Gary “Coach B” Bender of Rock Island, Illinois and Kingwood, Texas passed away on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at the age of 72. Gary died peacefully after a lengthy stay in nursing home and hospice care. Family members were able to visit with him over the last few weeks of his life. During his last two days, his final words were “baseball” and “I’m happy.”
Gary was born on October 29, 1948 to Harvey and Wahneta Bender, and was the older brother to Randy. Growing up the son of a Rock Island arsenal machinist, he learned the value of hard work and a never-give-up attitude from an early age. Gary used these lessons to progress through his youth as a force to be reckoned with on the pitcher’s mound and at the plate. He continued playing baseball through his years at Rock Island High School before going on to play college baseball at Culver Stockton College, where he was also a proud member of the TKE fraternity. During his final year of college, upon a weekend visit to Rock Island, he would meet the single most important person in his life, Terry “Tee” Dohrn. Gary and Tee wasted no time in tying the knot and began their illustrious and monumental impact on the youth of the Rock Island School District 41 when they both began their teaching careers in the fall of 1971.
Gary was able to progress through the assistant coaching ranks through the early years, and then in the fall of 1984 he was named the head baseball coach for the Rock Island Rocks. He brought energy, passion, selflessness, love and the infamous “Bender-Ball” to the student athletes there.
In 1999, Coach B was enshrined in the Illinois High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. This, along with taking his first high school team to State in 1985 and winning the Little League state tournament the same year sit near the top of his achievements. However, if you were to ask him about his biggest and proudest accomplishments, it would be helping and mentoring thousands of kids as one of the most influential people in the Rock Island community. He always looked for the good in everyone and would go out of his way to make someone’s day special. Early in his career he adopted what would become his personal motto – “Attitude is Everything” – and he instilled that sentiment into everyone he met and everything he did.
Gary and Tee retired to Texas in 2004. Along with their two sons, Tony and Heath, and their bonus son, Jason Harvey, The Zone Baseball Facility and the Dynasty Baseball organization were born. Dynasty Baseball has been in the Kingwood area for more than 15 years and continues to personify the values for which Coach B is known. He knew that building a dynasty takes take time, effort, money, supportive coaches and families, and, of course, love. His legacy will live on through all the families that he has impacted both in Illinois and Texas, and he will be forever remembered.
Gary was preceded in death by his parents, Harvey and Wahneta Bender, as well as his granddaughter, Addison Faith Bender. He is survived by his loving wife and assistant coach of 50 years, Tee; children Tony and Heath Bender and Jason Harvey; daughters-in-law Amber Bender and Kristen Roesler; grandchildren Trenton, Riley, Olivia, Beau, Ben and Mason; brother Randy Bender and his wife Cindy, their two children, Janson and Jenna, and their grandchildren Broderick, Brylan, Braxton and Griffin.
A Celebration of Life is going to be held on Sunday, May 30 at The Zone Baseball Facility from 3-7 p.m. Join us for music and gathering, along with many stories and laughter about this great man.
Those wishing to honor Gary’s lifelong commitment to children and the community can make donations to Dynasty Baseball for a memorial scholarship, or to Addi’s Faith Foundation in honor of his late granddaughter, Addison Faith, who died of a malignant brain tumor in 2007.
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