Fishing guide seeks to honor George's Bait matriarch with 'Bennett Bridge'

·5 min read

Jun. 10—It is only a little river, just like the sign says on the short bridge that spans it on the causeway going to and from St. Simons Island.

But if Kevin Dezern's hopes reach fruition, the Little River bridge on the F.J. Torras Causeway will soon pay homage to a gentle matriarch who served generations of fishing enthusiasts. Dezern plans to see the little bridge named Bennett Bridge, a nod to the late Shirley Bennett and family.

Faithful anglers still follow the wooden "George's Bait" sign that stands beside the causeway, taking a long dirt road to a place that has endured with unbowed charm through more than half a century of progress. Until her death at the age 83 in February 2020, Bennett had long presided as the smiling face of this rustic bait shop, located on a patch of land rising above the marsh beside the Little River.

"She was just such a wonderful woman and so loved by the fishing community here," said Dizern, who operates Georgia Saltwater Adventures out of Morningstar Marina on the Frederica River. "I just thought this would be a way to honor her years of dedicated service."

Dizern's gesture is no mere pipedream. His proposal's online petition (http://chng.it/fvwwYDHg) has the backing of nearly 800 signatures.

It also has the firm support of Glynn County Commissioner Cap Fendig.

A fellow charter boat captain, Fendig took Dizern's desire to see the bridge named in honor of Bennett and ran with it. Fendig has reached out to the Golden Isles' state representatives, all of whom responded favorably, Fendig said.

Likewise, Georgia Department of Transportation officials "did not see any issues with it," he said.

Fendig plans to present the proposal to name the structure Bennet Bridge at the Brunswick City Commission's June 16 meeting and at the Glynn County Commission meeting on June 17, he said. The proposal will include Dizern's petition with 784 signatures in support of the move. The move would then need the official approval of the local state delegation and the DOT.

"I mean, her dedication to serve was exceptional," Fendig said. "Whether you wanted to buy bait or sit down and talk about what fish were biting, she was always there. I think Kevin's idea is a very fitting tribute."

George's Bait has been serving the community going on 68 years. It is operated today by Bennett's daughter, Debbie Edwards, who has for years trawled local waters for the bait shop's signature live shrimp. Daughter Sandy Marsh also has helped with the bait shop over the years.

The bridge naming would pay tribute to the Bennett Family as a whole, Dizern said.

George and Shirley Bennett opened George's Bait in 1953, operating and living in a house on stilts beside the causeway's single eastbound lane back then. The business, house and all, had to be relocated to its present location when the DOT four-laned the causeway in the 1970s.

Little has changed since. A raised dirt road off the westbound side of the causeway takes anglers to a bump of land in the middle of the marsh that is no bigger than a T-ball field at high tide.

George Bennett died in 1984, but the family business carried on under the supervision of Shirley Bennett. The air conditioning window unit in the home saw little action, Mrs. Bennett preferring the cool marsh breezes even in summer.

Business was hampered when the DOT put a concrete divider in the causeway in 2011, prompting long detours for eastbound anglers seeking bait. Hurricanes Irma in 2017 and Matthew in 2016 took out the dock that connected to the Little River for boaters' convenience.

And still they come, buying their live shrimp, frozen shrimp and crabs from George's Bait.

Dizern's loyalty began when he was just getting his feet wet in the fishing guide business more than 15 years ago. He stopped by to pick up some live shrimp at the dock on his way out with clients. Except he had forgotten his wallet.

No problem, Bennett told him. Just pay me next time, she said, sending Dizern off with plenty of live shrimp. When he returned to pay her, Bennett saw that Dizern's day on the water had been productive.

"I tried to give her the money, but she wanted the fresh sea trout we had caught instead," Dizern said. "That was the beginning of a great friendship."

Bennett died Feb. 25, 2020.

Dizern presented Fendig with his idea to honor Shirley Bennett and the rest of the family last fall, when Fendig was a candidate for county commission.

"I told him it's a great idea," said Fendig, who was elected to the commission in November. "I said, 'If I get elected I'll do my best to make it happen.' And here we are."

At present, a small sign says simply, "Little River" on the eastbound crossing of the little river's bridge. Only a bare sign post stands at the westbound crossing of the Little River. The sign is absent.

Years from now, if the bait shop somehow ceases to be, Dizern wants something by which to remember Shirley Bennett and the family behind George's Bait.

"What else could you do for a family that's helped fishermen here for so long?" Dizern said. "She was a good lady. And they've been there for the community for so long, this is a legacy we could leave for them."