Esther Ann Bendik was born at home in Belle Valley, Ohio, on February 7, 1939. Her father, Andy, was a coal miner. Her mother was Susan Gall Bendik. Both were Slovak and still spoke the language. Andy’s father had emigrated to the States during the First World War.
Esther sang early, appearing on the radio when she was six. After her father became a machinist at Thew Shovel in Lorain, OH, she attended Elyria High School, where she was a cheerleader, senior class secretary and “minijet” on the softball field. The only member of her family to earn a college degree, Esther graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1961 in the new field of American Studies. She taught English at Parma Junior High for two years before moving to New York to study voice and act in musical theater. She had earned her Equity Actors Guild membership singing at Musicarnival in Cleveland, OH.
Shortly before moving, she met her future husband of 54 years, David Keymer, of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, in a production of The Fantasticks at the Huntington Beach Playhouse in Bay Village, OH, where they played the young lovers. They married on December 26, 1964.
In the late 1960s, Esther became interested in early childhood education and was involved in low-income education in the Bronx, New York City, and New Haven, CT. In the early 1970s, she began the first Head Start school in rural Moravia, New York and in the late 1970s, worked on public radio and television. In the 1980s, she directed a Literacy Volunteers of America program in Utica, NY.
Esther gave birth to her much-loved son, Jeremy, on May 11, 1970. She devoted much time and thought to raising him to be an autonomous and creative human being. He later became a philosophy professor at Case Western Reserve University.
Esther sang from childhood through her late fifties. In the 1960s, she had lead roles in an Equity theater on Long Island; in the 1970s, a solo act in Children’s Caravan in Ithaca NY; in the 1980s, a cabaret group with her husband called Just Friends, which sold out the old Stanley Theater in Utica NY. In the 1990s, she presented a one-woman show in New York, after studying with Andy Anselmo who also taught Liza Minelli and Mandy Patinkin.
She and Dave lived briefly in Paris and Madrid in 1969-70 and in Dubai from 2001-4. For most of their lives, they lived in Central New York and then the Central Valley of California. In 2016, they returned to Cleveland to be close to their son. They resided at 13900 Shaker Blvd. #716, Cleveland O, OH, 44120.
Esther died on Friday, September 28 after a fourteen-month struggle with endometrial cancer, leaving behind her husband, Dave, son Jeremy and his united, Misty Morrison, of Shaker Heights, NY, her sister Evelyn Palik of Ashland, OH, her cousin Ruth Bendik of New York, NY, and many beloved nieces and nephews. Two other sisters, Irene Dudzinski of Strongsville, OH, and Eleanor Oebker of Avon, OH, predeceased her. The four were the “Bendik girls” of Elyria, Ohio.
Esther was a powerful advocate for equal and civil rights, a far-sighted and loving mother, and a true partner in marriage. Everyone who knows her knows that she was a force of nature who could light up a room and connect with people emotionally like few others. Her example lives on in those who loved her.