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Remembering Les Bender


Terry Soloman

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It is amazing to me that Les is gone for two-years now. I met him in 2007, and like most people, took an instant liking to him. Les Bender taught me a lot about business, gold, and gold prospecting. He also taught me a lot about Texas Hold ‘Em at the Arrowhead Bar every Friday night! I miss those twinkling blue eyes.

Ormall Lester Bender Jr. October 7, 1934 - September 17, 2010. Rest in peace Les.

Childhood mining adventure began lifelong fascination

Wickenburg Sun, July 19, 2006

By Patti Jares, Staff Writer

Arizona native Les Bender has been an integral part of Congress for many years, but a visit to his Weaver Mining District/VKO Real Estate office reveals his southern Arizona roots.

Hanging on a wall next to his desk is an old Arizona map, and down at the southern end of that map can be seen a site called Bighorn. It was at one time the name of his father’s vast, 600,000-acre ranch, named for the large number of bighorn sheep that roamed the area. The name was eventually changed to The Vekol Ranch (with the VKO brand), but the service station located in the center of their land kept the former name —Bighorn Station. Only the ruins remain today and can be seen along US Highway 8.

Les is currently general manager of the Congress Mine, and vice-chairman of the Weaver Mountain District. He has had a lifelong fascination with mining, ignited by an adventure when he was a boy of 12.

As the story goes, there was an old miner named Burns Wood who mined silver on the Papago Indian Reservation. He was a friend of the family, and Les was allowed to spend a summer with the prospector, living on the reservation and learning his life-long trade.

“We lived in a mining tunnel,” mused Les with a’ grin as he remembered the aged, bearded man. “Old Burns taught me a lot about mining — silver is different than gold — but we had a lot of fun, and he got me interested in it.”

After that summer Les continued to work his father’s ranch until it was sold in 1951 to a group of men that included the actor and rancher, John Wayne. The Benders bought a small ranch in Skull Valley, and Les went to school his senior year in Prescott, graduating in 1953.

Joining the service, he spent four years on a submarine. ‘The old fleet-time subs, not like nowadays where they dive down for six months at a time,” he acknowledged with a grin.

But once discharged, his love of mining got the best of him. “In 1959 1 bought a little dredge in Prescott and found my first course nugget — in Lynx Creek. It was one-third ounce and that set me off on gold mining,” explained Les matter-offactly. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Besides mining, Les opened VKO Realty in 1965 and enjoyed the diversity.

“It was a different job every day,” he mused, “going out and looking at a mine or a ranch —and every one was different.”

As much as he enjoyed real estate, after 20 years in the business Les was ready for another adventure. “In 1985 me and my wife went to Florida,” he exclaimed. ‘Then we bought a 36-foot boat and lived on it for three years, sailing to the Bahamas. It was fun —- I read every novel there was; did a lot of fishing and went through all the islands and then to the Florida Keys and down through Louisiana, Mississippi to the tip of Texas and then Mexico. We sold the boat in Houston.”

Les returned to Congress where he continued in real estate and mining, running Weaver Mountain District since 1996 with Dan Jacobs as the current chairman. He has been general manager of Congress Mine since 1998. Les admits his fondness for the people of Congress and the town, but sometimes he dreams about getting another boat. “I love Congress and the people,” said Les. ‘They’re great —but I might go sailing again, down to Costa Rica — in a 46-foot boat this time. They have a lot of gold there.”

Les smiled as he sipped a cup of coffee. “And they have great coffee,” he added with a grin.

Reprinted with permission of the Wickenburg Sun.

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It is truly sad, the old timers pass.

Simply because much they know pass’s with them.

But, they have hopefully just gone prospecting, in a better place.

I began working in deep underground mines, as the major transition from fuse to electric’s was taking place. I taught many old time miners how to use conventional, millisecond electrics & non-L detonators. Fortunately for me, those old timers were patient enough to teach me all the tricks of the trade, using fuse, timing, bunching, spitter-cord, etc. It is truly amazing how well you can time a 50 - 100 or 150 hole round, with fuse, if you know how.

Because I am getting up in years, my adult children have discussed my demise with me.

I simply told them.

If you ever wonder how I’m doing after I’m gone.

Simply set up a comfortable chair, late at night & watch the night sky.

Eventually, you will see a shooting star.

That shooting star is my signal to you, I am doing well & have found pay dirt. :D

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Les certainly was a great guy ... I got to spend a good bit of time with him over the last 10 years before he passed and he certainly was a bank of knowledge in mining ... I was so surprised one day when he and I were BS'ing and he told me he was planning a trip to go sailing in the Caribbean and I off handedly said, "Wow, that would be a dream for me and my wife." Les said, " Well, let's plan it out. We'll have a great time and it will be on me." I sure hope Weaver MD can continue along without him ... RIP, Les ... Cheers, Unc

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Ron, they seem to be doing OK. I stopped in at their new place not too long ago and they have an attractive younger lady working in the office.

I got me one of those "Armed prospector" sheets for my window and joined up while there

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Yeah, that's Julie ... She certainly is very attractive and is doing a great job of taking care of things from all I can see ... They've changed some of their claims around since Les left us ... Cheers, Unc

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  • 8 years later...

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