When Dan Bench stepped up “temporarily,” he had no idea he would be Windermere Baptist Conference Center president and chief executive officer as a volunteer for six years. He “retired” from the post in mid-January.
Bench and wife Sandra view their time at Windermere — first as coordinators of the center’s host of volunteers and then as leaders — as an extension of God’s call to minister whenever they have an opportunity.
Almost immediately after retiring to the Lake of the Ozarks in April 1998, the couple was approached about volunteering at Windermere.
“It’s kind of in our blood...for Sandra especially. We both have always been volunteer-oriented,” he said. Whenever they moved into a new area, they usually looked for a place of service.
“Windermere has always been at the top of my list.... It was a natural transition.”
Bench noted he has cared about the center since the first time he set foot on its campus for Baptist Student Union Week while a student at the University of Missouri from 1956 to 1960.
As a layman living in Iowa, Bench had brought several groups to Windermere. A musician, Sandra served with Iowa Baptists when that state body was part of the Missouri Baptist Convention. She often taught during Church Music and Sunday School weeks and led music for pastors’ conferences at Windermere.
Former Windermere CEO Frank Shock invited Dan to have coffee not long after the Benches moved to the lake. After a brief discussion, Bench agreed he and Sandra could coordinate volunteer help.
They usually handled their duties from their own home, spending a night or two each week at Windermere during the center’s busy summer season. Later, they moved into a home on the campus.
After 16 years of service at Windermere, Shock relinquished oversight of daily operations on Nov. 17, 2005. Board Chair Arthur Mallory asked Bench to take over, a move trustees approved.
By Jan. 1, 2006, Bench became interim president and later was named president and CEO — again, as a volunteer. He and Sandra eventually moved into the president’s on-campus home.
Asked why he would take on the responsibility freely, Bench simply responded: “I’ve always really cared about Windermere.”
He chose to do so at a turbulent time in Windermere’s history — in the middle of a lawsuit the MBC had filed in Cole County in 2002 and construction woes, both of which contributed to financial instability for the institution.
The MBC filed legal action against Windermere, The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way to block changes the five entities made in their governing documents to allow each to elect its own trustees. The convention filed a second lawsuit against Windermere in Camden County in November 2006.
Bench insisted that progress made at the center during his tenure is a result of board, staff and leaders’ efforts and willingness to work together. The most satisfying contribution he believes he has made the past six years is helping to stabilize the work. “The good thing I see is that Windermere has become more stable...and that we’ve developed a cadre of donors,” he said.
The Springfield, Mo., native said the next step for the couple is just to “rest awhile.” The Marine Corps veteran was an insurance professional who retired as a regional vice president with Principal Financial Insurance Group. He traveled a lot as part of the job. Now he plans to relax around home. This spring will likely find Dan and Sandra, “rabid” Cardinal fans, at a lot of ballgames.
And they will continue to volunteer, particularly at Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach where Sandra has been teaching an adult Bible study class and Dan has been serving as superintendent for an adult Sunday School department.
Bench will not forget his time as Windermere president. “It’s been a joy. It hasn’t been a burden.... I am very pleased to see the continued...growth of Windermere. I’m confident Windermere will survive and prosper and will fulfill its mission statement,” he said. “I’m grateful to have been a part.”