspring and of neighbors, all were welcomed, counseled, fed. Gil, for years, taught and coached at East Bay High School. Anne Bennett, for years, advised new home buyers in Sun City Center on matters of tropical décor as resident decorator in the model home center. The deep roots also are widely spread. Such an extended family doesn’t require much of an occasion to congregate.
Ryan and Brent rarely lacked for an audience. From childhood to the teenage years, they could be counted on to hog the limelight. The sons of Keavie and Sherell Bennett, there were just 22 months between them, with Brent the first born. As they matured toward manhood, they grew closer. And, even though Brent was the first to fly the Sundance nest, taking his East Bay diploma to the University of Central Florida in Orlando, leaving Ryan to finish up his high school work, the bond was not weakened.
This week, though, Ryan sings and dances alone. Yet, somehow, he says, Brent will be there, too, as Ryan auditions for the second consecutive year at Busch Gardens, competing with older, more experienced entertainers for a summer dancing, singing, acting gig. “He’ll help me; he often does,” the 18-year-old promises softly.
Three months into his college career in 2007, Brent Bennett collapsed suddenly one afternoon while cutting up with a group of new friends. He was gone within moments. His death is attributed to a heat stroke. It hit the Bennett clan hard – leaving a gaping hole in the family fabric for each member to wrestle with in his and her own way.
For Ryan, he chooses to believe his big brother is close by, watching, giving Ryan strength of purpose, determination to keep going, perseverance to strive for the goals. “He made me realize who I am,” he adds.
Taking stock, the not-yet-twenty-something knows not just who but also what he is and where he’s going. He is, he says, a performer with pretty good people skills and a conviction that whatever the challenge he can meet it. But, there’s one more thing: he’s made something of a pact with Brent; Brent gives him courage, Ryan spreads it around.
Right now that “giving back” is helping beat breast cancer. His goal is raising at least $4,000 for the Susan G. Komen Three Day Walk – and walking the 60-mile walk in late October. It’ll be for Brent and for a California college student he met online who sent $80 he scraped together for the fund.
So, along with course work at Hillsborough Community College where he’s maintaining a 4.0, classes in dance to help him make the cut at Busch Gardens, the summer work needed to supplement his Pelican Players scholarship and helping the family with the current Bennett business enterprise – Anne’s Estate Sales – he’s staging a series of local fund raisers.
After taking part in the recent chili cook-off at E.G. Simmons Regional Park which garnered $300 and picking up donations from interested estate sale followers and doing the Relay for Life at Lennard High School last weekend, he’s accumulated nearly $1,000 – with just $3,000 more to goal.
On Tuesday, April 13, at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 10285 Big Bend Road, 10 percent of everything sold between 5 and 8 P.m. that day is to be added to Ryan’s fund. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, April 27, in the VIP Room at The Alley Bowling Center, 10221 Big Bend, $1.50 of every customer’s game purchase from 6:30 to 9 p.m. goes in the pot. Then, the next day, Wednesday, April 28, for 12 hours – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. – a 20 percent cut of what’s sold at Beef O’Brady’s, 13326 Lincoln Road, is earmarked for the breast cancer fight. All customers have to do is announce their purchase is a contribution to the Bennett anti-cancer fund.
Plus, before the term ends, he’s planning to pull off another fund raiser involving pennies on the sidewalk at the HCC SouthShore campus. His Phi Theta Kappa brothers in the local Beta Sigma Alpha chapter will help. Then, there’s the anti-cancer tee shirts- one for guys, one for girls – that he designed.
Taking on too much? Don’t think so, he responds. “This is how I honor Brent; his memory, what he means to me.”
And what after October? His plan ultimately is to take the AA degree from HCC to the University of Tampa where he’ll focus on a double major: theater arts and business management. “I’d love to go to Broadway,” he says, “but I’d also be pleased to land a permanent position at Busch Gardens; it’s a great place to work.” He also might pursue any male modeling opportunities that come along and can see himself as a professional spokesperson.
The high end amusement park holds a special attraction for another reason, he allows. “That’s where I learned by accident that I really can act. I did a death scene last summer that was so realistic, an audience member thought I really had died and dialed 911.”
There’s another side to that, he adds. “I still get stage fright every time I go on and I think I always will. So, I’ll always need Brent’s help.” Logically, then, he continues, there always will be the reason to do something for others in Brent’s name.
Anyone interested in following Ryan’s progress toward his fund-raising goal can keep up with him at http://the3day.org/goto/ryan.
© 2010 Melody Jameson