FLORENCE — A hometown hero will be the guest speaker at this year’s Mars Hill Bible School banquet.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Josh Willingham has been recognized by Major League Baseball for helping communities through charity work. He didn’t hesitate when asked to be the speaker at the Mars Hill fundraiser. After all, he is a Florence native and Mars Hill graduate.
This year’s event will be Feb. 1.
Mars Hill President Dexter Rutherford said Willingham is “a great example of the type person we want to highlight, not only because of his professional success but personally as well.”
Willingham, 33, is a 1997 graduate of Mars Hill and also played at the University of North Alabama.
“In trying to decide who to get to speak for this year, the thought just occurred; Why go all over the nation when we have a person of Josh’s caliber from right here at home?,” Rutherford said. “We believe he’ll be as good as anyone we could get.”
The school’s fundraiser is usually held during the spring, but it’s being moved to accommodate Willingham’s schedule.
“Spring training starts really soon for Josh, so we were under a pretty tight schedule,” Rutherford said. “People aren’t used to it being quite so early, but this will likely be a one-time situation that will just be this year.”
Tickets for the banquet are $125 each, with tables of eight available for $1,000. For those who only want to attend the program segment of the banquet, tickets are $50.
Tickets can be purchased in the Mars Hill business office on campus or reserved by calling 256-767-1203, ext. 2001.
The dinner begins at 6 p.m., with the program beginning at 7 p.m. in the Panther Gymnasium.
Willingham’s father, David, is the school’s vice president. He said it’s been in the back of his mind for his son to one day be the guest speaker, but he didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
“I guess it’s actually coming at a good time in his career; he’s doing quite well,” David Willingham said.
His son was named most valuable player for the Twins’ organization last season. He also was the recipient of the prestigious Silver Slugger award, the first of his nine-year career, which goes to the best offensive player at his position.
Josh Willingham lives in Florence during the offseason with his wife, Ginger. She runs the Josh Willingham Foundation, which raises money for causes such as disaster relief in northwest Alabama.
David Willingham said his son will share his experiences in professional baseball and how being raised in Florence and going to school at Mars Hill continues to help him in his everyday life.
“Josh loves this town and this area, and he’s grateful for his upbringing here,” he said. “He knows he’s blessed.”
He said school officials hope to raise $75,000-$80,000 with the event. The money goes into the school’s general fund and will be used, in part, for updating security in the buildings with new metal doors and more security cameras in the elementary school building.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.