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Riverside Military Academy opens campus home for president

POSTED: May 19, 2013 12:41 a.m.
Charles Phelps/The Times

Riverside Military Academy alumnus Abe Mitchell, left, cuts the ribbon to the president's new home along with school President Dr. Jim Benson, right, and chairman of the board of trustees, Fred Kennedy, center. The new house marks the first time an acting Riverside president will be living on campus since 2005.

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Riverside Military Academy welcomed a new addition to its campus Saturday, something it hasn’t had since 2005: A home for the school president.

The new house is named after Abe Mitchell, a Riverside alumni and philanthropist, and has been dubbed “The Mitchell Quarters.”

The house will be occupied by Riverside president and retired U.S. Marine colonel, Dr. Jim Benson, and his wife, Mary Benson.

Riverside Military Academy is located at the end of Riverside Drive in Gainesville. The house is located on Lake Warner Road, just before campus.

“The house has been planned for some time,” Benson said.

According to Benson, having no officers living on campus became a matter of security and was a step the school needed to take.

“We have virtually new facilities since 2004,” he said. “But we don’t have any of the officers of the school living on campus, and we’re a boarding school.

“There’s some concern about that. You need your officers of the school (on campus). ... It was an investment that we needed to make, and so Mr. Mitchell stepped up and believed in what needed to be done, and was influential with the board of trustees. The board of trustees unanimously agreed it was the right thing to do.”

Benson addressed a crowd of Riverside staff, cadets and parents before the house was officially opened. Mitchell joined him, and together, they cut the ribbon that guarded the front door to allow visitors to tour the house.

Mitchell said it was Benson’s “exceptional leadership” that inspired him to do something to give back to Riverside in a big way.

“Jim Benson has given the academy extraordinary leadership,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been talking with him over several years and contributing over several years.

“So he’s been the initiator. We’ve talked about a year or so about this house. ... Several things are important about the house. Having a senior official on the campus is very important. Another reason is we were on of the few military schools that did not have senior personnel on campus.”

Mitchell also said the house will bring a sense of home to the cadets as well.

Both men say the house will be used for activities for cadets and play host to social events. Mitchell said it could bring Riverside and the city of Gainesville closer together.

“It will also give Col. Benson an opportunity to relate more with the people from Gainesville. It gives him a venue to do that,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell also explained the importance of challenging the Riverside family to match his initial $250,000 donation.

However the match had to be above and beyond the year’s fundraising $1 million goal. If that were met, Mitchell said he would add another $250,000, bringing his grand total to $500,000 donated toward the home.

“The match is very important for several reasons,” Mitchell said. “No. 1 is, I like to help. Item No. 2 is when people give a contribution, they then become a stakeholder, and they’ll become interested.

“That’s equally as important. The cash is obviously, certainly needed, but also the relationship of the stakeholder’s is important.”

According to Amanda Griffin, vice president for advancement at Riverside, the Riverside family has met Mitchell’s challenge and raised $1.25 million.

“We now have our sights on matching Mr. Mitchell’s next $250,000 gift,” she said.

Fred Kennedy, a chairman of the Riverside board of trustees, said in a press release that the president’s house is a public house for the academy, and will be the “focal point” for award ceremonies, entertainment of alumni and guest dinners at the academy.


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