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Contributed photo from Faye Bentley / Dana Patterson was tragically killed in 2013. Every year since, a Christmas concert has been held in her memory.

The GEM Theatre in downtown Calhoun, Georgia, will host performances from White Water Junction, Faye and Jessie Bentley, Trey and Andrew Bentley, Jule Medders and Steven Pearson on Dec. 18 during its eighth annual Dana Patterson Merry Christmas Concert.

The annual show, set to start at 7 p.m., began as a way of honoring the memory of the late Dana Patterson, a 1989 graduate of Gordon Central High School who was killed in a murder-for-hire plot in July 2013. The concert returns this year after a hiatus last holiday season.

Faye Bentley, the event's organizer, told the Times Free Press that COVID-19 made it impossible to host the show last year but that she was "thrilled" to see it back again with a brand new name, just in time for the holidays.

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"COVID was so bad last year that we couldn't put it on. I'm thrilled we're returning," she said by phone on Monday. "Dana Patterson was an amazingly kind person, and we are so glad we are able to honor her through this every year and to do so much good in her name. It is only because of her and the passion that she had for music and for Christmas that we do this at all. That's something we want to keep in mind. This concert is not a sad time. We are celebrating all the wonderful things Dana brought to her life, and we're doing a lot of good because of her. That's why we decided to call this the 'Dana Patterson Merry Christmas Concert' this year, instead of calling it a memorial concert. It still is, but it's happy. It's a celebration."

Patterson was 42 when she died. Her husband, John Mackay, a Fort Eustis staff sergeant, allegedly had an affair with Nicole Houchin, and the two were charged in her killing. Houchin's husband, Nace Houchin, and another man, Gregory Crawford, were also charged.

John Mackay, Nicole Houchin, Nace Houchin and Gregory Crawford were all sentenced in January 2016. Mackay was sentenced to 28 years and two months, Nicole Houchin was sentenced to 23 years and 11 months, Nate Houchin was sentenced to 40 years and Crawford was sentenced to 20 years with 17 to serve, with the additional years as probation for his role in the crime.

Before her death, Trey and Andrew Bentley were close friends with Patterson and they attended church together at Meadowdale Baptist Church. They remembered that Patterson's favorite time of the year was Christmas and decided they wanted to do something special for the children in Gordon County in her honor during the holiday season. Faye Bentley, their mother, had a long history in the local music scene and with the GEM Theatre and decided to help. Together they organized the first-ever celebration in Patterson's honor. Proceeds from that initial show went to support local domestic violence outreach efforts.

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"She loved Christmas," Faye Bentley said. "Dana was a friend of my family's and so were her parents. What we wanted to do with that first show is make Christmas a happier time for them. That's still something we strive for, and I can't speak for them, but I know it means a lot even just for me to see all the good things we've been able to accomplish because of her."

Since that first holiday concert, the Dana Patterson Merry Christmas Concert has collected more than 7,500 toys for local children, supported the Voluntary Action Center's hunger and homeless prevention programs with thousands of dollars in canned food donations and donated to the Cooper Brazell Foundation, which provided funds for the medical care of Cooper Brazell, a 6-year-old who died last year after a lifelong battle with a rare form of mitochondrial disease.

"One year people donated so many toys that we provided what we'd said we would give to the shelter and then we took the rest to the local dollar store and stood outside. Whenever parents came up to the door and asked what we were doing, we gave them a free toy if they had kids," Faye Bentley said on Monday. "This year we have decided we want to give our proceeds back to the GEM. COVID hit them really hard because they weren't able to host shows. This is our way of thanking them for their support as a venue over the last several years."

Bentley said she wanted to keep the specifics of this year's show, such as the songs that might be sung, a secret ahead of the event but did say that Steven Pearson, Dana Patterson's step-father, would be performing a few Christmas songs and reading the Christmas story toward the end of the evening. He has participated with the event in some way each year.

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According to a news release, tickets for the show are $20 and are on sale now at calhoungemtheatre.org, at the box office or by calling 706-625-3132.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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