Shiela Mae Bender, 67, died July 8, 2016, in her Kansas City home of natural causes, having no known health concerns. Born in Yakima, Wash., on Jan. 3, 1949, Shiela graduated National Honor Society from Yakima High School, then pursued a Bachelor of Elementary Education from Western Washington University, inspired by her realization growing up that for the kids in her neighborhood, school was their best hope for a safe and happy refuge where teachers loved them and wanted to make their young lives better. Her love of reading led her to a Master of Librarianship degree from the University of Washington in Seattle where she wrote the first thesis ever on her concept of Librotherapy - where a troubled soul could come, volunteer, and experience the healing influences of serving others. For years her students were called the Benderettes and were spurred to learn to read by hearing biographies of "great over comers." Her favorite educator was a retired Army General, John Henry Stanford, who taught his staff, "You got to love'm before you can lead'm." After that Shiela approached every student as a budding leader. Leadership was a hallmark of her classroom behavior management core. A follower of Jesus Christ from her earliest Sunday school days in Yakima, Shiela's life was one of faith and a disciple's service to others - always centering on prayer - and confident that God continues to speak today. After the explosion at Chernobyl, Belarusian children came to her neighborhood to recover from the strong radiation in their home towns - to get healthy and strong before returning home nearly radiation free. Shiela worked tirelessly to bring their plight to the attention of PTA parents and leaders to arrange Exchange Student-like accommodations. And they found doctors who volunteered to monitor the child's levels of radioactivity, and to solicit free dental services. Among the passions Shiela found here was spending part of 30 Saturdays in a public park - joining in prayers for Erika "Precious Doe" Green whose identity arose from a united group effort. Shiela helped raise money for Feed My Lambs, the local charity bringing surgeons to Sierra Leon to repair limbs having severed hands, arms, and feet, then providing prostheses and assistance in recovery from the horrors of child soldiers. Shiela led a local effort to fund a rural village in Kenya during a particularly harsh famine. Its Ugunja Orphan Care Unit took care of children whose parents had died of AIDS. Food was tucked in from Uganda, feeding the entire village until Spring rains brought Summer crops. Her greatest regret this year was her failure to convince some nearby pastors to lead prayers for all Christians in the Middle East who were suffering and dying in a great civil war. Shiela especially favored the Kurdish fighters known as the Sunshine Girls" who would rather die than be captured by ISIS. They assisted in the miracle of retaking the Mosul Dam in Iraq. That the Islamic Kurds also welcomed many Christian refugees from Syria was her great joy. Shiela spent 26 years with Seattle Public Schools, and nine years with KCMSD. This May she was recognized with the Early Educator Award by the Wonderscope Children's Museum of Kansas City. Her dedication to professional development, individualized instruction, and peer mentoring will be sorely missed. Shiela was preceded in death by her beloved brother, Bruce Lee Bender, and her parents, Theodore and Frieda Bender, all of Yakima, Wash. She is survived by her niece, Charissa Browning of Port Orchard, Wash., and 11 great nieces and nephews, and by her best friend of 40 years, Richard Oberg of Independence, Mo. A memorial celebration will be held Saturday, Oct. 15, in the Truman Forum at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and the service begins at 10 a.m.
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