TATAMAGOUCHE – If you’ve spent a significant amount of time in the Tatamagouche area over the years, you’ve probably heard the name Morley Bentley.
Maybe he was your teacher years ago, or you know him from your church or choir. Did he officiate your wedding ceremony? The funeral for a friend or family member?
It’s because of his contributions to and support of the community that an open house in celebration of Bentley has been organized for the beginning of June.
“He has just done so much for the community,” said Heather Forbes, who is helping organize the celebration. “There are very few people here who haven’t been married by Morley, or buried a loved one with Morley. Although he’s retired, he’s still very active in the community.”
Bentley recently turned 89. He retired 29 years ago, but still remains active in the community and local churches, often being called upon to officiate, especially at funerals.
“He’s very well-known for finding just the right words to provide honour and comfort,” said Forbes. “He has an amazing ability to recall poetry and bible verses from memory that hit just the right tone.”
“He’s compassionate and caring,” said Eileen (MacKeen) Stevenson. “He’s just a great friend. He’s such a visitor with people in the congregation. He’s retired, but still doing it.”
The idea for a celebration of Bentley’s contributions came about after Stevenson found an old newspaper article on the man. Forbes and Donna MacKeen were present at the time.
“He’s done so much and we got to chatting about what contributions he’s made to the community,” said Forbes.
Following his high school graduation, Bentley began teaching in one-room schools. After his father became ill, Bentley attended Teacher’s College in Truro in 1949. Upon finishing college, he spent a few years teaching in a number of communities throughout the province.
Five years after heading to Teacher’s College, Bentley attended Mount Allison University and met his future wife, Margaret. The two married and built a family with three children.
Bentley felt the call to the ministry in the late 1950s, graduating from Pine Hill Divinity College in 1960.
The reverend served in parishes throughout the Maritimes before settling down in Tatamagouche in 1970.
Students at North Colchester High School had Bentley as their music and social studies teacher for four years before Bentley served as minister at the five point charge of West New Annan, Wentworth, Tatamagouche Mountain, The Falls, and Earltown over a 16-year period.
Throughout his career, Bentley followed a love of music. He led the Morley Bentley Male Choir from 1977 to 1992, and spent seven years directing the Northumberland Choral Group in Wallace. For a decade, he was the organist at Sharon United Church.
Bentley has also served on numerous church committees, and organized a youth group.
Ten years ago, Bentley received the Minister Emeritus title in recognition for his many years of faithful service.
Up until six years ago, while still retired, Bentley continued providing biweekly services at Tatamagouche Mountain.
“When you think of people who’ve given so much, in Tatamagouche the name that often comes up is Morley Bentley,” said Forbes.
Bentley learned of the planned celebration through his daughter.
“I’m very honoured,” he said. “I’m just a merry guy. I was extremely surprised about the celebration plans and I had very mixed feelings about it.”
Bentley said his contributions to the community were done through a “natural inclination” to do so.
“I never stopped to think about the whys or wherefors,” he said.
The celebration will run from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. June 2 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Tatamagouche. A memorial box is being created, so anyone wishing to leave a memory or tribute to Bentley is welcome to do so. A light lunch will be served, and a formal tribute and presentation is set for 2 p.m.