Left to right: Madeline Bender '93, Ryan Gehman '16 and Kevin Ressler '07 are slated to present at this year's EMU TenTalks event on Saturday.

Homecoming TenTalks welcomes Madeline Bender ’93, Ryan Gehman ’16 and Kevin Ressler ’07

EMU TenTalks during Eastern Mennonite University’s Homecoming and Family Weekend 2023 will feature three alumni making the world better in their own way.

The speakers — soprano Madeline Bender ’93, runner Ryan Gehman ’16 and leader Kevin Ressler ’07 — will each have 10 minutes to “impact, influence and inspire” the audience, and then answer questions from the crowd. The format is modeled on TED Talks presentations.

The free event will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, in Suter Science Center 106. Homecoming registration is not required to attend. Email alumni@emu.edu for instructions on how to access the Facebook livestream of the event.

A complete list of events and activities is on the Homecoming and Family Weekend website.

Divine dissatisfaction

Madeline Bender ’93

Madeline Bender ’93 will share the story of her journey from rural Mennonite kid to international opera singer, arts entrepreneur and educator.

In 2012, Bender founded Creative Stage, which offers classes to children in the fields of music, theater, dance and filmmaking. Her innovative arts programs are taught in esteemed private and public schools across Manhattan.

She has created performances including Instrumental Storytellers at Symphony Space in Manhattan, the annual Creative Stage Spectacular! and, most recently, produced and directed Summer Shebang!, sponsored by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. 

Her work has paired her with notable opera directors such as Sir Peter Hall, Robert Wilson, David McVicar, Paul Curran and Sir Jonathan Miller.

She, along with artistic partner Timothy Long, is the founder and director of Voices of Hope, an annual opera gala that has raised more than $250,000 to provide life-changing education to severely underprivileged children around the world.

Bender, who has a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, lives in New York City with her husband Paul Whelan, a bass-baritone opera singer, and their 14-year-old son.

Her TenTalk will investigate what makes citizen artists tick, as well as the forces that drive them to seek to make radical change in the world through the arts.

Run for your life!

Ryan Gehman ’16

Diagnosed with autism at four years old, Ryan Gehman ’16 struggled with anxiety and other mental health challenges growing up. 

But when Gehman discovered running, he says it literally saved his life.

The Millersville, Pennsylvania, native has run four marathons to date, including two Boston Marathon races. He finished the 2023 Boston Marathon this past April in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 31 seconds, which placed him 103rd overall.

In 2014 while at EMU, Gehman won the NCAA South Southeast Regional Cross-Country Championships and was named Southeast Regional Athlete of the Year.

Gehman says he runs to help himself navigate life on the spectrum and aims to be a source of hope for other neurodiverse people, as well as anyone in need of strength to face adversity.

He is a former cross-country and track coach at Lancaster Bible College and Lancaster Mennonite High School. These days he shares his passion for fitness as a wellness assistant at Landis Homes, where he fosters the movement of others.

TenTalks attendees are invited to hear his story, from the heartwarming and humorous way his running began to the dream he’s now chasing: qualifying for the 2028 Olympic Trials.

“Break all the rules, build a better world”

Kevin Ressler ’07

Kevin M. Ressler ’07, M. Div., was not afraid to break some rules as a child.

As a third grader, Ressler refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance because of his discomfort with war. 

During a semester-long simulation of the Revolutionary War, the middle-schooler was named governor of Pennsylvania and then disrupted class when he demanded freeing slaves as part of the Declaration of Independence.

His life, he says, has been spent seeking ways to bring about an equitable peace and justice for all.

In a summary of his TenTalk, Ressler says that people are raised to maintain the status quo of the system even when they might not realize it.

“We are taught that … if you follow the rules and apply yourself that you will get rewarded with comfort and security,” the community activist and leader says.

“But, if you actually care about a better world, you have no choice but to break the rules and risk losing everything so that others might gain.” 

Ressler leads The Alliance for Health Equity, where he’s been CEO since July. The nonprofit organization serves the greater Coatesville, Pennsylvania, community by focusing on improving its health, social, emotional and economic conditions.

He graduated from EMU with a bachelor’s degree in Justice, Peace and Conflict Studies and spent a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service and with AmeriCorps VISTA. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Lancaster Theological Seminary in 2013.

Ressler was executive director of Meals on Wheels of Lancaster from 2014 to 2020 and president and CEO of the United Way of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, from 2020 to this June. He has served on multiple boards including for Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, United Way of Pennsylvania and Everence Federal Credit Union.

He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife Melissa and their two daughters, Acacia, 9, and Iriana, 6.

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