Cordova Chronicles: Just when you think you’ve heard it all

Eric Lian carries the Olympic torch through a mass of enthralled elementary students to start Award Ceremonies in the 1992 Mt. Eccles Olympics. Photo courtesy of Trudy Bendzak

Ah, what won’t make the news these days.

Headlines,  Anchorage Daily News, March 1, 2020 edition: “JBER airman demoted for peeing in office coffee maker”.

“A Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson airman was demoted and received a letter of reprimand for peeing in his squadron’s office coffee maker,” states the article.

“Formally charged as a violation of Article 92, dereliction of duty, the unnamed airman “knew or should have known” to “refrain from urinating in the squadron coffee maker”, according to the redacted charge sheet.”

Hmm.  One would hope so.

And it gets better. 

“The incident occurred sometime between Jan.1 and Oct. 31, 2019, but the document does not stipulate how the crime was discovered.”

Wait a minute.  That’s 10 months.   Did this occur more than once?  No wonder the office workers were grumbling about bad coffee every now and then.

Was it an uptick in use of cream and sugar that created suspicion that something was amiss?

Regardless, the crime was certain newsworthy, as there always has been peculiar fascination with functions of the excretory system, right?

Why, I can recall a popular CHS Wolverine Cheering Section chant in the 1980’s when Valdez came over for basketball games. 

Young Gold Medalist Ardy Hanson looks on as Jerry Bendzak presents a third place medal during the 1984 Mt. Eccles Olympics. Photo courtesy of Trudy Bendzak

Give me a “U”, give me a “R”, give me an “I”, give me an “N”, give me an “E”.  What’s that spell?  “URINE”, screamed the student body.  What’s that mean?  “URINE Wolverine Country!”

The message to the Buccaneers was quite clear, and we’re not talking about peeing in a coffee pot.

However, it turns out this by-product of our excretory system gained even more brief but famous notoriety at Mt. Eccles Elementary.

Many may not know that Cordova has the only couple to both be named Alaska Teacher of the Year, in Trudy (Bodey) Bendzak and Jerry Bendzak.

 Trudy was honored in 1975.  She taught First Grade that year, and emphasized basics, including spelling.  

Jerry taught P.E. in the school’s low-ceilinged basement.  It was originally intended for storage but converted to a cement-floored open area known as the Hound Pound.  

Benzak knew how to motivate and excite youngsters, but language arts were not his forte.

From 1978 to 2000, Bendzak ran an Mt. Eccles Olympics coinciding with the Summer Olympics, which occur every four years. 

During those special years, he selected 18 countries, put their names in a hat, and had kids from Grade K-6 draw the team they would be on for a wild variety of Olympic events.  They included both team events such as balloon volleyball and scooter hockey, as well as individual events such as races around the school, beginning with 1/8 mile for the Kindergarten (1 lap) through a full mile (8 laps) for the 6th graders.

The kids learned all about their respective countries; and the walls of Mt. Eccles auditorium were adorned with flags of each they had made, which included slots to display the medal counts as the events were completed throughout the year.

Bendzak even found tapes of the national anthems for each country, which were played as event winners came up on stage to receive their gold, silver, or bronze medals, which included a Mt. Eccles logo, and were meticulously engraved with the names of the winners.

From the tiny stage at Mt. Eccles Elementary, Jerry Bendzak gave students waving Olympic flags a spelling lesson they would never forget. Photo courtesy of Trudy Bendzak

The program was a resounding success, and the awards ceremonies were big events.  This was years before the recent addition and remodeling of Mt. Eccles, and they were held in a packed cafeteria/commons, with proud parents on hand along with all the students.

Before one of the presentations in 1992, Bendzak decided to talk about the Olympic Flame.  He had a small wooden model of the torch on a dowel which a student (in this case Eric Lian) held high while running into the auditorium and pretended to light the Olympic flame to start the ceremony.

Bendzak then explained the device that held the flame throughout the real Olympics was called an urn.

Perhaps inspired by the puzzled look of the kindergarteners in the front row, he then proceeded to spell it:

“U – R – I – N – E”. 

To this day, he remembers my wife Sue, who was teaching third grade at that time, frantically shaking her head.

All the other teachers at the back of the room who weren’t bent over laughing were frantically waving their hands in the universal sign for “NO!”

But the damage was done.

A whole generation of Cordova students would never spell urn correctly.

But they were ready when the Valdez Buccaneers came to town.