For Marty Bender, volunteering to benefit his hometown of Webster sure beats a day in court

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 03-13-2023 6:24 PM

Strange as it may sound, a debilitating stroke suffered by Marty Bender 25 years ago quickly evolved into one of the luckiest chapters in his life.

How, you may ask? Bender said recently that his career as a criminal defense and family lawyer had taken its toll on him mentally, 20 years before his retirement age.

So, while the stroke forced him to relearn to walk and read and led to a month of rehab, Bender emerged with a balance that has suited him perfectly as he’s moved through middle age and beyond.

His reading comprehension never totally returned, preventing Bender from comfortably keeping pace with the required reading needed to do his job. His law career was over at age 47, and that was just fine with Bender.

He’d also lost strength in his right hand and developed a limp, but he had plenty of energy and skill remaining to move seamlessly from tired attorney to volunteer extraordinaire in Webster, where he’s lived for more than 40 years.

That movie offered on the third Friday of each month over the past few years? You can thank Bender – a lover of film – for that.

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That’s why his longtime friend in town, Donna Frost, nominated Bender for Hometown Hero recognition, saying, “He had to take retirement at a young age. Despite not having full use of one hand and one foot, he is one of the most active people I know.”

Bender called his frightening medical experience, “a blessing for me. When I realized I wasn’t going to be a lawyer anymore, I thought it was great. I was already burned out (from practicing law).”

He said his wife, who recently retired, was a full-time educator at grade schools in Salisbury and Webster. That, plus disability insurance, “was enough to keep us living,” Bender said. “We didn’t have to sell the house.”

Bender, a graduate of what used to be Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, collapsed at his home in Webster in 1998 and was rushed to Concord Hospital by his wife, Nancy.

Bender said his mind was profoundly impacted at the time.

“My brain was totally out of it,” Bender said. “I recall that after two days at Concord Hospital, it took a turn for the worse.”

Bender was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He spent a few weeks there and a few more in rehab in the Granite State, where the staff set some tough ground rules.

“They said I couldn’t leave until I could walk out,” Bender said. “I had to learn to walk again.”

He had to learn to read again, too.

“They wheeled me downstairs to a person to analyze me, see where I stood with this,” Bender said. “She gives me a piece of paper and asks if I could read it. It looked like Chinese to me.”

Flashcards with letters lifted his reading skills back to normal within a few weeks. His physical skills returned nicely, better than some doctors had hoped. In fact, death or severe paralysis wasn’t ruled out near the start.

Within two weeks of the accident, with his reading pace slowed and his comprehension skills weakened, Bender said he knew his law career had ended, and it didn’t take long after that for his decades-long purpose – volunteering and planting roots deep in Webster – to emerge.

He’s now a trustee and board member all over town, affiliated with the planning board, the guided-tour program at the Pierce Manse, the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner and the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord, where Bender teaches inmates how to read Hebrew.

His movie program was and continues to be a big hit on the third Friday of each month at the Webster Library. As Frost said, “Thanks to him, Webster has a free movie night once a month.”

It’s the life he loves. Far more than the two decades he once spent in court defending alleged criminals as some smirked on the stand.

“I’ve had a price to pay,” Bender said. “I can’t use my right hand. I can carry stuff with it but I have to grip it right. I have a limp.

“But it’s been 25 years since the stroke, and it’s been great.”

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