Donald Bendewald

The Baltimore Sun

The Rev. Donald E. Bendewald, a former missionary who served as pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northeast Baltimore for more than two decades, died Monday of a heart attack at Park Place Care Center in Georgetown, Texas. The former Rosedale resident was 71.

Mr. Bendewald was born and raised in Elgin, Ill., and was a 1953 graduate of Elgin High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Concordia University in Milwaukee, and was a 1961 graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

He was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1961, and after fulfilling the requirements of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, he was sent to the Philippines, where he was a missionary for a decade.

Mr. Bendewald was president of the South Luzon District of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, a member of the Board of Control for the Lutheran Seminary of Baguio and director of pre-theological education in Manila for the Lutheran Church in the Philippines.

He returned to Minnesota in 1971, where he was campus pastor at Minnesota State University Moorhead for seven years.

In 1978, Mr. Bendewald moved to Baltimore when he became pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church on Hamilton Avenue.

In addition to serving as pastor of the church, which was founded in 1903, he was circuit counselor for the Southeastern District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

He was also an elected member and vice chairman of the Board of Mission Services of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and served in that position from 1990 to 1998.

Mr. Bendewald retired as pastor in 1999.

"His last service was my first, and it was on the church's 100th anniversary. He is still listed here as our pastor emeritus," said the Rev. James O. Kleinfelter.

"People hold him in very high regard. He was respected here, and they still speak of his caring ministry. He was a real people person," he said. "He poured his life into this congregation, with whom he had excellent relations."

Mr. Kleinfelter described him as "jovial and outgoing" and a "very upbeat person."

He pointed out that the average tenure for a pastor at the church was 15 years, and Mr. Bendewald "stayed 22 years."

Beverly J. Stewart has been the church's secretary for nearly 11 years.

"He was an encourager. In the face of controversy, he could always find the positive. And even if he were criticized, he could still find the positive," Mrs. Stewart said.

"He was an extremely friendly, warm, caring and compassionate individual," she said. "We have a Christian school here, and whenever the children passed by his office, they'd say, 'We love you, Pastor Don.'"

He was also know by the nickname of "P.D.," she said.

Mr. Bendewald enjoyed conducting chapel for the children every Wednesday and making sure his office door was open.

"He made himself available, and his office was always open for the congregation, kids and staff," Mrs. Stewart said.

He moved to Georgetown, Texas, in 2000.

"He really didn't have any hobbies. Being a pastor and a missionary were his hobbies," said his wife of nine years, the former Bettie Horn.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at his former church, 4815 Hamilton Ave.

Also surviving are a son, Thomas Bendewald of Baltimore; two daughters, Dawn Helgeson of Peoria, Ill., and Jill Hancock of Ormond Beach, Fla.; a stepson, Timothy Horn of Austin, Texas; two stepdaughters, Berith Kelm of Lumberton, Texas, and Faith McKinney of Irvine, Calif.; a sister, Merle Gustafson of La Crosse, Wis.; and five grandchildren. His wife of 36 years, the former Margaret Detlefsen, died in 1996.

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