Alvin M. Bentley


Mr. Bentley kept a daily diary from age 12 throughout his life. A true journalist and historian, he even served as President of the Historical Society of Michigan. He served as a U.S. Congressman, even "taking a the Line of Duty".

The following Biography is the story of one mans life, who called Owosso home, who served all his fellow Americans. And even today, his legacy lives on through the hard work of his Bentley Foundation, which continues to assist young people with their education and the development of the "world class" Bentley Library, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.


Alvin M. Bentley, III, the only child of Alvin M. Bentley, Jr., and Helen Webb Bentley, was born in Portland, Maine August 30, 1918, three months before his father died while serving in France during World War I. Although fatherless, Bentley was not penniless for he was an heir to a family fortune which originated with his grandfather who founded the Owosso Manufacturing Company (later a division of Mitchell-Bentley Corporation) and was an early investor in the General Motors Corporation.

Bentley spent most of his youth outside of Michigan but returned to the state to attend the University of Michigan, the alma mater of his parents. He eventually established legal residence in the state on his twenty-first birthday and received a B.A. degree in 1940. In that same year he married Arvilla Peterson. They had three children, Alvin IV, Helen, and Michael and were divorced in October, 1951. The former Mrs. Bentley died in February, 1959.

At the outbreak of World War II, Bentley enrolled in the Turner Diplomatic School in Washington, D.C. and after a two-year program joined the diplomatic service in the State Department. As a member of the United States Foreign Service, he served in Mexico (1942-1944), Columbia (1945-1946), Hungary (1947-1949), and Italy (1949-1950). Finding himself at odds with the foreign policy of the Truman administration, Bentley resigned form the State Department in 1950 and returned to his home town, Owosso.

Writing articles for the Owosso Argus-Press and delivering speeches on his impressions and interpretations of America's foreign policy and governmental priorities, Bentley established himself well in the Eighth Congressional District which included Shiawassee, Saginaw, Ionia, Gratiot, Montcalm and Clinton Counties. In 1950 he became a delegate to the Republican State Convention, and was a delegate to succeeding conventions until 1954. On January 3, 1952, he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. His opponent in the primary was Fred L. Crawford, an eighteen year Congressional veteran, whom he defeated after a vigorous campaign, by over 12,000 votes. He overwhelmingly defeated his Democratic opponent, Clarence Smazel, in the November election. Four days after the election, Bentley married for a second time. His wife was the former Arvella Ann Duescher. They had two children, Clark and Ann.

Assuming his Congressional duties in 1953, Bentley was the only freshman congressman appointed in that year to the Foreign Affairs Committee, serving on its Europe and State Department subcommittees. Being re-elected to his Congressional seat in 1954, 1956, and 1958 allowed him to rise in Committee seniority eventually becoming its ninth ranking Republican and leading party member in the State Department subcommittee. Bentley's Congressional career was marked by close adherence to the Republican Party position, especially in the area of national defense, agriculture, and foreign trade. He supported the Landrum-Griffin Bill and Congressional investigations of organized labor, while adhering also to the concepts of a balanced national budget and a program of debt reduction, a review of the size and administration of the Federal Aid Program, and the investigative program of the Un-American Conference in Bad Godesburng and also traveled through East Germany.

On March 1, 1954, while on the floor of the House of Representatives, Bentley was one of five Congressmen wounded by gunfire from the visitors gallery. The attackers were Puerto Ricans protesting American policy toward their homeland. By far the most seriously wounded, Bentley eventually recovered and returned to his Congressional duties nearly two months later.

Today, visitors to the U.S. House of Reprepresentatives can still see the bullet hole in his desk on the floor. This is sometimes pointed out, by tour guides. It's in the drawer, actually, and you have to pull it out to see it.

In 1960, Bentley relinquished his Congressional seat to run for the Republican Senatorial nomination which he won in the primary election by over 200,000 votes. In the final election he faced the incumbent Democrat, Patrick V. McNamara. Bentley's prime target in his campaign was the eastern European groups in the Detroit area from which he hoped to gain enough votes to lessen the traditional Democratic margin in that city. McNamara was victorious in the end, however, by just over 120,000 votes out of nearly 3.2 million cast state wide.

In 1961, Bentley established the Alvin M. Bentley Foundation to support educational, scientific and charitable projects. In this same charitable vein he contributed money in 1967, to The University of Michigan to support an endowed chair in the Department of History honoring the memory of his parents.

Bentley was not out of public life long. In 1961, he was elected a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention by the Fifteenth Senatorial District, becoming the Chairman of the Educational Committee which produced a report that has generally been considered one of the best of its kind in the country. The Executive Branch Committee of which he was a member drew up plans for the executive reorganization of state government as well as formulating plans for a State Civil Rights Commission.

As a result of changes in Michigan's population as revealed in the 1960 census, the state was required to redesign its Congressional districts. Until this was done, an interim plan was put forth in 1962, which established an at-large Congressional seat. Bentley announced his candidacy for this new position and faced only token opposition in the Republican primary. In the final election, however, he lost by a narrow margin to the Democrat, Neil Staebler. Despite this second political setback, there were other ways in which Bentley served the state.

In 1963, Governor George Romney appointed him to the Citizen's Committee on Higher Education of which Bentley was chairman, presented recommendations concerning state support for public colleges and universities. As a result of this report, these educational institutions received in 1965, the largest percentage increase in state support in Michigan's history.

The creation of the Michigan State Board of Education was a direct result of the work of Bentley's Education Committee of the Constitutional Convention. In 1964, Bentley sought a seat on this Board in the General Election, but in this endeavor, his last political race, he went down to defeat in the Democratic landslide of that year.

Bentley's life-long concern with humanitarian programs and efforts led him into two such organizations in the mid-1960's. One was the Michigan Freedom from Hunger Council of which he was Chairman of the Board. This Council was set up to gather, interpret, and disseminate information about hunger problems in the world, especially in the Western Hemisphere. It would then use this information to organize, assist, and coordinate activities, and specifically mobilize people with certain skills and knowledge to work on a special problem and to try to discover a means by which to alleviate it. Bentley also chaired the Michigan branch of the Partners of the Alliance. This organization was begun nationally in 1964, to act as a channel through which civic clubs, unions, business and professional groups, school and individuals could work directly with groups, villages, or areas in Latin America to improve the way of life in that particular area. It was hoped that the Partners of the Alliance would create a positive relationship, on a direct person-to-person level, between the United States and Latin America. The objective was not charity but rather a response to specific needs in order to meet some productive goal. The key concept of the Alliance then was the promotion of self-help programs. The State of Michigan took British Honduras (Belize) as its partner.

In 1966, Governor George Romney chose Bentley to fill the vacancy on the University of Michigan Board of Regents created by the resignation of Eugene Power. At the time Bentley was involved with the University in two other areas. In late 1965, Bentley had been appointed Chairman of the major gifts committee of the University's $55 million fund raising program commemorating its Sesquicentennial. Also, after his Congressional career was over in 1961, he had returned to the University as a graduate student in History. Maintaining offices in Washington, Bentley commuted by air to Ann Arbor to attend classes. He received a M.A. degree in 1963, and at the time of his Regental appointment was pursuing a doctorate.

In the early part of his Regental years Bentley was stricken by a disease affecting the central nervous system. Despite extensive surgery and rehabilitation the affliction forced Bentley to somewhat limit his activities. However regardless of physical limitations he insisted on resuming and carrying on his Regental duties. His health, however, continued to decline and while on vacation in Arizona he died on April 10, 1969 at the age of 50. He was survived by his widow, Arvella, five children and five grandchildren, and his mother.

Throughout his life, Bentley was involved in a wide variety of philanthropic and charitable organizations and endeavors. A listing of these reveals the breadth of his interest. He was associated with the Civil Rights Commission, Society for Mental Health, International Council of Christian Leadership, National Conference on Citizenship, Project HOPE, and American Good Government Society. On the educational level, besides his years as University of Michigan Regent, he also was a trustee of Cleary College, Detroit Institute of Technology, Nazareth College, and Northwood Institute. There were numerous state organizations which he actively supported and in which he participated. These include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Council on Economic Education, Michigan Higher Education Facilities Committee, Professional Club of Michigan, and the Great Lakes Development Project. He was also a Trustee of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University, a member of the University of Michigan Clements Library Associates and a Trustee and President of the Historical Society of Michigan. Bentley actively participated in civic affairs in his own community of Owosso, holding offices in the local chapters of the American Red Cross, YMCA, the board of Memorial Hospital, the Citizens Advisory Board of Owosso College, a study group for the implementation of a technical-vocational training program, and the Owosso Traffic Safety Committee.

Throughout his career he was deeply involved on the behalf of minority and ethnic groups holding memberships in the American Friends of the Captive Nations, Polish National Alliance, and the NAACP. Bentley's business associations included a directorship of the Owosso Savings Bank, the vice-presidency of the Mitchell-Bentley Corporation, and the Lake Huron Broadcasting Company. Bentley's organizational memberships included the National Exchange Club, Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, Masons (33rd degree), Shrine Club, Moose, Eagles, Optimist, and Sons of the American Revolution. Other memberships were in the Detroit Club, Detroit Athletic Club, Owosso City Club, Owosso Country Club, and the Saginaw Club.

In the Fall of 1971, Arvella D. Bentley donated $600,000 to the Michigan Historical Collections which allowed it to build a new quarters for its holdings. This new building named in honor of Alvin Bentley stands as a fitting memorial to a good friend of history and of The University of Michigan.

Shiawassee County Michigan History