Don Bender, Atlanta, Georgia, is the owner and president of Neighborhood Commercial Redevelopment, Inc., which has, with its investors, bought, renovated, and leased commercial properties in three in-town Atlanta neighborhood shopping villages. It has turned these formerly run down commercial districts into viable, revitalized destinations. A central part of this revitalization has been creating space for the arts, including the adaptive re-use of two former boarded up movie theaters into live music and live theater venues. Don is in the process of turning his work over to younger associates and is beginning partial retirement.
After graduating from Eastern Mennonite University, he taught elementary school for one year in Grottoes, Virginia, and beginning in 1966 taught three years in junior high and high school in Atlanta, Georgia. He lived at Mennonite House, located in an African-American neighborhood, as a volunteer under MCC for the first two years. In addition to his teaching, he was also active in the civil rights and peace movements there. In 1969 he married Judith Harak, whom he met in Atlanta. Together they served for two years as the program coordinators and residents at Quaker House with a primary emphasis on draft counseling.
Don received his M.Ed. degree in adult education from the University of Georgia in 1971 and worked in adult education part time for 10 years, while also serving as homemaker while Judith taught at Atlanta University. Beginning in 1977, Don began his business ventures, starting with a restaurant and gathering place before focusing on real estate redevelopment.
Inspired by a core belief in the inclusion of all segments of society, he has been committed to neighborhood activism and community building, This has included leadership in neighborhood organizations and business associations. He was active in opposing a proposed expressway through his community and later served as president of Freedom Park Conservancy as it turned 200 acres of land intended as the expressway into a major linear city park.
He was a leader in the early 1980s in the decision of the Atlanta Friends Meeting to declare itself a Sanctuary for Central American refugees. His family hosted a Salvadoran family for six months while they waited sanctuary in Canada.
Mildred (Millie) Bender, Sandy Spring, Maryland, began her teaching and counseling vocation at age 20 in Greenwood, Delaware, with one year and a summer of college. After later graduating from Eastern Mennonite College and two more years teaching at Greenwood, she moved into what was to become a unifying theme in her lifereaching across to work and share life with other cultures and religions. First there was Newfoundland with the Mennonite Central Committee for two years, then a move south to Neshoba County, Mississppi. When Martin Luther King Jr. marched, she was teaching English to Choctaw youth, a minority within a minority and working closely with her father and mother in their life among the tribe during the turbulent 1960s.
Graduate study at the American University of Beirut (Lebanon) earned Mildred her masters degree and opened the door to seven rich years of teachingmainly Arab students, many of them Muslimat the university. During those years she had the rare privilege of traveling with her father in the Middle East and Europe, exploring, among other things, the sites of Anabaptist history as well as Bender history.
Washington, D.C. became home for Mildred in 1975. Besides teaching at Georgetown University, she joined Sojourners Community in the inner city. Further graduate study in pastoral counseling (at Loyola College, Baltimore) while serving as a pastor and counselor in the community called for constant deepening in her own spirituality. A sabbatical in Californias Bay Area studying creation spirituality was a feast of imagination, truth, and storytelling that led her to integrate a body-mind-spirit focus into her counseling. The greater Washington area is still home for Mildred as, retired from teaching, she continues her work at a healing center near Sandy Spring, Maryland.
Titus Bender, Fort Defiance, Virginia, is retired from Eastern Mennonite University, where he taught social work in the fields of human behavior and social policy since 1976. He remains active in one of the fields in which he had specializeda program of working with men convicted of substance abuse-related crimes to help restore them and their communities rather than just getting even.
After graduating from Eastern Mennonite University and one year of seminary he and the person to whom he is married, Anna Yoder Bender, spent 11 years, including the 1960s, in Meridian, Mississippi. There they led a voluntary service unit. Titus work included pastoring Fellowship Mennonite Church and working as the Peace Representative in the South for Peace Section of MCC. He worked at issues of racism, unemployment, literacy, homelessness, and poverty at the personal and institutional levels. When over 70 church buildings burned in the mid-1960s, he became a part of a statewide church-related group, Committee of Concern, which raised money to help rebuild these church buildings and to organize volunteers to work alongside members of some of the churches in rebuilding their sanctuaries.
Feeling the call for continued involvement at the community level, he earned his masters and doctoral degrees in social work at Tulane University in New Orleans. After four years of teaching at the University of Oklahoma, he returned to Eastern Mennonite University. There, as in Mississippi, it was clear to him and his family that standing with excluded persons was for them the only valid option, unless these persons were exploiting or excluding others. They have learned to live with this decision.
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