Inventor Don Bently remembered by more than 500 at memorial
Minden businessman and inventor Don Bently left his mark in the international world of technology, but it was his loyal and longtime employees who eulogized him Thursday on his 88th birthday.
Some 500 people filled the St. Gall Pastoral Center for a 21⁄2-hour memorial service for Bently who died Oct. 1 at his Minden residence.
The memorial featured speakers from all aspects of Bently’s long life, including his son Christopher and Dr. John Lenzcowski, founder and president of the Institute of World Politics.
For many in the audience, the memorial was a reunion with longtime colleagues who fondly remembered their days at Bently Nevada Corp., near the old Minden silos and creamery.
They shared their pride in production of the mechanism to measure vibration in rotating machinery that Bently invented in his garage in 1956 in Berkeley, and moved to Minden five years later.
Darnell Leegard of Gardnerville retired in 2007 after 35 years with the company as a manufacturing supervisor, continuing to work after GE bought the business from Bently in 2002.
“If Mr. Bently was still alive and owned the company, I’d still be there. He was a joy to work for. It was family,” she said. “Those were the days when you lined up outside the human resources department and got your check from Shirley, Mr. Bently’s sister-in-law.”
Patsy Pumphrey, now of Reno, worked at Bently Nevada Corp. from 1971-1991.
“I was his first woman lead,” she said. “He was wonderful to work for. He used to walk the line, making little changes. He knew everybody’s name and really cared about us. He was quite modest and unassuming.”
Pumphrey said Bently promoted women and provided educational opportunities for his employees.
“He got me on the road to my professional life,” she said.
Both women remembered their employee numbers. Pumphrey was 120 and Leegard was 1043.
Larry Auchoberry of Carson City joined Bently Nevada in 1970 as a tool designer. He left in 1983, but returned in 1987, and continues to work for GE.
“He was very cordial, and a great man in my book,” Auchoberry said. “He did a lot for his community.”
Auchoberry said he knew Bently out of work as they shared a fondness for tennis and played together on the Lampe Park courts.
“We were both kind of beginners,” he said.
Ron Bosmans of Minden spent 35 years with the company, helping to create the machinery diagnostic services department in 1975.
“It was a great place to work with a great bunch of people,” he said. “Don at times was very demanding, but he was very fair. He expected you to do your job. He would walk the shop floor. He actually knew the people. I am here to pay my respects. He’s responsible for the financial success I enjoyed lo these many years and I thank him for that.”
Long-time rancher Herb Witt remembered when Bently first moved up to Carson Valley from Berkeley in 1961.
“He was unloading equipment and we loaned him one of our old loaders,” Witt said.
He also recalled the fire at the Bently airport facility in the 1970s.
“Even as the fire was burning, Don was already thinking about what he was going to do,” Witt said. “He was an interesting person.”
Christopher Bently remembered his father as a man with a strict moral code, who wasn’t afraid to break the rules.
He told many stories about his father’s frugality and sense of fun which drew chuckles from the audience.
Bently said his father donated millions of dollars to Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, and made substantial contributions in Carson Valley to St. Gall, Carson Valley United Methodist Church and a shelter for battered women among others.
“I knew the human side of him better than anyone else,” Bently said. “A man like my dad can’t be contained or described accurately. He was proud and true and honest and noble. You couldn’t ask for any more in a human being.”
Bently’s passion for agriculture led to his extensive holdings in Carson Valley which he kept in production, and to his pioneering work in the development of biofuel.
He joked about his father’s fashion sense, often pairing sneakers with “bad suits.”
Many guests on Thursday wore sneakers at the request of the family.
“He was a teacher, he taught me not to worry about what other people thought. I will be eternally grateful for the lessons he taught me,” Bently said.
“I had to rebel a bit against my dad, but I may have cut the path a little too deep,” he admitted. “The person I used as a role model was my dad. I fought all my life not to be like my dad, but here I am.”
Carol Money, who worked as Bently’s administrative assistant for almost 17 years, said she was proud of her longevity as her boss was notorious for dismissing assistants with whom he did not get along.
“The first day of work, I walked in his office. He didn’t have a stack of papers on his desk, he had a haystack of papers,” she said.
Money said she wore a colorful blouse Thursday to honor Bently’s commitment to green energy, the trademark “Bently blue,” and yellow “because Mr. Bently was not a coward. He was not afraid of anything.”
He was given to bargain hunting, and Money displayed a bright blue plunger which Bently gave employees one Christmas.
“I want to thank Mr. Bently for keeping me on for 16-1⁄2 years. I want to thank him for taking care of my family, for taking care of his employees by giving them jobs and education, and for taking care of the Carson Valley that he so deeply loved and quietly helped. I will sorely miss my dear friend.”
The service was conducted by St. Gall pastor Father Paul McCollum, retired pastor Father John Corona and Carson Valley United Methodist Church Pastor Pete Nelson.
Money’s 12-year-old grandson, Ethan Usher, sang the National Anthem and a veteran’s military honor guard fired three volleys commemorating Bently’s World War II service as a U.S. Navy Seabee.