12/17/04 — Friend of the handicapped dies of cancer

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Friend of the handicapped dies of cancer

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on December 17, 2004 1:58 PM

Carol Bender's legacy to Wayne County is a new building where the mentally and physically handicapped people of this community can work.

Mrs. Bender died Thursday. She had been the director of the Wayne Opportunity Center for 14 years.

Carol Bender

Mrs. Bender

Mrs. Bender had found the current home for the center, on South George Street, while it was operating from a dilapidated building on Mulberry.

"She was the main power behind getting funding so we could move into this building," said Beth Jones, finance manager who has been with the center for 10 years. "She was ferocious in her efforts to get the clients out of that old building. She was very proud of this building.

"She also helped hundreds of clients in many ways during her time here. The center serves between 80 and 100 clients each year."

The Wayne Opportunity Center clients decided to go ahead with their already scheduled annual Christmas party today, saying Mrs. Bender would not have wanted them to cancel it because of her.

Despite her battle with lung cancer, Mrs. Bender was out in the community this year promoting the annual United Way campaign and giving presentations to employee groups.

She was the recipient of the Mayor's Trophy for Persons With Disabilities last October for her work with disabled clients at the center. She was also an active member of the North Carolina Association For Rehabilitation Facilities and the Wayne County Transportation Board.

Mrs. Bender became director of Wayne Opportunity Center in March 1990. She had worked at Diversified Opportunities, a sheltered workshop in Wilson, while earning her bachelor's degree in psychology from Atlantic Christian College. Mrs. Bender began as an instructor and worked her way up to program vice president.

In 1987, she went to work for Marsh Banks Inc., a wholesale gift business. Three years later, the economy's effect on the gift industry and her desire to return to helping the handicapped led to her accept the job as Wayne Opportunity Center's director.

The position enabled her to return home to Wayne County. When asked during an interview in 1990 if she was a Wayne County native, Mrs. Bender laughed and noted that her parents, named Peele, lived on Peele Road. "That tells you they've been there awhile!"

Mrs. Bender, whose husband was Jim Bender, had an interest in history and participated in Civil War reenactments, wearing elaborate costumes that she made.

She also loved Yorkshire terriers and would happily show off pictures of her pets, Gabby and Zoe.