ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — In the fall of 2008, Brian Bender was on the top of the world. He was a new father and attending William Mitchell College of Law as a first-year student.
Then, on a family trip to California during winter break, his young wife became seriously ill with necrotizing pancreatitis and liver failure.
“After a few days, the doctors pulled us aside and said, ‘She has 24 hours.’ And at that point we were just floored,” he said.
His wife Meredith defied the odds and was making a near miraculous recovery over the next 10 weeks. But then Brian’s world imploded. Meredith passed away on their daughter’s first birthday.
Suddenly, the first-year law student would confront a challenge few other students ever face.
Administrators at William Mitchell understood Brian’s tragic and unique situation. They granted him a year-long leave to care for Samantha and get his life in order. Once he was ready to return, school administrators were equally accommodating. Brian says he felt nurtured by faculty and staff and, in that environment, flourished.
Soon came the realization that hope conquers sadness. Brian was determined to give something back to show his gratitude. He wanted to find a way of helping others in Meredith’s memory.
In the office of Dean Eric Janus, Brian and his family signed the papers creating a scholarship in Meredith’s honor.
The Bender Family Memorial Scholarship will be used to lift other students from the depths of adversity and despair.
“It brings together many things — the idea of supporting our students, supporting scholarships and the importance of family,” said Janus.
With the help of his family and the love and support of his girlfriend Leah and his daughter Samantha, Brian will get his law degree next May. While that alone is a major accomplishment, Brian will also graduate near the top of his class.
Yet what’s left behind says so much about the true measure of a person. The $25,000 starting endowment will continue to grow through the years as a gift created from Brian’s grief.
“I realize I wouldn’t be here and where I am without the support of the school and the students,” said Brian. “I want to be able to give back to them.”