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"Bennett Orr is one of the few people in town (other than my wife) with permission to ream me out. He's, raw, unfiltered and speaks from the heart. I have learned a lot from Bennett — his passion for commercial fishing and our community is infectious. I strive to emulate Bennett and am forever grateful for having worked alongside him in Marathon's best and biggest annual event." — Daniel Samess, Marathon Chamber of Commerce The Marathon Seafood Festival is a joint project between the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce and the Organized Fishermen of Florida’s Marathon chapter. OFF has a dual purpose — to provide scholarships for the children of commercial fisherman and to lobby the state about fishing regulations while simultaneously protecting the fishery that provides a livelihood. For decades, Bennett has been the number one advocate for Marathon’s commercial fishing industry, as well as a tourism cheerleader. “The whole reason for this festival was because in September, when the festival was originally held, you could crawl across Overseas Highway with no worries about being hit by a car,” Bennett said. “This town was that dead. The seafood festival was to get tourists to Marathon.” He is still a fierce advocate of commercial fishermen and the sub-subject of the Keys economy. Although the tourism industry is huge in the Keys, he said, the commercial fishing industry is the most vital and steady stream of income in the Keys independent of travelers’ good opinion. With OFF, he traveled to Tallahassee to weigh in on regulations affecting Keys fisheries — often finding himself at the microphone, much to his surprised chagrin, yet willing because he recognized it as a responsibility owed to the people whom he fished alongside. With OFF, he crusaded for a new location every time the festival had to relocate. Over the years the festival has been held in the parking lot of Marine Bank (now Publix Grocery Store), the electric utility, and the Marathon airport, before finding a home at the Marathon Community Park. (Even that was a hard sell, he said, of the newly minted city concerned over the wear and tear on its brand new facility.)

“He’s a dying breed of men who got out on the water by himself and went fishing by himself and prepared his traps in the offseason by himself. Bennett is the toughest person that I know.” — Art Stephens, commercial fisherman

I’ve known Bennett since he started fishing, when I was only 10 or 11 years old. He’s really more like family than a friend — there for anything or everything I’ve needed my whole life. And vice versa. He has a positive outlook on life and is a very humble person. — Karl Wagner, firefighter paramedic

There are a couple more things to say about Bennett, more eloquently said by his friends, but I count myself among them: He is an extremely hard worker. Better yet, he’s a smart hard worker — the kind of guy who will bring you the tool you had been blindly searching for with flailing motions behind your back. He is the man who hands out the most accolades. He doesn’t have a mean word to say about anybody, including his adversaries. He is extravagant with his praise. It feels GOOD to be around him. He is fierce. This humble, gentle, sweet man does not back down from a fight. He digs his heels in and battles for what he knows to be true. After it’s all said and done, though, he’ll crack a beer and joke with the people on the “other side,” although I doubt he recognizes them as such. continued on page 12

41st Annual | marathonseafoodfestival.com

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