Ralph C. Bender, founder and Chairman Emeritus of San Antonio Sports, passed away Thursday morning, Dec. 27 in San Antonio, TX, his adopted home town. Born in Davenport, Iowa on June 3, 1924, Bender had a profound impact on both the physical and sports landscape of San Antonio.
An architect with degrees from Iowa State College and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bender considered himself more of an urban planner than an architect. He moved to the Alamo City in 1956 as the planning director for the City of San Antonio. He rewrote the city’s subdivision regulations and its zoning regulations and developed the comprehensive mapping program that the city uses today. Utilizing the metro flood plan, Bender created a comprehensive Parks & Open Space plan in 1959, which is actively being developed today as the city’s linear parks system.
In the private sector he worked with the Texas Highway Department to design Highway 151. He utilized a partnership between private landowners and the highway department, creating a road which has been a catalyst for the phenomenal development of San Antonio’s West side. Using the same concept of public/private partnership, Bender designed Highway 211, the research parkway that continues to expand and develop San Antonio’s West side. He served as a consultant on the Wurzbach Parkway, and designed La Cantera Boulevard at Six Flags Amusement Park.
Bender’s architectural professional interests were residential development and urban planning. Among the developments he planned in San Antonio were Marymont, Village North, The Great Northwest, Westover Hills, The Dominion and Eastside Industrial Development. His company, Bender Associates, spawned two other firms that Bender Wells Clark Design and Gonzalez Newell Bender that remain active today.
Personally, Bender was a fierce advocate for amateur sports and early childhood development. In 1976, Bender saw a picture of two fencers on the cover of the Chamber of Commerce magazine. He was fascinated by the sport of fencing and the swashbuckling he’d seen in movies. At the age of 52, Bender decided to take lessons from an Olympian, resulting in his association with the Olympic sport of Modern Pentathlon. Fencing with pentathletes, whose training center was at Ft. Sam Houston, led to his becoming a volunteer and influential advocate for the sport. He was USA Pentathlon’s national president from 2001-2004 and has traveled the world representing the sport, including attending 12 Olympic Games.
Bender attended the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and concluded that if amateur sports could transform that city, something similar could happen for San Antonio. Returning to Texas, he contacted Mayor Henry Cisneros and shared his vision that the future lay in amateur—not professional— sports for San Antonio. Cisneros asked Bender to chair an adhoc committee whose goal was to pursue amateur sporting events. From this committee, the San Antonio Amateur Sports Foundation was incorporated and Bender was the founding chair. At the same time, the Greater Chamber of Commerce had a sports committee to support the fledging Sports Foundation’s efforts. Subsequently, the two were combined to become the San Antonio Sports Foundation in 1984. Bender was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame
Until his death, Bender was an active board member of San Antonio Sports on the executive and youth committees, advocating for sports and fitness programs for all children. His contributions have helped make San Antonio an international sports destination. He was Chairman Emeritus of San Antonio Sports and was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Bender was also a passionate advocate for early childhood concerns, which resulted in his involvement in creating “Success by 6”, San Antonio 2000, Voices for Children, After School All Stars, and the “Family-Child” El Rey Feo Alamo Community College Scholarship Program.
Ralph Bender is survived by his wife, Liz Fritz, daughter Beth Bender Wells, son Mark Bender and their families.
Photos courtesy of the Ralph Bender family