Daniel H. Bender

Kansas college founding president and bishop resigned for abusing daughter, daughter dismissed

On July 18, 1930, Daniel Henry (D.H.) Bender (b. 1866), then president of Hesston College, Kansas, confessed in a written statement to incest of his teenage daughter some ten years earlier. The Mennonite Board of Education executive committee concluded that it was more than a single event and had continued for some time. They made it clear that they had “authentic data” substantiating Bender’s “gross sin.” In August, Bender formally resigned his presidential office and met with Missouri-Kansas conference leaders, who took action to remove his ministerial credentials.

The abuse had surfaced during a revival meeting in 1930, when the pastor of Hesston Mennonite Church asked Bender’s then 27-year-old daughter Ruth, who was a teacher of French and Latin at Hesston College, to confess any sins. The pastor, Maurice (M.A.) Yoder, would subsequently make her confession public knowledge. When the church bishops met with Ruth, they concluded that because of her youth and because her father had taken full responsibility, she would not be asked to make a statement of confession. Nevertheless, they asked her to stand before the congregation to “acknowledge her participation.”

Soon after Bender’s resignation, the Mennonite Board of Education executive committee acted to refer Ruth to their local Missouri-Kansas board, but stated that they hoped “that the way may be kept open for her living and service at Hesston.” The executive committee, the board, and the Hesston faculty were of a common mind that Ruth should continue to serve on Hesston’s faculty.

M.A. Yoder, however, expressed his opinion that they should “quietly take Ruth out” to preserve the school’s “prestige” with the local community. It had become apparent that “our little town is stirred to the depth” and some of the “immediate constituency” had threatened to withdraw their support as long as Ruth remained on the faculty. In a return letter, Orie Miller reaffirmed the executive committee’s desire that Ruth remain on the faculty. Four days later Miller wrote Yoder again, once more affirming the committee’s position, and adding that the larger church constituency favored her remaining at Hesston. Ruth was not held responsible for her father’s moral failure, he said, and she had “suffered enough.” It was, Miller wrote further, their “Christian duty to try to make it possible for her to continue to serve the church for which she has prepared.” On the same day, M.A. Yoder wrote to Orie Miller, saying that the opinion of “some of our most prominent townspeople,” who objected to Ruth’s continuing to teach, would prevail.

Dismissed from the Hesston faculty, Ruth taught at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf from 1935–1946 and later joined the faculty of Western Reserve University as an instructor of speech and hearing. Ruth earned a doctoral degree in 1956 and was named an assistant clinical professor of speech pathology and audiology at the Western Reserve University Speech Department. In 1960 she published “The Conquest of Deafness,” the first comprehensive history of the field of deaf education. Ruth worked for more than two decades at the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, where she became the associate director in charge of children’s auditory disorders. Ruth never married, and it appears that with her dismissal from Hesston, the ties to her Mennonite community were severed.

While D.H. Bender no longer held church office, he was allowed to quietly serve local congregations and local programs as an occasional speaker. When he died fifteen years later, his funeral was held in the Hesston College chapel, and Mennonite Weekly Review reported that it was “one of the largest funerals held at Hesston in recent years.”

This case description was excerpted and adapted from John Sharp’s centennial history of Hesston College, referenced in documentation below.

Church-related positions

  • Ordained minister, (Old) Mennonite Church, 1887–1930
  • Writer of Sunday school lessons for children and adults, “Advanced Sunday School Lesson Quarterly,” 1903
  • Editor of the Herald of Truth, 1904
  • Office editor of the Gospel Witness, 1906
  • Office editor of the Gospel Herald, 1908
  • President of Hesston College and Bible School, 1909–1930
  • Ordained bishop, (Old) Mennonite Church, 1912–1930

Documentation

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