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In memoriam: Zoology professor Gordon Bender

Gordon Bender
June 20, 2011

Gordon Lawrence Bender, a professor of zoology at Arizona State University for 28 years, died June 14 in Waupaca, Wis. He was 92.

Bender began teaching at ASU in 1953. He retired as a Professor Emeritus of Life Sciences in 1981. He served a term as department chair and was known for his approachable teaching style and high standards, noted one of his daughters, Patti Bender, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Washburn University in Topeka. Bender mentored many advanced students in his specialty areas of entomology and desert ecology, and was especially known for teaching “BIO 100,” a general biology course.

For many years, Bender conducted a summer institute in desert biology. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it was the only one of its kind and introduced college biology teachers from all over the world to the study of arid lands. He served as interim program director of the Institutes Section of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. from 1962-1963. In 1965, professor Bender traveled to Jodhpur, India, where he taught high school biology teachers, and twice he went to the Kufra Oasis of Libya where he worked with a UNESCO project to develop agriculture in the Sahara desert.

Bender was a fellow and president of the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, chairman of that organization’s Committee on Desert and Arid Zones Research, member and president of the Arizona Academy of Science, and a member of Phi Kappa Phi.

According to his daughter, two accomplishments of which her father was particularly proud were a book that he edited, “Reference Handbook on the Deserts of North America,” and the directory that he helped create of desert scientists throughout the world.

Before teaching at ASU, Bender taught at Bemidji State Teachers College in Minnesota. He also worked in the chemistry department at Washington State College, biology department at Illinois Wesleyan University, and was a botany instructor at University of Illinois, where he earned his doctorate in entomology. Bender earned a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His undergraduate degree was from Iowa State College, where he also played saxophone in the marching band and was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity.

Professor Bender was an outdoorsman and an environmentalist. He had a lifetime love of hunting, fishing, boating and photography. People who knew him well smiled at his collections of jackets, radios, boats and cameras. He served the Boy Scouts in many capacities over 25 years, and belonged to the Kiwanis Club and Ducks Unlimited. He also loved trains, classical music, military bands, and especially his dog Rex.

Bender was born on Aug. 8, 1918, in Chippewa Falls, Wis. He was the son of Robert Louis and Leila Grace (Harrington) Bender, and he married Marion Ellen Johnson on June 24, 1945, in Seattle. They have four daughters, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Bender was preceded in death by his parents.

Services were held June 18 at Crystal Lake United Methodist Church in Waupaca, with graveside services at the Crystal Lake Cemetery. The Holly Funeral Home of Waupaca assisted with local arrangements.