The Rev. Jesse Bentley says his life likely would have been much different had it not been for Shriner’s Hospital.
Polio had caused his left foot to grow incorrectly. A kind teacher made arrangements for him to go to the Shriner’s Hospital for surgery when he was 9 years old. Now 86, he is a World War II veteran, retired Baptist minister, father and grandfather.
“There was no way my family could have paid my hospital bill,” Bentley said. “There were seven of us children plus my grandmother. I don’t know if my foot would have continued to twist. Later on they might not have been able to correct it.”
Bentley said he is concerned that Shriner’s Hospitals, which has provided free care to children since 1922, is considering closing a quarter of its facilities, including the Greenville hospital.
At the organization’s annual meeting July 6-8 in San Antonio, Texas, about 1,200 Shriners will vote whether to close hospitals in Shreveport, La.; Erie, Pa.; Spokane, Wash.; and Greenville. An official said they were chosen mainly because of too many vacant beds. Patients would be sent to other Shriners hospitals that specialize in their ailments.
Currently, around 52 children from Union County are being treated at the Greenville hospital on an ongoing basis.
“A lot of children will not be able to get proper care if the hospital closes,” Bentley said. “Parents can’t afford hospitals today.”
In 1924 when Bentley was a year old and his sister, Eliza Frances was 3, both developed polio. Bentley recovered, except for his left foot. Eliza Frances was left an invalid. She died when she was 27.
In 1932 his third grade teacher, Sara Carnell, noticed that Bentley walked on the outside of his foot. She went to his parents, William and Maggie Farr Bentley, and asked if they would let their son go to Shriner’s Hospital for treatment if she could get him in. They agreed.
“She got the paperwork together, put me in her car and drove me to the hospital in Greenville and admitted me,” he said.
No visitors were allowed until Bentley was ready to be discharged. He was hospitalized for five or six weeks, underwent surgery and was fitted with a large cast protected by basket so not even bed linens could put pressure on it.
“After I got to where I could walk I had no problem until my later 70s,” Bentley said, adding that he now has atrophy caused by post-polio syndrome.
After graduating from Lockhart High School in 1941, Bentley went to work at McWhirter’s service station in Union. During World War II, Bentley tried to volunteer in 1942 for military service and was turned down. A year later he was drafted into the Army Air Corps. He passed all the physical requirements and had only one thing out of the ordinary — special shoes had to be ordered. His left foot was sized 7 1/2 EE and his right foot was size 101/2 D.
“I waited at Fort Jackson over two months before I got my shoes,” he said.
Bentley was discharged in 1946. He met his wife, the former Faye Montgomery, at Philippi Baptist Church and they will celebrate their 59th anniversary on June 15. They have twin daughters, Alexia and Alicia and five grandchildren. Their son, Monte, is deceased.
After the war, Bentley went back to work at the service station. A friend, Hugh Fore, talked him into furthering his education at Wofford College.
“I was there for about two weeks and I came home one weekend and said, ‘I’m not going back,’” Bentley remembers. “The first paper I got was full of red marks. I was sitting on the porch at the (home place) in Bentleytown and my uncle (Frank Farr) said, ‘Well, anybody could quit. That made me mad. I went back on Monday and I finished Wofford.”
After college Bentley’s career included working in textiles for many years. He then surrendered to the call of being a minister. He entered the seminary at Wake Forest and began preaching at churches in Union County, including serving as interim pastor at Philippi.
He was called to Jennie’s Branch Baptist Church in Shallote, N.C., and served as pastor there for 25 years. He and his wife moved back to Union 19 years ago.,
Twice since his retirement he has served as interim pastor at Philippi Baptist and also has served as interim pastor at Mt. Joy Baptist Church.
In 1952, Bentley wondered if back problems he was experiencing might be connected to his bout with polio. Bertie Vaughan from Union who was working at Shriner’s Hospital told Bentley to come in for an examination. A doctor found a cyst on his pelvis. The doctor from Shriner’s Hospital came to Wallace Thomson Hospital and performed surgery on Bentley.