By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester City Councilman Dr. John Bender, whose heart never strayed from his hometown roots, passed away on Sept. 14.
Bender was born in Columbus on Sept. 7, 1942 and died peacefully at home after a battle with leukemia. He was a member of city council for 17 years and served as council vice president prior to his death. In addition, he served as coach for the Canal Winchester High School boys track team and girls and boys cross country team for more than 20 years.
“Coach Bender was a special person who was loved and respected by all. He had a gentle spirit, was kind, loyal, and a Canal Winchester Indian at heart,” said Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent Jim Sotlar. “He also had a special gift of bringing out the best in people. He was a great motivator who loved the kids. He gave them something to believe in—themselves. He represented the difference a single life can make in the lives of others. Canal Winchester Schools and community are a better place because of him.”
Sotlar said Bender always sang the alma mater at the Canal Winchester Athletic Hall of Fame banquet closing ceremony and did so for the last time on Sept. 7 on his 71st birthday.
“He will be dearly missed,” said Sotlar.
As a student, Bender participated in four sports (football, basketball, baseball and track) before graduating from Canal Winchester High School in 1960. He started every game during his four year baseball career and hit .349 his senior season when the team won the Franklin County Championship.
Canal Winchester High School Athletic and Activities Director Kent Riggs said Bender’s passion for the students and the community will be hard to replace and his coaching helped develop the district’s track and cross country programs into one of the best in Ohio.
During Bender’s induction in 2008 into the school district’s Athletic Hall of Fame, it was noted his cross country and girls track teams collected a total of 12 Mid-State League titles, 8 District titles, and 3 Regional Championships. The boys cross country team in 2006 finished as state runner-up and in 2007 finished third at the state meet.
Canal Winchester City Council President Steve Donahue said Bender was “one of the most positive people I have ever been associated with” and that he always looked for ways to help others.
“He has touched many in his lifetime and truly loved and served Canal Winchester,” said Donahue. “I will miss John and cherish the time we worked together both at the school and on council.”
Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert said even though he met Bender years before, he grew to know him much better when both were members of the Lions Club in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Over the course of the following several years and up to now, I saw John Bender as a person who really cared for Canal Winchester and the Canal Winchester school district” said Ebert. “He wanted only the best for both. John was a very caring person when it came to dealing with people and especially the thousands of kids he touched over his many years as a coach at Canal Winchester. John will be greatly missed as a political figure in Canal Winchester and as a mentor to Canal Winchester students and alumni and I thank him for that. I send my deepest sympathy out to the Bender family.”
Bender’s dedication to service went beyond the walls of city hall and athletic fields to the classroom at Faith United Methodist Church where he also taught adult Sunday school.
“There has never been a finer, more trustworthy man than John Bender,” said Destination: Canal Winchester board President Bob Garvin, who first met Bender 30 years ago. “He was someone you could confide in. His passing is a loss for the entire community, the schools, and all of the teams and athletes he worked with over the years.”
According on an online obituary, after initially graduating from Ohio State University, where he earned bachelor, master and doctorate degrees, he and his wife, Joan, devoted three years to teaching on Yap Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Bender spent more than 20 years in Indiana where he served as an administrator for the Richmond school system, taught courses at Indiana University East, refereed basketball and was president of the Richmond Swim Club.
Returning to Ohio, Bender taught sixth grade in the Whitehall school district and was a freshman advisor at Ohio State. He worked for 20 years as the school-court liaison for the Franklin County Educational Services and served as an Ashland University student teacher advisor, in addition to his lengthy coaching career with Canal Winchester Schools where he earned several coach of the year awards.
Bender and his wife were married in 1964. In addition to Joan, he is also survived by his son, Dr. David Bender; his three daughters, Linda, Melissa and Judy; eight grandchildren; sister, Susie Rhinehart; niece and nephews. He will be interred in Franklin Hills Memorial Gardens on Sept. 21.