Tricounty News

Meet your neighbor: The Benders

Someone asked me recently if I exaggerate the good points of the people about whom I write in this column. I replied that I had never had to do any type of fabricating. None of us is perfect and for that reason we see each other's less than desirable (according to our standards anyway) traits and concentrate on them to the detriment of the real worth of the individual. In these columns I am attempting to bring to light the wealth of this community in terms of experiences, lifestyles, beliefs, activities, relationships, responsibilities and resources of its members. Kimball is becoming a more and more exciting place to live as I look into the very meaningfulness of existence of its residents.

The Benders are certainly no exception to the rule of how I measure human worth. I wish I had been alive during the blizzard of 1922 and been able to offer overnight hospitality to the stalwart Mr. Bender, the mailman, as he drove his team into the yard, unable to plow through any more of the three-days' accumulation of snow.

I wish I had had an automobile during the years 1927-42 when I could have driven it into Mrs. Bender's gas station for a fillup while I ran in to her front room grocery store for a few items.

Idelia Foss and Ralph Bender were both born and raised in the Paynesville area. Their childhoods were typical of the time and included farmwork and country school. In 1918, when Ralph was a senior at Paynesville High School, he decided one day that rather than sit in a class, he would take the Civil Service Examination being offered for Rural Letter Carrier. Much to his surprise, Ralph came out with the highest score of the 20 examinees and was given Route 4 at Paynesville.

His first trip on the route was April 3, and it was in style - in his new Model T Ford. That summer despite his being a Civil Service employee, Ralph enlisted in the Marines and spent the next winter in Parris Island, S.C. Three weeks of that time, he was bedridden with the swine flu, the same flu which took his brother's life.

When Ralph returned to Minnesota after Armistice, he received his former mail carrier route. He bought a horse, buggy, and sleigh, since all cars were put on blocks for the winter during those days. That fall of 1919, Mr. Bender found himself during some vacation time working for a church dining hall at the State Fair grounds. Coming home on the train one day, he saw an innocent little country girl sitting alone. Since he had bought some apples and since he thought he would like to get better acquainted with her, Ralph was willing to share his apples - beginning of a lifelong relationship.

After working four years on the rural route, Ralph was appointed assistant postmaster and transferred to an inside 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. job. However, being inside was not to the postman's liking and in 1924, he was again transferred to rural route, Route 4 in Kimball. So he and Idella, his wife of three years, moved to a farm (the present Agnes Hinz place) and milked a few cows, raised some pigs and chickens and kept delivering the mail. Although the farm was at the edge of town, the farmers had to walk way out by Lake Marie to milk their cows - by hand of course. The Benders enjoyed the farm life but found it difficult to farm and deliver mail, so a few years later, they sold the farm to George and Agnes Hinz.

The next phase of their busy life began in 1927, with the building of the house-grocery-store-gas-station. Mrs. Bender took care of gas and groceries while Ralph continued to make sure that the mail would go through until 1942.

Meanwhile Ralph was busy not only delivering mail, but delivering doctors or patients and even putting out a house fire during his mail route. In his closed sleighs he kept a small stove and people jokingly accused him of burning all the third-class mail to keep his fire burning. After some time he sold his horses and purchased a snowmobile (not like the modern vehicle we call a "snowmobile") which was like a big caterpillar outfit which ran on a Model A Ford motor. When the roads were improved enough for automobile transportation, it became possible for Ralph to drive a car the whole length of the route. His 48 years of service to postal patrons ended Jan. 1, 1967.

The Benders have two children, Lavon and Patricia. Lavon is presently in the insurance business in St. Paul and has two children in college. Pat is married to Marvin Brown who is principal in North St. Paul. The Browns taught in Fairbanks, Alaska for a year and have two young sons.

Despite their busy lives, the Benders have had time to be involved in the community. Ralph was a member of the Kimball School Board for several years and is presently a member of the American Legion where he served as commander for 10 years. The Benders have always been active in the Methodist Church. Idella enjoys gardening and raising plants. She is a member of Royal Neighbors, Eastern Star, the American Legion Auxiliary, Methodist Church Circle, and the Rural Carriers Auxiliary.

They have experienced many enjoyable times at their cottage on Lake Goodner and Ralph is a good fisherman and avid hunter. Now he spends time building bird feeders, towel holders and various other wooden products.

Many times when I write about someone, I find a theme which seems to pervade his life and often I use an appropriate quote to more aptly (than I am able anyway) to define that theme. The Benders brought me their own quote by Rheinhold Niebuhr:

"Grant us the serenity to accept the thingd we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference."

It seems to me that there does exist a certain amount of serenity about the Benders. Certainly they have accepted many things in their lives, including years of hard and devoted labor, under which they had learned to exist. They did have the needed courage to give up the farm when it seemed too difficult to maintain in addition to an eight-hour-a-day mail route. And because of their many years of managing a business, some health setbacks, and some changes in lifestyle, the Benders can provide much wisdom - which is delightfully interwoven with humor and serenity.

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"A picture is worth a thousand words." Many thanks for your generosity. Several vintage photographs have been donated to our society by many of you. Keep them coming and they will be copied and lovingly exhibited for all to enjoy throughout the years and displays ahead, together with our/your complete history. "Authentic stories of your own life deliver powerful medicines in ways that those taken from books or overheard elsewhere, never will."

2009 was a great year for this society!

An advance schedule of events for our society in the new year of 2010 is now available. Lots of great stuff in 2010, including the 10th anniversary of the Kimball Area Historical Society. We were founded in 2000. No doubt the centerpiece of our Society's successes is preserving the Kimball City Hall. If you would like to join this amazing restoration project, all you have to do is make a donation or pledge. Your gift is tax deductible.

Each holiday season, people scramble to find the perfect gifts for loved ones. That can be a real challenge. Right here locally, we have numerous inexpensive gifts that hold more meaning than the usual. With all our keepsake and souvenir items available always at the State Bank of Kimball and some at Knaus Sausage. For $7 or $10 any of them are a treasure, guaranteed. Membership is a great gift also.

For more information, please contact the Kimball Area Historical Society at Box 100, Kimball MN 55353 or phone (320) 398-5250, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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In appreciation of your support, thank you for any involvement or contribution you've made. It had made a difference.