Daniel Henry Bender
Date of birth and death
Born: Jan. 18, 1866
Died: Jan. 22, 1945 (aged 79)
During a revival meeting in 1930, Maurice (M.A.) Yoder, pastor of the Hesston Mennonite Church, pressed D.H. Bender’s then 27-year-old daughter, who was a teacher at the school, to confess any secret sins. Under pressure she revealed her father’s incestuous abuse when she was a teenager. Yoder subsequently made her private confession public knowledge.
On July 18, 1930, Bender confessed in a written statement the incest abuse of his teenage daughter some ten years earlier. The Mennonite Board of Education executive committee concluded that it was more than a single event and had continued for some time. They made it clear that they had “authentic data” substantiating Bender’s “gross sin.” On August 18, Bender formally resigned his presidential office.
On August 21, 1930, Bender met with Missouri-Kansas conference leaders who took action to remove Bender’s ministerial credentials. Bender made a full confession, saying, “For all my errors I humbly beg the forgiveness of the church and all who are affected by my transgression.”
The three church bishops had also met with Bender’s daughter, Ruth, and concluded that because of her youth and because her father had taken full responsibility, she would not be asked to make a statement of confession. Nevertheless, they asked her to stand before the congregation to “acknowledge her participation.”
A long held custom among Mennonites has been, in cases of “sexual sin,” to consider the sinned-against to be “participating” sinners and to publicly ignore the possibility of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. The teaching to always forgive, regardless of whether confession or apology has been made, has also influenced the handling of cases of sexual violation by church leaders.
On August 28, 1930, the Mennonite Board of Education executive committee acted to refer Ruth’s future as a teacher of French and Latin at Hesston College to the local Missouri-Kansas board, but stated that they hoped “that the way may be kept open for her living and service at Hesston.” The MBE executive committee, the local board, and the faculty were of a common mind that Ruth should continue to serve on Hesston’s faculty. In late August, M.A. Yoder expressed his opinion that they should “quietly take Ruth out” to preserve the school’s “prestige” with the local community. It had become apparent that “our little town is stirred to the depth” and some of the “immediate constituency” had threatened to withdraw their support as long as Ruth remained on the faculty. In a return letter, Orie Miller reaffirmed the MBE executive committee’s desire that Ruth remain on the faculty. Four days later Miller wrote Yoder again, once more affirming the MBE’s position, and adding that the larger church constituency favored her remaining at Hesston. Ruth was not held responsible for her father’s moral failure, and she had “suffered enough.” It was, Miller wrote further, their “Christian duty to try to make it possible for her to continue to serve the church for which she has prepared.” On the same day, M.A. Yoder wrote to Orie Miller, saying that the opinion of “some of our most prominent townspeople,” who objected to Ruth’s continuing to teach, would prevail.
After suffering her father’s abuse, the structures of power now denied Ruth her teaching career at Hesston College as well as her academic and church community. Dismissed from the Hesston faculty, she taught at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf from 1935-1946 and later joined the faculty of Western Reserve University as an instructor of speech and hearing. Ruth earned a Phd in 1956 and was named an assistant clinical professor of speech pathology and audiology at the Western Reserve University Speech Department. In 1960 she published “The Conquest of Deafness,” the first comprehensive history of the field of deaf education. Ruth worked for more than two decades at the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, where she became the associate director in charge of children’s auditory disorders. Ruth never married, and it appears that with her dismissal from Hesston, the ties to her Mennonite community were severed.
While D.H. Bender no longer held church wide offices, he was allowed to quietly serve local congregations and in local programs such as Bible institutes as an occasional speaker. When Bender died fifteen years later his funeral was held in the Hesston College chapel, and the Mennonite Weekly Review reported that it was “one of the largest funerals held at Hesston in recent years.” (This description adapted and excerpted from John Sharp’s centennial history of Hesston College, referenced in documentation below.)
Church-related positions held
- Ordained minister, (MC) Mennonite Church (1887-1930)
- Writer of Sunday school lessons for children and adults, Advanced Sunday School Lesson Quarterly (1903)
- Editor of the Herald of Truth (1904)
- Office editor of the Gospel Witness (1906)
- Office editor of the Gospel Herald (1908)
- President of Hesston College and Bible School (1909-1930)
- Ordained bishop, (MC) Mennonite Church (1912-1930)
Current employment/location (as of 2016)
- Buried in the Eastlawn Cemetery, Zimmerdale, Kansas
- Three mentions in the Gospel Herald, Sept. 18, 1930
- “The Change at Hesston” top center of first page (page 529)
- “A Special Meeting” top left of page 14 (page 542)
- “Change of Management” top right of page 16 (page 544)
- “A ‘Great Calamity…Has Befallen Us’: The Resignation of President Bender,” A School on the Prairie: A Centennial History of Hesston College 1909-2009, by John E. Sharp (pages 189-193)
- D.H. Bender Obituary, Mennonite Weekly Review, Feb. 1, 1945 (page 5)
- Ruth E. Bender Obituary, The Mennonite, June 2, 1998 (page 12)
- “Forward Thinking: 1960,” Think Magazine, Case Western Reserve University, Fall/Winter 2011