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A Small Town, A Big Tragedy

@ 05:25 AM (100 months, 26 days ago)

There are nine obituaries in today's issue of the Van Buren County, Iowa Register, a weekly newspaper that chronicles life in Bonaparte and the rest of the southeast Iowa county.

Four describe loved ones who were ages 97, 82, 93 and 68.

And then there is a jarring listing for a single family.

Michael Joseph Bentler.

Sandra Lee Bentler.

Shayne Lauree Bentler.

Shelby Marie Bentler.

Sheena Lee Bentler.

The obituaries for the five Bentlers paint brief sketches of their lives, with slivers of insight into their community spirit, their family businesses, their shared passion for the outdoors, and their extensive family ties throughout southern Iowa.

Listed among the survivors is Shawn Bentler, 22, the sole surviving member of the family of six. He is in the county jail in nearby Keosauqua, charged with shooting his mom, dad and three sisters.

Sandra Bentler, 47, and Michael Bentler, 53, owned and operated three businesses - the Mount Hamill Lumber & Elevator, Mount Pleasant Lumber and Donnellson Elevator, the obituaries state.

Both adults were born in Fort Madison, where Sandra's parents, Eusebio "Abie" and Julia Mendez, still live. Both attended Fort Madison High School.

While Sandra was in high school, she worked for a can company in Fort Madison and was an assistant manager for a Hardee's restaurant.

Michael graduated from college in Kirksville, Mo.

The couple married in July 1984 in Colorado.

Sandra Bentler has three sisters - Stella Etka of Fort Madison; Mary Carson of West Point; and Christina Wilson of Fort Madison. She has two brothers - Mario Mendez of Fort Madison and Martin Mendez of Indianapolis.

She loved the Des Moines River that flowed below her house, located on a bluff outside Bonaparte.

She was active in the Harmony Athletic Boosters and St. Boniface Catholic Church in Farmington.

Michael Bentler was a skilled outdoor sportsman.

His resume of business activities included the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the advisory board of Holiday Kitchens, and the marketing committee of South East Iowa Builders Association.

He was a member of Pheasants Forever and the Pope & Young Club, conservation organizations for wildlife and bowhunting.

His mother, Darlene Bentler, lives nearby in Houghton. His father, Gervase Bentler, and stepmother, Mollie Bentler, live in Bonaparte. He has four brothers - Jim Bentler of Rowlett, Texas; Dan Bentler of Fort Madison; Dave Bentler of Fort Madison; and Gregg Bentler of Iowa City. He has two sisters - Julie Bentler of Morning Sun; and Lisa Fitzsimmons of Coralville.

All three of Sandra and Mike Bentler's daughters were born in Mount Pleasant.

Shayne Lauree Bentler, 14 (whose first name is pronounced shuh-NAY), was a freshman at Harmony High School, where she played basketball and softball, ran track and was in the Art Club.

Shelby Marie Bentler, 15, was a Harmony sophomore. She was in the Art Club, played basketball and softball, ran track and was a member of the Society of Academic Achievement.

Sheena Lee Bentler, 17, a Harmony senior, was on track to be valedictorian. She was in barbershop choir, chamber choir, the main choir, National Honor Society, the talented-and-gifted program, and the Art Club. She was a member of the Student Council, a class officer and a member of the Society of Academic Achievement.

Today, those who knew the Bentlers well will share more memories. A wake will begin at 4 p.m. at Harmony High, located between Bonaparte and Farmington. Relatives will meet with friends from 5 to 8 p.m. A rosary will be recited at 7:30 p.m.

Funeral services for the five will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the high school. Burial will be in the Bonaparte Cemetery.

Relatives ask that instead of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the Harmony athletic department or St. Boniface Catholic Church.


Photo: Michael and Sandra Bentler: