Benson Family recognizes 100-year relationship with Athens and UGA

This feature originally ran on page 47 of the Fall 2017 issue of Georgia Magazine.

Three generations of the Benson family are recognizing their 100-year relationship with Athens and the University of Georgia by making a transformational gift to the Terry College of Business.

One of Athens’ most community-minded families contributed significant support for the second and largest phase of the Terry College Business Learning Community at the corner of Lumpkin and Baxter streets.

An artist’s rendering of all three phases of the Business Learning Community.

Benson Hall is one of three buildings that will be dedicated Sept. 15. It is named for patriarch W. H. “Howard” Benson, son H.E. “Ed” Benson (BBA ’42), and grandson Larry R. Benson (BBA ’74).

Howard, who passed away in 1971, founded Benson’s Bakery in 1918.

Benson’s Bakery was founded in 1918 by W.H. “Howard” Benson and was formerly located in downtown Athens.

Today, Benson’s Inc. is the parent company of Benson’s Bakery, which distributes cake products to retailers across the country, and Benson’s Hospitality Group, which operates four—soon to be five—hotels in the Athens area.

Howard’s son, Ed, graduated from UGA in 1942 and is now chairman emeritus. Under Ed’s leadership, Benson’s grew its Old Home Kitchens cake line by hiring UGA students to drive to each state during summers to sell fruit cakes as fundraising opportunities.

“During our 15-year partnership, UGA students would literally cover the country selling Benson’s Old Home Fruit Cakes to civic clubs, church groups and other nonprofits,” Ed says. “During our peak years, we sold to over 7,000 organizations for the holiday season.”

A clipping from the Athens Daily News in 1966 that features the “Benson Fleet” heading out for the summer sales trips across the country.

Well-known UGA alumni, including former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (BBA ’66), are among those who participated in the sales experience as students. It was Ed’s keen interest in management and logistics that ultimately led him to diversify the company into the hospitality business.

Larry, Ed’s son, graduated from UGA in 1974 and is now chairman and CEO. His business acumen and financial expertise has grown the family business to unprecedented levels, including an expansion of the baking facility and the construction of new hotels. He has also continued his family’s strong town and gown relationships.

The Bensons’ latest contribution to UGA will leave a lasting landmark on campus that reflects the connection between the family’s Athens-based company and the university. Larry and Ed’s decision to support UGA is in recognition of the symbiotic relationship from which Benson’s Inc. has benefited over the past century—and in recognition of the future of that relationship.

“My dad and I received a wonderful education from Terry, which rewarded us with the opportunity to build our Athens-based business. Hundreds of UGA students and graduates have become valued associates of Benson’s Inc.,” Larry says. “On behalf of my grandfather, father and more than 600 associates and their families, we are pleased to honor our 100-year relationship with UGA. We are especially pleased that Benson Hall will play a prominent role in educating business leaders for the next 100 years and beyond.”

Writer: Elizabeth R. Elmore,


As Benson’s Inc. celebrates its centennial in 2018, the company hopes to locate former students in the Benson’s Bakery Summer Old Home Fruit Cake sales program. If you played a role in the bakery’s success, please email Benson’s Bakery.

Meet Melonie Thomas, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in 1986 with a degree in marketing, and after a brief stint in retail management, I moved to LA and earned my MBA at Pepperdine University. As of 2000, I’ve been in the business of public health. Today, I live in Dunwoody, Georgia.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I met Realenn Watters at a faculty and staff organization event and was asked what could be done to encourage more black students to apply to and attend UGA. I asked her what was being done in that area, so she told me to get involved with this other group that had the same ideas, and the group eventually became the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

L-R: Yvette Daniels, Melonie Thomas and Randy Groomes

Which Black Alumni Event are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the Admitted Students Reception because so many people come together to form a really great environment of caring and sincere interest. It serves as a reunion for a lot of the alumni. The students are glad to hear about the different programs that interest them, and the parents are relieved to hear from people that look like them and found a home at UGA.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

It’s allowed me to work with many passionate and caring people who have the same goals that I do. It provides a little extra purpose in life – we can do things in this organization that have a meaningful, lasting impact for centuries to come.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

You’re not on an island. Ask for help if you need it – there’s help at UGA for just about any kind of challenge, or any kind of change that you want to make. Reach out to other people and ask for help.

L-R: Kevin Aycock, Bill and Melonie Thomas at the 2015 Bulldog 100 Celebration

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Don’t be afraid to step out and try something. Even if you aren’t sure that it will be a great fit for you, you’ll never know until you try. Don’t be afraid to take that step into a different career path. Also, maintain your relationships with your professors and friends beyond what’s expected in the curriculum. Stay in touch with those professors – they have a lot of insight and can help guide you, both in your career and in life. Many of the friends I made at UGA are still my friends today.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

I’ll go back to the BALC and our mission to recruit and retain qualified black students and faculty, to engage with students and other alumni, to encourage other alumni to donate to the university, and to encourage alumni to serve, in whatever capacity they can. If I can get corny for one second, I’m a GIRL (imagine the Power G). Giving to support scholarships, involving myself wherever and however I can, returning to the university and leaving a legacy through the work I do.

Melonie and her husband Bill (AB ’88), a member of the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors, were also featured on the blog in Spring 2017.

Your Pie’s Drew French builds a pizza for the Dawgs

Drew French (BBA ’05), co-founder of Your Pie, a repeat Bulldog 100 business, created a tailgating masterpiece for us this week! We challenge you to try and replicate his Grilled BBQ and Ranch Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza this Saturday before the Georgia Bulldogs play the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Drew French

An Athens native and a 2015 40 Under 40 honoree, Drew has always believed in giving back to his community. Lucky for us, that means eating delicious pizza whenever we get the chance! According to Drew, he didn’t know truly great pizza until he experienced brick oven style baking on the island of Ischia. He decided to bring this method back to the United States and has been using it ever since. When he’s not cheering on the Dawgs on Saturdays, he enjoys spending time with his wife, two daughters, and three dogs.

Drew French’s Grilled BBQ and Ranch Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza

“I love pizza, grilling, and watching the Dawgs win on Saturdays. That’s why I combined my favorite things into this crowd pleaser. Imagine what your crew will say when you whip out a grilled pizza topped with BBQ sauce, white cheddar, red onion, fresh jalapeno peppers, meatball, bacon, and ranch. Go Dawgs!”

Hungry for more? We’ve got you covered.

MasterChef’s Ailsa von Dobeneck dazzles with dips

Tailgate the right way with Matt Moore

Meet Frankie Gilmore, Member of the Women of UGA Leadership Council

Women of UGA’s mission is to foster a lifelong commitment to the University of Georgia by creating opportunities for personal and professional development, instilling a spirt of giving, and investing in the future of the university, its students and alumnae. We recently interviewed Frankie Gilmore (BS ’07, MPH ’10), member of the Women of UGA Leadership Council, in order to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to her alma mater. Here’s what she had to say!

Tell me about your time as a student here at the University of Georgia and what role the university played in preparing you for your future.

My time at UGA is filled with treasured memories! I made life-long friends, great connections, and even met my future husband. I also participated in the Redcoat Marching Band for 4 years which allowed me to fully engage in the Georgia football gameday experience.

I was challenged academically as a biology student in undergrad and a public health student in graduate school, learning that hard work is the best way to be successful. I was also challenged professionally as a member of several student organizations such as the 2006 Orientation Team and Timothy Campus Ministry, which allowed me to discover and hone my skills for the good of the team. Overall, my experiences at UGA helped me to be more professional, resourceful, and comfortable in different work environments and social settings.

Do you have a cause that you are passionate about? If so, how do you pursue this in your personal and professional life?

I am passionate about young mothers being both nurturers and cultivators. As a mother myself, I know it is easy to lose yourself in motherhood and forget the personal interests you had before children. I believe it’s those God-given interests that can allow you to thrive as a mother and whoever else you choose to be. As a member of the Women of UGA Leadership Council I hope to reconnect young moms who may not be in a corporate networking environment to other alumnae. I am also on the Leadership Team of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) in Peachtree Corners which gives me the chance to connect with local young moms and offer support to them during the early years.

Why is Women of UGA Leadership Council important to you?

The Women of UGA Leadership Council offers opportunities for alumnae to feel like their contribution to UGA – as a student and a graduate – is valued and supported whether that’s in the workplace or in the home. As a part of the council, I look forward to discovering new ways to connect women within the UGA Community.

As a member of the Council’s Mentoring Committee, I am working to connect female graduates through a new program that will help cultivate professional mentoring relationships. The program will offer support to alumnae who are seeking professional growth in their careers.

How do you hope to make an impact with Women of UGA, and what excites you most about your future with the council?

I am a stay-at-home mother but also an entrepreneur (freelance wardrobe stylist). I’ve been able to use my education and experiences at UGA to better my family and my business. I believe other women are in my position but aren’t necessarily represented within the Alumni Association and as a result fail to reconnect with our alma mater after graduation. I hope to change that as a council member.

I’m also African American and am honored to represent other women of color on the council. Hopefully I’ll be able to engage more minority alumnae to participate in Women of UGA events and reconnect them back to UGA.

Overall, what excites me most about being on the council is fostering connections among women who have “walked between the hedges” and have gone on to do great things in the world.

What parting advice do you have for students who are trying to determine the best career path for them while at UGA?

Take advantage of all the academic and extracurricular opportunities at UGA and learn more about your professional and personal interests. However, do so within reason! You’ll need time during your tenure at UGA to decide what kind of life you want to live beyond the Arch. It’s important to find where that balance lies for you between pursuing your passions through your career and/or through your personal life. Nevertheless, it’s your life and it doesn’t just start after graduation. It’s happening now so don’t waste a minute! Go Dawgs!

MasterChef’s Ailsa von Dobeneck dazzles with dips

Ailsa von Dobeneck (AB ’07) currently works as the government relations manager for Norfolk Southern Corporation in Washington D.C., but most people know her as a contestant on season 6 of Fox’s hit TV show MasterChef. She was more than up to the task of sharing a tailgating recipe with the Bulldog Nation when we asked her to participate in our Tasty Tailgating series. Without further ado, let’s dive into the dips!

The best time of year is here and we are ready to watch the Dawgs win between the hedges. With every game comes an epic tailgate. Be prepared for a big crowd with these amazingly easy dips. They are packed with flavor and can be made ahead of time.

Sweet Corn Dip

Sweet corn is one of the South’s most celebrated summer treats. Instead of enjoying it on the cob, try having it in a creamy dip. The first time I had corn dip, it had a mayo base. I was in search of the same flavor but with a lighter ingredient list. Use lite sour cream and cream cheese to get the same flavor but with less calories. Add some garlic, and the flavor is out of this world.


  • 1 can whole kernel corn
  • 1 can 10 oz. Rotel, drained
  • 2 cups lite sour cream
  • 1/2 c. cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Colby jack cheese
  • 1 1oz. pkg. Ranch dressing mix
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped cilantro, to chop


Combine all ingredients. Stir well and chill until ready to serve.

Vanilla Fruit Dip

Fruits need love too! An easy vanilla dip makes the perfect companion for strawberries, melon and apples. Make sure to keep this one chilled as long as possible before serving. You can also experiment with flavors (try strawberry yogurt next time) to keep the crowds coming back.

  • 32 oz. low fat vanilla yogurt
  • 8 oz. whipping cream
  • 1 package of vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 tbsp honey (optional)
  • Sprinkle of ground cinnamon
  • Fruit for dipping, washed


Whip cream in a large mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside. Combine cream, yogurt, and pudding mix in a serving dish. Stir well, cover, and allow to sit for two hours in fridge. Remove from refrigerator. Stir again and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and honey before serving.

Missed our first Tasty Tailgating post? Check it out now!

UGA named No. 16 Best Public University by US News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report named UGA No. 16 (up two spots from last year!) on its list of 2018 Best Public Universities. Each year, financial gifts from alumni, which demonstrate school pride and a commitment to strengthening the influence of UGA among our peer institutions, is counted in the loyal alumni participation number for this ranking. To those who have made a gift to UGA in the last year, thank you for your continued commitment to your alma mater.

It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog! Your loyal support helps UGA to grow in reputation and prestige year after year.

If you have not already made a gift, please learn more about the Commit to Georgia campaign and consider making a gift today to count in upcoming rankings.

Meet Sheryl Merritt, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Sheryl Merritt (BSHE ’88) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated from UGA in 1988. I was hired by Macy’s in their Executive Training Program and went to work there with intentions of moving up the ranks through management into a buyer role. However, I didn’t enjoy retail. I got my MBA in marketing from Mercer University and took a management buyout package to leave AT&T and begin my career in entertainment. I’ve worked for 20 years in various roles from radio stations (Hot 97.5), record labels, production companies (Organized Noize, Rowdy Records, Arrow Records) and a performing rights organization (BMI). I am a writer who has authored three books, “Dates With Jesus,” “Climbing Mountains,” and “Jesus Mark: Identifying Your Service Mark.” I also write for BMI’s R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, the Trailblazers of Gospel Music and Gospel Artist Dorinda Clark Cole’s TV Show.

Sheryl, far right, and other members of the BALC at Cultivating Connections, an event in partnership with the UGA Career Center.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I first got involved with the Alumni Association when I was asked to serve on the Multicultural Planning Committee.  Shortly after, I spearheaded efforts with the DeKalb County Chapter and served as vice president, and later, co-president. I was asked to join the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors and served for 3 years. Now, I am a proud inaugural member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Which Black Alumni event are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our first fundraiser we hosted last year. I am also proud of the homecoming tailgate and how it has grown. The support the Alumni Association gave us last year was phenomenal. Homecomings are special at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) and for so many years, that wasn’t the case for black alumni at UGA. Now, we also have something to look forward to – someplace to go and see old friends while meeting new ones.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

I get greater access to the university, its staff, students and other alumni through the events, activities and meetings. It has also connected me with a great group of council members – our synergy is amazing! We work hard and get the job done.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

I learned that it was important to develop my leadership skills and to not follow the crowd. As president of the Zeta Psi Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and member of the Black Affairs Council and Panhellenic Council, I was able to flourish and activate my leadership style.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

I would advise them to get to know students who are culturally different from them so they can learn about them and their experiences. I would also advise students to network with alumni and their teachers for greater opportunities. Lastly, take advantage of all the university has to offer.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to use my creativity, alumni connections and resources to effectively collaborate with others to further the mission of the Black Alumni Leadership Council – to recruit, retain, engage, donate and serve. I have mentored students from UGA throughout my career– through the Alumni Association and on my own. I will continue to give back and ensure that students of color receive every advantage and graduate!

UGA alumni chapters welcome new graduates to town

During the month of August, Alumni Chapters from Seattle to Southwest Florida hosted Welcome to the City social gatherings. This program is designed to connect new graduates and/or those who have recently relocated to fellow Bulldogs. With more than 80 chapters around the world, these events strengthen the connection between alumni and the university no matter where they are on the map.

The following chapters hosted events: Athens, Augusta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Chicago, Colorado, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Southwest Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington D.C.

Check out photos from some of the events below.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter gathered at Haymaker for a casual reception to welcome alumni who are new to the area.

The San Francisco Chapter hosted a beer tasting for recent graduates at Standard Deviant Brewing for brews, BBQ and more!

The Southwest Florida Chapter hosted an event at Steve Tomato’s to kick off football season with other SEC and ACC schools, as well as welcome new graduates.