Byron Wilbur Bender

BenderByron Wilbur Bender, 90, on January 4, 2020, at Kaiser Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. Byron was born on August 14, 1929, to a Mennonite family in Roaring Spring, Pa. He was raised on a dairy farm until the age of ten, when the family moved to Elkhart, Ind.

For his last two years of high school, Byron was sent to Hesston College and Bible School in Hesston, Kans. Following graduation in summer of 1946, Byron joined an all-Mennonite crew aboard a ship delivering 800 horses to postwar Poland.

That fall, Byron enrolled at Goshen College, a Mennonite college in Goshen, Ind. He met Lois Marie Graber, his future wife, during registration. Byron graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s in English. He enrolled at Indiana University (IU), where he was introduced to the field of linguistics. In 1950, Byron was awarded a master’s in linguistics from IU and returned briefly to Goshen, where he and Lois married.

Byron enrolled in IU’s doctoral program in linguistics. Upon completion of coursework in 1953, he accepted a position in the Marshall Islands as a linguist for the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), a United Nations trust territory in Micronesia administered by the United States. One month after Byron and Lois arrived in the capital city of Majuro, budget cuts led to the elimination of his position. Byron accepted a teaching position at the local high school, where he would teach for six years. The first two years fulfilled Byron’s alternative service requirement as a conscientious objector.

As he learned to speak the Marshallese language, Byron collected data that would later form the basis of his dissertation.

In 1954, Byron served as liaison between citizens of the Marshall Islands and the U.S. government seeking to reunite family members who had been separated by mandatory relocation associated with nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll.

Byron and Lois’s first three children, Susan, Sarah, and Catherine, were born during the family’s years spent in the Marshall Islands.

In 1960, Byron was hired as an assistant professor of linguistics and anthropology at Goshen College. Judith and John, the final two Bender children, were born in Goshen. Byron completed his dissertation, and, in 1963, IU awarded him a doctorate in linguistics with a minor in anthropology.

In 1962, Byron was hired as the English language supervisor for the TTPI, and the Bender family returned to Micronesia, this time to Saipan. Two years later, Byron accepted a position at the University of Hawaii’s newly established Department of Linguistics at its Mānoa campus (UH Mānoa).

Byron taught linguistics at UH Mānoa for 35 years. In 1969, he was named chair of the department, a position he held for ten three-year terms. Regarding his tenure as chair, colleagues say he demonstrated fairness and a gentle touch. He served as president of the UH Professional Assembly from 1983 to 1988. Byron retired from UH Mānoa in 1999. Following retirement, he was editor of UH Press’s journal, Oceanic Linguistics, and was a member of the UH Board of Regents.

Lois and Byron were longtime members of Honolulu Meeting. Byron served as clerk of the meeting, treasurer of the meeting, clerk of Oversight and Counsel Committee, and clerk of the Finance Committee.

Byron loved his family and always found time to listen and give advice. He is survived by his wife, Lois Bender; five children, Susan Bender, Sarah Fagan (Joel), Catherine Bender, Judith Bender (Neil Brafman), and John Bender (Paula); and four grandchildren.

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