Officials remember Bender


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Kelly Bender, a former University of Iowa official who spearheaded several alcohol-safety programs for the university and Iowa City community, died at the age of 43 Thursday morning at Mercy Hospice with her family in attendance.

Bender was instrumental in leading the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, an initiative involving representatives from both the UI and Iowa City communities in promoting safe use of alcohol.

“[The partnership] involved police, UI officials, parents, students, politicians, business owners, and more,” Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said. “There were some contentious feelings and different opinions, but [Bender] was always able to facilitate discussion.”

Bender worked as the university’s campus community-harm-reduction coordinator until last month, when she stepped away from the position on Aug. 29 because of an illness.

Hargadine, who worked with Bender on Iowa City safety initiatives, said she was uncommonly passionate and driven about her work in making the community a safer place.

“Kelly’s work made an enormous difference in the campus and community climate around alcohol and by doing so, she made students’ lives safer and more productive,” Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Life, wrote in an email.

Nancy Bird, the Downtown District executive coordinator, was also involved in the partnership with Bender.

“She tried very hard to understand the issues surrounding every situation,” Bird said.

Rocklin said Bender’s ability to get different types of people to work together made her an effective leader for the partnership. 

“She was deeply grounded in the science of prevention and understood how to build coalitions, even among people who didn’t immediately recognize their common interests,” Rocklin said. “Kelly was a warm, funny, and very optimistic person.”

Bird said these traits made Bender invaluable in the effort to make the community and university a safer environment.

“I don’t know if she can ever be replaced,” she said.

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