The Bentley Legacy
Alvin Morell Bentley, III, was born on August 30, 1918, in Portland, Maine, the only child of Alvin M. Bentley, Jr. and Helen Webb Bentley. His father, having died three months after his birth in France while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces, left him heir to a large family fortune founded in the Owosso Manufacturing Company and in the early General Motors Corporation. While he spent most of his childhood outside of Michigan, he came to attend the University of Michigan, majoring in history and political science, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940. Later that same year he married Arvilla Peterson. Together they had three children, Alvin IV, Helen, and Michael. They divorced in October 1951.
Alvin Morell Bentley, III.
After graduation, Bentley enrolled in the university's Rackham graduate school to study history. He decided, however, that an academic career was not for him and after a semester left Michigan and enrolled in the Turner Diplomatic School in Washington, D.C., to prepare for a career in Foreign Service. Less than a year after enrolling, he joined the State Department and was posted, in January 1942, to the Welfare and Whereabouts Section of the State Department, assisting Americans to find friends and relatives dislocated by the war abroad. In March 1942 he was transferred to the United States Embassy in Mexico City as a code clerk and by May was commissioned vice counsul. He stayed in Mexico through 1944 when he was posted to Bogota, Columbia. In 1947 Bentley sought a transfer to the United Nations staff, but it was denied and in April he secured an appointment as second secretary of the American Legation in Budapest, Hungary, where he remained through 1949. In Hungary he dealt with applicants for United States visas and the disaffected and endangered. It was probably at this time that Bentley's anti-communist beliefs were formed. After his Hungarian service Bentley was convinced that the countries in the Soviet bloc of influence had to be pried loose, rather than contained, which was the theory espoused by President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Because of this difference of opinion, Bentley resigned from Foreign Service in April 1950.
Now, thirty-two years old and still interested in public service, politics seemed the next logical step for him. Alvin Bentley returned to Michigan, opening an office in Owosso, his family's long-time seat. He wrote a newspaper column on international affairs for the area newspapers, gave speeches on his work for the State Department describing his life in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, and volunteered for various charitable causes. He quickly impressed the people of the area with his knowledge and ability. In January 1952 he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Eighth Michigan District. Bentley defeated Fred L. Crawford, the eighteen-year incumbent, in the primary. He easily beat his Democratic opponent in the general election. A few days later he married Arvella Duescher of Owosso. Together they had two children, Clark and Ann.
Bentley was the youngest member of the Michigan delegation in the Eighty-third Congress, but, nevertheless, was able to secure a coveted position on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a post he held for four terms in Congress. His career was marked by a close adherence to the Republican Party line. In both foreign and domestic affairs he held a strong anti-communist line, opposing the recognition of China, Soviet domination of the Balkans, and supporting the investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Domestically, he supported a balanced national budget and the effort to reduce the national debt. He also advocated for working women to be able to deduct child-care costs from their income taxes, pay raises for postal employees, and the expansion of social security and the broadening of the program's benefits. Bentley worked hard to communicate with his constituency. In January, before the opening of the new congressional session, he would poll the people of his district on the issues likely to come before the House. In an attempt to thoroughly communicate with his district, Bentley made frequent trips to the district, was seen and heard on weekly television and radio programs, wrote regular newspaper columns and newsletters, and was accessible through his mobile office.
On March 1,1954 Puerto Rican nationalists entered the visitors gallery and fired a volley of shots onto the floor of the House. Alvin Bentley was the most seriously wounded of the five injured Congressmen. The thirty-calibre bullet entered his chest cavity, puncturing his lung, diaphragm, stomach, and liver. Though his injuries were critical and required three major surgeries, he was back in the House within two months.
In 1959, after four terms in the House, Bentley decided to run for the Senate. He easily won the Republican nomination, but lost to incumbent Patrick V. McNamara in the November election. In 1962 he was the Republican candidate for Michigan's at-large Congressional seat against Democrat Neil Staebler. He was narrowly defeated.
Though Bentley would never seek political office again, he served the state in many other ways. In 1961-1962 he served as a delegate to the Michigan State Constitutional Convention. Always interested in education, he was appointed to the Citizens Committee on Education in 1963 by Governor George Romney. He chaired the committee, which recommended increased funding support for public colleges and universities and created the Michigan State Board of Education.
Alvin Bentley completed work for and received his M.A. in history from the University of Michigan in 1963 and began work on his doctorate. In 1965 Bentley was appointed chair of the major gifts committee, raising funds in commemoration of the university's sesquicentennial. Governor Romney appointed Bentley to fill a seat on the University of Michigan Board of Regents in 1966. The next year he endowed a chair in the history department in honor of his parents.
He died on April 10, 1969 at the age of 50. In 1971, his widow, Arvella D. Bentley, gave a generous donation to the University of Michigan's "Michigan Historical Collections", enabling it to construct a new building which was subsequently renamed the Bentley Historical Library.