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Ralph Bender

  • "RIP my friend...Thanks for being part of my life."
    - Charles Christian
  • "Please accept my deepest sympathies on the loss of your..."
    - Leticia Van de Putte
  • "May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow."
    - County Commissioner Paul Elizondo
  • "Liz, We are so saddened to hear of Ralph's death. He was..."
    - Don and Nancy Schoenfeld
  • "I had the honor to meet Ralph when I was a volunteer on the..."
    - Barbara Collins

Ralph C. Bender passed away from a sudden illness on December 27, 2012 at the age of 88. Ralph was born in Davenport, Iowa on June 3, 1924. He was preceded in death by his parents Robert C. and Elsie Liston Bender and three siblings. Ralph was a WWII Veteran serving in the Pacific Theatre with the U.S. Army from 1943-1946. Ralph was awarded with six service medals during his military career. His last official duty to serve with the military has been as an Honorary Commander with the 558th Flying Training Squadron, the oversight for Remote Aircraft Training at RAFB. He attended college on the GI Bill at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa earning a B.S. in Architectural Engineering. Ralph was a Beta Theta Phi fraternity member. He went on to earn his Master of Architecture degree in 1951 at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His decision to get his Master's degree in architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art was influenced by the renowned architect and planner Elio Saarinen due to Elio's emphasis on urban planning. Ralph began his public service in planning in 1952 in Louisiana where he designed Master Plans for Shreveport, Natchitoches and Bossier City. Upon Ralph's arrival in San Antonio in early spring of 1956 he made his presence known as Assistant Director of Planning and shortly thereafter as Director of Planning for the City of San Antonio. Over the two plus years that he served as the director for San Antonio he authored an entire new San Antonio Zoning Ordinance. In collaboration with Mel Sueltenfus from the Engineering Department he co-authored a new set of Subdivision Regulations. Ralph assembled all draftsmen involved and created the first comprehensive mapping program for the City, which is still in effect today. In 1956, San Antonio was suffering its longest drought in its history; Ralph declared the need to plan for future floods. He also redirected the development of San Antonio by rewriting the city's subdivision regulations and it's zoning regulations. Utilizing the flood plan in the metro area he created a comprehensive Parks & Open Space plan. That plan is actively being developed today. Ralph C. Bender has had a huge impact on San Antonio and many parts of the U.S. Many thousands of families live or have lived in single-family homes, apartments, condominiums and residential & mixed-use developments across the country that he personally designed. From the mid 20th century to the early 21st century he devoted his planning and architectural practices to the design of affordable low and middle-income housing and land development. He was an early pioneer and a much sought-after consultant and speaker nationwide. As a consultant to private landowners, Ralph worked with the Texas Highway Department designing Highway 151, known affectionately as the "Wender-Bender-Stotzer Freeway". Together with the private landowners and the state, a public-private partnership was created to develop that highway; which has been the catalyst for the phenomenal development of the west-side of San Antonio. Bender's plan was developed, presented and approved by the State Highway Commission in an unprecedented time of 90 days. It was the first time that a presentation was approved by the Commission the first time it was presented to them. Credited at the hearing that it was such a remarkable proposal, the Texas Highway Department stated they would find their portion of the funding if they had to steal the money. The local newspaper reported that Bender's concept had saved the State more than 1 billion dollars. Using the same concept of public/private partnership, Ralph designed Highway 211 known as the Research Parkway, which is increasing the expansion and development San Antonio's westside. Ralph served as a consultant on the Wurzbach Parkway and he and his firm also designed the La Cantera Boulevard entryway to Six Flags Amusement Park. In Laredo, Texas he planned and designed the Bob Bullock Freeway connecting Highway 35 to the new bridge over the Rio Grande. He also designed the Milo interchange at Highway 35 and planned the Loop 20 Freeway commencing into North Laredo. Among the many various developments, large and small, that he planned throughout San Antonio were Mary Mont, Village North, The Great Northwest, Westover Hills, The Dominion and Eastside Industrial Development. His architectural professional interests were residential development and urban planning. His personal interests were as an advocate for early childhood concerns, manifesting his involvement in the creation of "Success by 6"; San Antonio, 2000; "VOICES FOR CHILDREN"; After School All Stars, the creation of the "Family-Child" Rey Feo Alamo Community College Scholarship Program and Ralph was one of the founders & was Founding Chairman of the San Antonio Sports Foundation, now known as San Antonio Sports. The prestigious title of Fellow by both the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Certified Planners were awarded to Ralph during his career. Ralph thought of himself as more of an Urban Planner than an architect. He had an incredible ability to manipulate space, be it a house floorplan, a site plan, a subdivision plan, a planned community, or a metropolitan area. He received many local, state and national awards including the inaugural AIA National Award for a low cost single-family home design in 1963. Leaving the City in 1959, he joined the Ray Ellison organization as Director of Design and Planning, serving in that capacity until 1964. During that time, his single-family home designs were honored nationally and he was recognized as being on the cutting edge of affordable housing design. In 1963 he was awarded the coveted American Institute of Architects First Honor Award, given by House & Home Magazine's and Life Magazine's design competition for an experimental house built in San Antonio. The 700 sq. ft. house could be converted internally from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom as needed for an expanding family. The house cost no more than $7000. In addition, he received National Honor Awards from Parents Magazine, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Practical Builder Magazine and the National Association of Homebuilders. In 1964 he partnered with Quincy Lee to form Development Planning Associates developing the Mary Mont and Village North subdivisions. He continued to be a planning and design consultant for the Quincy Lee organizations, designing residential, commercial and industrial developments until 1970. During the last years of association with the Quincy Lee organization he also began developing an independent practice consulting with other builders and developers across the country. In 1970 he established Ralph C. Bender and Associates, Inc. Urban Design Consultants. In 1986 the name was changed to Bender Associates, Urban Design, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture. Two firms have evolved from Bender Associates. The first firm, Bender Wells Clark Design, a landscape and planning design firm, owned by his daughter Beth Wells and partner Larry Clark, both former and longtime employees of Bender Associates. The second firm, Gonzalez Newell Bender, an architectural and planning firm, also owned by Bender's former employees. In 1976 Ralph became active in the sport of Epee Fencing, taking lessons from a former Olympic athlete, resulting in his association with the Olympic sport of Modern Pentathlon. Fencing with Pentathletes, whose Training Center was at Fort Sam Houston, he became a Pentathlon volunteer. Volunteering led to becoming National Treasurer for this Olympic sport and eventually becoming National President of USA Pentathlon from 2001 to 2004. His involvement with USA Pentathlon resulted in worldwide travel and his attending 11 Olympic games. His primary interests since retiring have been his continued advocacy for early childhood mental & physical health and education, and the goals of the San Antonio Sports Foundation. Ralph was passionate about international travel where he made friends so easily in the over 60 countries he visited. Survivors include his wife Liz Fritz; children, Beth Bender Wells and Mark Bender; grandchildren, Kristin Tracey (Kirk) and Steven Wells; and numerous other relatives and friends. Graveside services will be held on Friday, January 4, 2013 at 9:45 A.M. at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with military honors. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to San Antonio Sports or VOICES for Children. Condolences may be sent to the Bender family at Arrangements by:

Published in Express-News on Dec. 30, 2012
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