Irvin Bender passed away peacefully on the morning of April 4, 2017 with his family by his side. Born July 10, 1926, Irvin was 90 years old and he lived those years well. He was born near Brandt and Jack Tone Roads in Lockeford, on a little rise named Peanut Hill. Six brothers and sisters proceeded him in death. He is survived by his beloved wife of 64 years, Loneita Bender and three daughters: Norma Brandt (Gary), Kathy Fleming, and Cindie Bender. Seven grandchildren, many great grandchildren, and a great-great grandchild all will love and remember Grampa Bender. Irvin grew up cleaning out chicken coops and hopping rocks in the Mokelumne River. He and his younger brother, Eddie, were heartbreakers in high school and loved to dance. Irvin lied about his age by a few months to join the Navy a few months shy of his 18th birthday, and served on a submarine during WWII. After the service, he attended University of the Pacific, and tried out a variety of jobs, including work for the railroad. Although there were many casual dates, when he met Loneita, he fell instantly in love. He liked to recall the first time he saw the slender widow on the landing of her upstairs apartment. He called them the “sacred stairs.” They were married four months later. Poor as church mice, they paid for their wedding rings with installments of $4 a month. With Neita’s five-year old daughter Norma, they were an instant family.
He got a second job moving 300-pound blocks of ice – no easy task for a 135-pound man. At his mother Minnie Mittleider’s suggestion, he became a real estate salesman. Irvin and Neita set about to leave their poverty behind. They scrimped and saved through the birth of two more daughters. Family vacations were all about fun on the cheap: he found a WWII 40-foot lifeboat to convert into a cabin cruiser and berthed it at Herman and Helen’s for weekend fishing trips to the Delta. Camping trips gave way to ski trips when money became more plentiful, although never involving ski lodges. It was sandwiches in the parking lot and sleeping in the van for us. Irvin became a broker and, during the 1960s, had five offices in Lodi, Galt, Fresno and Oakdale. His yellow and green signs – handmade in the garage to save money – could be seen all over town. Not content just with selling and listing, Irvin was also a developer and worked with Bob Houston to build some of the first townhouses to appear in Lodi in the 1960s. He stayed close to his brother Eddie all his life, playing chess once a week. In 1972, his son-in-law Gary Brandt took over the business, so he could officially retire in his forties. Now that he was financially secure, he let himself play. Irvin and Neita played on Woodbridge Golf and Country Club tennis teams, and built a house on the first River green, so they could sneak onto the course after-hours to play a few holes in intense competition for their 10-cent bets. Dad would moan the next morning, “Your mother took 30 cents off me last night!” They also traveled all over Europe and to Cancun. And they rarely passed up an opportunity to twirl on the dance floor, whether at country club dinner dances or the Cotati Accordion Fest. Irvin didn’t actually retire until a few years ago, remaining active in real estate investment until his eighties. He taught all his grandkids how to ride bikes, play tennis, and fix things. His van was legendary for being filled with tools for fixing every problem a rental could conceive. He could “MacGyver” anything back together. He was a big proponent of family reunions and the annual Horseshoe Tournament, complete with a handmade trophy.
Irvin was a passionate champion of civil rights. Irvin was politically active, advocating for fair housing as Lodi Board of Realtor President (two terms in the 1960s). When Cesar Chavez and the UFW March traveled through Lodi to the State Capitol, the family passed out soda cans to the thirsty men to show their support. Another family trip honored Lyndon Johnson for his War on Poverty. Along with Disneyland, the family saw the poverty of Watts. Irvin always had great empathy for the struggle of his fellow man. He died from heart failure, because he loved us so much. He gave so much love, always tender hugs, kisses, compliments, kind words. He was a great public speaker, having participated in Toastmasters for several years, but it is those little moments, when he made each of us feel like the center of his universe, that we will remember forever. Visitation will be Friday, April 7th, from 2pm-8pm, at Donahue Funeral Home, 123 N. School St.. Lodi, CA. A Graveside Service will be held at Lodi Memorial Cemetery, 5750 E. Pine St., Sat. April 8, 10:30 am. A Celebration of Life will be held on Wednesday April 26th, at Temple Baptist Church, 801 S. Lower Sacramento Rd, Lodi, CA. Please donate to your favorite charity or Hospice in lieu of flowers.