BY JACLYN ROSE –
Born and raised in Mena, Brandi Benner found her love for music at a young age. “My dad really encouraged me to be in the school band and that opened the door for me musically and taught me to love music,” explained Benner.
After graduating from Mena High School in 1996, Benner completed a year of college at Rich Mountain Community College before transferring to the College of the Ozarks, near Branson, Missouri. There she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Church Music. She then began working on her Master’s Degree in Arizona but decided to take a year off in 2001. During this time, Benner and her mother, Norma Baker, opened The Friendship House in Mena.
In 2002, Benner started back with her Master’s Program and transferred to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and obtained her degree in Vocal Performance. While working on her Master’s, Benner met her husband, Chris Benner, and after being friends for a year, they began dating in 2003 and were married in 2005. “For Chris and I, communication and honesty are very important parts of our marriage. First and foremost, we both follow the Lord and put our faith and trust in God. Whatever decision or issue we face, we pray about it first and we try very much to teach our daughter that same lifestyle,” explained Benner.
After competing their degrees the Benners worked in Texas for several years, Chris in camp ministry and Brandi as worship leader in a church. In 2008, while pregnant with their daughter, Bailey, the Benners were given the opportunity to move back to Polk County and Chris began to work for the Christian Motorcycle Association. “I wanted to be near family and God opened the door for Chris to work at CMA, while I enjoyed staying home with Bailey for several years. I love being a mother to Bailey, she is such a good kid. She is almost seven and we just finished the first grade through homeschooling. Bailey loves the theater and loves being onstage and also plays the violin. She is very spirited and knows what she likes and wants and is not afraid to say, which is good in many ways and challenging in others. The love I have for her, I never thought possible,” said Benner with a smile.
In August of 2010, Benner and her mother were given the opportunity to buy back The Friendship House, a coffee shop and bistro located at 517 Sherwood Avenue in Mena. “Mom and I have a passion for this business and we want to see it doing well and we wanted to be able to help revive it and I feel like we’ve succeeded. Mom and I both feel like Friendship House is a ministry, people can come and meet with friends in a peaceful atmosphere. We want to provide good food and good coffee, both in quality and taste,” Benner explained.
Aside from her family and her business, Benner’s other passion is for theater and performing. In fact, this is an area that the entire Benner family enjoys together. They recently completed Charlie Brown with the Ouachita Little Theater with Brandi playing Lucy, Chris playing Charlie, and Bailey playing Woodstock. “I feel like I come alive on stage, and it is obvious that we are influencing Bailey and allowing her to develop her own passion for theater. One of the cooler things I’ve done was The Promise in 2014. The Promise is the story of Christ, birth through resurrection and Bailey and I both traveled to Glen Rose, Texas every weekend for three months to perform. I was the Harlot and Bailey was a shepherd and townsperson and was the understudy for the dead girl. She is a natural on stage,” Benner said.
“I love Mena and I love knowing people and have people know me. I’d rather know everyone than know no one. I love the climate, the four seasons, the mountains, the trees, it just speaks to me and I want to be in a place where I’m inspired,” Benner said.