Benders’ love story includes the Pride

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When Don and Carol Bender fall in love, they fall hard. And it sticks. 

Don, a Philadelphia native, was in the Air Force at the time, and had just been stationed in Minneapolis after some time in Okinawa. That’s when he went on a blind date with Carol, a small-town girl from Paynesville, Minnesota.

The couple married just three months and three weeks later. That was 61 years, four kids, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren ago, and they’ve never looked back.

As Don says, “My life has been better ever since.”

After a couple of moves, they landed in Brookings in 1975 to start their own business, Falcon Plastics. It wasn’t long before they fell in love again – this time with the South Dakota State University Marching Band, better known as the Pride of the Dakotas.

The Benders had no affiliation with SDSU before moving to Brookings so they were thrilled with everything the school had to offer, especially the marching band.

“The first time we saw the Pride, I was so excited. We had lived in Minneapolis, so we were used to big stadiums and big events. The Pride was just wonderful for me. They were so darn good.”

>> Carol Bender

Don says Carol is the Pride’s biggest fan, and he teases Carol that she cries every time she sees them perform a halftime show.

“She tears up every time,” he says with a smile, “but they’re happy tears.” “I do!” Carol says. “I always say I’m not going to cry, but they just look and act so sharp and they sound so good, I can’t help it!”

That’s love. And that’s why the Benders provide both moral and financial support for the Pride.

Carol likes to tell the story of watching the Pride perform the halftime show at a Vikings game in Minneapolis.

“When the Pride took the field and the announcer talked about them, some young men behind us were making smart remarks about how they didn’t expect much from a small town band. But after they saw the performance, they were quite impressed. I turned around and said, ‘Not bad for a small town in South Dakota, huh?’ That was fun.”

The Benders have been donating financially for the last 10 years, for anything the band needs. According to David Reynolds, Department Head and Director of Division of Performing Arts and PAC at SDSU, the Benders have helped provide badly needed equipment, and their donations have extended the life of current inventory as well. 

“The percussion instruments in the drum line were really showing wear,” Reynolds says.

“With the Benders’ donation, we could refurbish them (percussion instruments) and extend their life for another five years or so."

>> David Reynolds, Department Head and Director of Division of Performing Arts and PAC at SDSU

“We also updated their look,” says Reynolds. “The drums used to be brushed silver, and they now have Jackrabbits on them, so they’re personalized for our ensemble. It gives the kids real pride when they march onto the field. It means a lot to them.”

The Benders are just happy to give to their favorite band, saying they don’t do it for the recognition or gratitude – they just want to help people. 

“We don’t expect thanks or anything, but we do get notes from the students, thanking us. It’s nice to hear from them, to know they appreciate it.”

>> Don Bender

Carol adds, “They seem like very nice kids.”

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