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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


Bendikas reflects on a PLU welcome half-a-century ago

Omar Bendikas and his wife, Dana
Omar Bendikas and his wife, Dana

I was overwhelmed by the welcome, it was all unexpected, but like a big bang therapy to my worry-prone mind. So much unknown lay ahead. So much to learn and to get used to.

Omar Jurgis Bendikas '51

The Union Station arrival on Nov. 11, 1949, was the conclusion of a 7,000-mile, trans-Atlantic, cross-country trip and also a new beginning for the young man, who had spent four years in West German displaced persons camps. For Omar Jurgis Bendikas '51, the past was behind.

Refugees were being resettled in North and South America, the United Kingdom, Australia, etc. Expectations of returning home were dashed by the "Big Three (Allied) Conference" at Yalta. The Western powers agreed to let the Soviet Union impose Communist regimes on most Eastern European countries, including Lithuania.

"I was overwhelmed by the welcome," Bendikas says. "It was all unexpected, but like a big bang therapy to my worry-prone mind. So much unknown lay ahead. So much to learn and to get used to."

His anxieties were quickly allayed as he saw many friendly eyes focused on him. The PLC student body, along with the Lutheran World Federation, had raised a scholarship fund to sponsor several Eastern European refugee students. "I was one of the lucky ones selected.

"The time was to accept it, enjoy it and be grateful. Most of all–be grateful," he says from the distance of more than half-a-century.

"On campus my life continued to be action-filled." Bendikas supplemented his PLU grant by serving in the dining hall, and doing janitorial and gardening work. "I wasn't bored, and the $600 scholarship grant stretched out for two years of schooling.

"When I look at the value of education I received at Pacific Lutheran College, the strong liberal arts program stands paramount. Courses in literature, philosophy and ethics are unforgettable, along with some teachers like Herbert Ranson, Grace Blomquist, Jesse Pflueger and Dwight Zulauf."

Bendikas completed his studies for an MBA at Washington University in St. Louis but, in 1953, he was drafted into the Army. He says he was tagged with the nickname "Omar" by his fellow recruits, whom he attempted to enlighten by reading excerpts from the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam. When it came time for him to complete the naturalization process, Bendikas requested the name be added.

Following his military duty, he married, raised three children, helped his parents operate their Wisconsin dairy farm and spent the next 30 years with Market Facts Inc. a major market research company.

Throughout Bendikas' life. PLU's philosophy of educating the individual for a lifetime of service, has been a recurrent theme.

Now retired he's become an avid alpine skier and snowboarder. In appreciation of his heritage, and in recognition of his parents' efforts, he spent the past three years restoring their farm.

The greatest joy of his life, though, has been a fairly recent event. Through a chance comment exchanged at a church picnic, Bendikas became reunited with a childhood sweetheart from his Lithuanian hometown. They've been married for a dozen years and, Bendikas says, "the rest of the story is two very happy people."

Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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