Don passed away peacefully in his sleep on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 at the age of 85 in Fountain Hills, AZ.
Don was born on July 18, 1934 and was raised in the inner city of Philadelphia, PA. Don was a tough city kid that loved his mother and his siblings. He enjoyed soccer and did what he could to help his family while he was growing up. Don got his GED and joined the Air Force in 1952. He became a radar technician and was stationed in Okinawa and ultimately Minneapolis, MN. It was in Minneapolis that he met the love of his life, Carol Landgraf. They quickly became engaged and were married on January 21, 1956. A little over a year later they had their first child and the start of their family. Don worked full time in manufacturing and took engineering classes at night at the University of MN. By 1963 Don was promoted to Engineering Manager and transferred to the Toronto, Ontario area. Don continued to build his career and his family over the years. Moving became a common event for the family but they always ended up in the Minneapolis area.
In 1975 Don developed an entrepreneurial spirit, moved his family to Brookings and founded Falcon Plastics, Inc. His wife Carol and all four children (ages 10 to 18) made the move. Even though it was not intended to be a family business, family has always worked in the business.
Don started with 3 employees and 5 used machines. By his retirement in 2003 he had grown the company to 3 locations, nearly 300 employees, and over 70 machines. His hard work and willingness to take a risk is what laid the foundation for what Falcon Plastics has become today. Don loved the business, his employees, and his customers. He was proud of everyone at Falcon Plastics. He stayed involved in the business until his last days.
Don was a kind and caring man. He was someone you could trust and count on. He was a natural leader. He influenced and helped many people throughout his life in very positive ways. He believed in honest, hard work. He would much rather give someone a hand up than a hand out but he would do both when necessary. He was a big believer in competition, free markets, and the business community. He volunteered extensively on local, state, and national boards that supported manufacturing, economic development, business, and charitable endeavors. Over the last 10 years he became very involved with Teen Challenge of the Dakotas in Brookings. He connected strongly with their leaders and their faith based mission of helping people take personal responsibility, step up, and do the right thing for themselves, their family, and their community. This matched well with who Don is and how he lived his life.
Besides his wife, his family, and his business, Don had another very strong passion. .. golf! The very first board he served on when moving to Brookings was the Brookings Country Club. He simply loved the game. He would remember every shot when he played...and he would remember all of yours too! He had some serious health issues starting in his early 70’s that damaged his lungs and left him in need of oxygen. He still continued to play golf. He totaled 7 hole in one’s during his life, 3 prior to oxygen and 4 while on oxygen. None of them on the same hole. 4 at the Brookings Country Club and 3 at Firerock Country Club in Fountain Hills, AZ. His proudest accomplishment on the golf course however was shooting his age. At age 75 while on oxygen he shot a 74 at the Brookings Country Club. That was a big day!
Don is survived by the love of his life, his wife Carol, who is currently residing in Fountain Hills, AZ. His children Randy (LaDonna) Bender, Spearfish, SD, Jay (Adrienne McEntee) Bender, Brookings, SD, Guy (Angie Bahr) Bender, Brookings, SD, Deani (Tim Begeman) Riedesel, Wentworth, SD. 10 grandchildren Alyssa (James), Kailah (Brian), Megan (Trevor), Myles (Sarah), Kyle (Natalie), Jenn (Craig), Bryn (Jon), Mason, Quinn, Myranda and blessed to have 7 Great grandchildren. Loving sister Barbara Fucci, Philadelphia, PA. Many nieces and nephews. A whole lot of close friends, business associates, and employees that he cared deeply about.
He was preceded in death by his mother Mable Ounan and step father Thomas Ounan. His brothers Harry, Jerry, Bobby, and sister Chrissy. His nephew Jerry Bender and great nephew Joey Marlino.
Messinger Mortuary in Fountain Hills, AZ is helping the family with Don’s funeral arrangements. Memorial service in Fountain Hills, AZ will be January 10th at 10 a.m. at the Fountains United Methodists Church.
Brookings memorial service is yet to be determined. The family requests any memorials be in the form of donations to the Don and Carol Bender Scholarship at the SDSU Foundation in Brookings or Teen Challenge of the Dakotas in Brookings.