Kate Bender was a real sweetheart. She was best known around the Huntington School District for the longtime role she played in the personnel office. For many years, every teacher joining the faculty worked with her during the hiring process and later to secure their permanent state certification.
Mrs. Bender’s well-deserved retirement was cut short when she was felled by pancreatic cancer following an incredibly hard-fought battle against the terrible disease. She was known for a wicked sense of humor and she could deadpan with the best of them. She never lost her upbeat nature or smile, even in the midst of her health struggles.
After Mrs. Bender passed away in December 2017, a scholarship was created in her memory. Her longtime co-workers help fund the new award, which was presented for the first time this past June to graduating senior Rocio Rivas Lizama.
Huntington Class of 2018 member Roccio Rivas Lizama.
Kate Bender “truly epitomized perseverance, patience and positivity,” Mrs. Bender’s first born child Trish Felix told a crowd of about 300 at Huntington’s senior academic awards night. The scholarship criteria requires the ultimate recipient to “demonstrate persistence and determination in overcoming or managing some sort of obstacle or challenge.”
Ms. Rivas Lizama is headed to SUNY Old Westbury in the fall. She immigrated to the United States from El Salvador four years ago. The teenager quickly displayed a passion for reading and writing. Her fast learning pace and enthusiasm to improve caught the attention of Huntington High School Spanish teacher Mercedes Peña.
“I was so awed by her creative writing skills that I advised her to join the high school newspaper,” Mrs. Peña said. “Rocio wrote interesting articles that focused on the immigrant experience. The ENL (English as a New Language) students were thrilled that one of their own was writing about something that they could relate to. Since Rocio didn’t have strong English skills yet when she joined The Dispatch, she wrote in Spanish. She went on to write in both languages for the school paper and her writing is just as outstanding in English as it is in Spanish. She was also the editor for the Spanish edition of the paper. ENL students as well as grade level students looked forward to reading her thought-provoking articles.”
Ms. Rivas Lizama is interested in studying political science in college. “Rocio is a sweet, friendly, caring and cordial young adult,” Mrs. Peña said. “She is admired by all students. She is an excellent role model for the Latino population and is the symbol of perseverance. I know Rocio is going to be a distinguished bilingual professional one day.”