Longtime Canal Winchester City Council member and high school coach John Bender is being remembered as a man who was "passionate about kids and sports" and who enjoyed serving his community.
Bender, 71, died Sept. 14 of complications related to leukemia and congestive heart failure.
He was a 1960 graduate of Canal Winchester High School. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as his doctorate degree, from Ohio State University and a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate through the University of Hawaii.
According to his wife, Joan, after Bender started his career as a sixth-grade teacher in the Whitehall school district, the couple was given the opportunity to teach English on the Yap Island in the Pacific Ocean.
"We worked with the Yapese, part of a huge extension of islands, to teach them English because they were hoping to set up their own government and needed a common language across the islands," she said. "It was a wonderful experience for us both."
During Bender's 2011 mayoral campaign in Canal Winchester, he cited that experience as helping to inform how he worked with people from different backgrounds and beliefs, and how to make effective use of resources.
Bender served on Canal Winchester City Council for 17 years and was seeking re-election in November. He served two terms as council president and had served as chairman of the finance, safety, services and Old Town committees.
Canal Winchester Mayor Michael Ebert said Bender was a caring person and politician.
"I knew John as a person who really cared for our community and the schools and wanted only the best for both," Ebert said. "He will be missed both as a political figure in Canal Winchester and as a mentor to our students and alumni."
Councilman Steve Donahue said Bender always had a great attitude.
"This is a great loss to our community," Donahue said. "John touched so many people in this community and especially helped out with the kids so much through his coaching. He always had a great attitude and that made him great to be around and work with."
It was Bender's work with children, however, that most motivated him, according to his wife.
"John really got into running as a sixth-grade teacher, because he found he could help kids be more independent about what they were doing than in other team sports," Joan Bender said. "It was a chance to really teach life skills. He was just passionate about kids and sports."
Family friend Sharon Harman said Bender found ways to connect kids to sports even when they couldn't play themselves, citing in particular, her son, Paul.
"My son has spina bifida, and when John realized that Paul would make a good sports announcer, he arranged for Paul to start doing that when he was in eighth grade," Harman said. "Now, 16 years later, Paul is still announcing for Canal Winchester."
Bender's career also included time as a freshman adviser at OSU, more than 20 years coaching CWHS track and cross-country teams and induction into the Canal Winchester Schools Athletic Hall of Fame.
He also served as the Hall of Fame president and worked for 20 years as the school-court liaison for Franklin County Educational Services.
During the family's 20 years in Richmond, Ind., he worked as a teacher and administrator for Richmond schools, taught at Indiana University East and worked as a basketball referee and president of the Richmond Swim Club.
Bender was an active member of Faith United Methodist Church and the Canal Winchester Lions Club.
"We all loved him a great deal," Joan Bender said. "He was a great man."
In addition to his wife, Bender is survived by his daughters, Linda (Matt) Striebel of Zionsville, Ind., Melissa (Brian) Hayes of Carmel, Ind., Judy (Tom) Warner of Lebanon, Ind.; son, Dr. David (Amanda) Bender of Fishers, Ind.; eight grandchildren; a sister, Susie (Rodger) Rhinehart of Canal Winchester; a niece and two nephews.
Calling hours will be held from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20, at Dwayne Spence Funeral Home, 650 W. Waterloo St.
Services will be at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 21, at Faith UMC, 15 W. Columbus St., Canal Winchester.