Helen Francis Brawley Bender, 98, recently of Shelby, passed peacefully on August 28, 2020, surrounded by family.
Helen was born in Billings on October 15, 1921 to George and Ruth Ellen Brawley, where she joined her older brother, Bud. Some of her strongest memories in her final days were of her wonderful mom baking bread, and many family fishing trips. She was a member of the last graduating class of Billings High School (Lincoln) in 1939. She attended Eastern Montana College to pursue a teaching degree, but instead her life led her in a different direction. She married and was blessed with a son, Jack Sullens, but divorced several years later. During this time, she babysat many children, often walking several miles each way to work. One day she met a handsome pilot, who convinced her to take a plane ride with him. She made the return trip by ground as she was very air sick, but in him she found the love of her life. She married Gordon Adam Bender, and together they raised Jack. Many years later, God chose to give them a daughter, Chrissie. Helen was a loving mother and grandmother, as during this time, she was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters, Jennifer and Jessica. Never was there a time when she valued anything above spending time with her family, and she would spend countless hours reading and telling stories to us. One of her greatest joys in life was being a mom and grandma. She loved unconditionally, and never missed an opportunity to attend a concert, baseball game or important event in the lives of those she loved. The family’s lives were enriched by all the Saturday day trips they made to many towns surrounding her beloved Billings. Helen taught them love, honesty, integrity, and how to appreciate the simple things in life. A ‘warm’ summer day of 100* F in the shade, being the first family member to find the first robin of the season, or walking with family in the long evening shadows were some of these simple pleasures. After her husband’s death in 1984, she began working at Young Families Program, where she loved and cared for many babies of teenage moms. Throughout her lifetime, she was drawn to babies like a magnet. Through her many years of volunteer work through Foster Grandparents, she was able to work in Orchard Elementary School, where she herself was a student many decades prior. She made many good friends throughout her years and was a lifetime member of First Congregational Church in Billings. She loved her years at the Billings Southside Senior Citizens Center, where she was an avid bingo player. She loved to shop and could never resist stopping at a garage sale. She lived in her own home into her early nineties, and was able to show her granddaughter, Amanda, how to navigate city driving when she attended college there. One of Helen’s proudest moments was when she earned her driver’s license in her mid-sixties. Prior to getting her license, her favorite modes of transportation were her husband’s unfaltering driving, the complex Billings bus system, or her fleet feet (She could outwalk even the best of athletes!). After a devastating fall, and many weeks of rehabilitation in the Marias Healthcare Center in Shelby, she moved to Sunburst with her daughter and family. Here she was able to enjoy her grandson’s many high school sporting events and found much joy in her extended Sunburst family. Eventually she moved to the Marias Heritage Center, where she made many more friends and enjoyed the staff’s loving touch. Her fighting spirit helped her remain an integral part of our lives for so many years, and we will forever remember her unconditional love and indomitable spirit.
She is survived by her son, Jack (Alison) Sullens; daughter, Chrissie (Tim) Tharp; her four grandchildren, Jennifer (Chuck) Barrie, Jessica (John) Sweet, and Amanda and Tyler Tharp. She was preceded in death by her husband, Gordon Bender; brother, Floyd (Bud) Brawley; special niece, Cindy Brawley; and extended family.
Memorials may be made to the Young Families Program in Billings or the South Park Senior Center in Billings, MT.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday, September 1, at 4:30PM at Whitted Funeral Chapel. Visitation will be prior to service starting at 2:30PM
A graveside service will be held at Terrace Gardens in Billings on Thursday, September 3, at 10:00 AM.