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Lynn Elling: An Anniversary; Thoughts About Peace on Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

It’s Valentine’s Day, and today I’m remembering my friend, Lynn Elling, who died one year ago today, a few days short of 95 years. He was a remarkable guy. He walked the talk about Peace. I was honored to talk about him at his Memorial Service on May 1, last year. I wrote a bit about him then. You can read it here, “In praise of exasperating people”.

The 1971 Declaration of World Citizenship
Click to enlarge, twice to double the enlargement

Last spring, after Lynn died, the family invited me to go through the residue of his long life which related to his passion, the quest for world peace. He gave “World Peace” a great run, leaving a substantial base – and a challenge – for the rest of us. Down in our garage is a single box with many remnants of over 70 years passion for Peace, which began, for him, as a young Naval officer viewing the aftermath of the awful battle at Tarawa Beach in the Pacific, November, 1943.

A truly major accomplishment from that box is shown above, from March of 1971, and I’d invite you to take the time to really look at not only the text of that Declaration of World Citizenship, but to carefully study the list of signers who, at the time, represented all of the major leaders in Minnesota, Republican, Democrat, Civic…..

Out of this accomplishment came a 30 minute film, “Man’s Next Giant Leap”, which is worth watching on line, here.

Lynn was 50 years old when that Declaration was signed. Two years previous had come a similar Declaration for the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County; and six years earlier a similar declaration for the United States of America.

The idea of Peace was catching on.

And on and on.

In about two months, in Minneapolis, a new film, The World Is My Country, will be shown at the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul about Garry Davis, another remarkable man, and friend of Lynn’s, who began a world wide campaign for the concept of World Citizenship. When I know details I’ll announce them in this space.

On May 1, at Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis, we’ll celebrate another creation of Lynn and others: World Law Day, which first was held in 1964, went on for years, and after a hiatus, this year will be the 5th in the most recent series. More on that event, featuring Shawn Otto of ScienceDebate.org later as well.

Yes, Lynn Elling could be “exasperating”.

But it is “exasperating” people that are very often the ones who make the difference; the people who go beyond the bounds of “average and ordinary”. We all can learn from being “exasperating” ourselves, from time to time!

Have a great Valentine’s Day.

POSTNOTE: Another great accomplishment by Mr. Elling came May 1, 1968, when the United Nations Flag was mounted beside the U.S. flag at what is now the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza. The flag flew there until late March, 2012, when it was removed. More can be read here. This, too, was a completely bi-partisan initiative. Elling was a downtown Minneapolis businessman, working with others in the business community. The UN, then, was not considered as some enemy of the United States, as some have come to portray it in more recent years.

Related, Feb. 13, 2017, here.

#1210 – Dick Bernard: A Men’s Retreat

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

For several years I’ve spent a winter weekend at a Retreat for Men at the Franciscan Retreat and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake MN. I enthusiastically recommend both the Retreat and the Retreat Center. (Next years Men’s Retreat is the first weekend of February, 2018).

This years theme: “Find the Missing Peace: Pathways to Prayer”. This became the focus at the first group event on Friday night:

(click on photos to enlarge them)

Franciscan Retreat Center Feb 3-5, 2017

Each of us was given a wooden token as a reminder:

What do a bunch of men, mostly older, do in 44 hours at a Retreat on Prayer?

Well, I can only speak for myself. It was a quieting, reflective time. I didn’t see a newspaper, or hear any news, or see any television, or hear about such for 44 hours. It had been a long week, so I got some needed extra sleep; there were few distractions from just thinking about where I fit into the bigger picture of “peace”, and life in general.

It was a precious time.

Doubtless, we men approached it the topic in our own ways, privately, coming from wherever we were at at the moment. The greatest gift was the opportunity to escape from the madding crowd which is a constant in all of our surroundings in this fast and furiously paced world in which we live. For some precious moments we could be quiet.

In part of my time, I walked outdoors – the weather was decent.

I’ve made friends with an old Peace Pole out there. The pole needs to be rehabbed, and when I reported on that, yes, they knew. Much to my surprise, a good friend of mine, Fr. Vince Peterson, had been the driving force for the peace pole some years ago. I’m sure it will be brought up to date.

Personally, I wouldn’t want it replaced with a new pole. By itself, it represents a history I want to help reinvent. Peace Poles are around you. Look for them. They’re available. Here’s one source, a good friend of mine.

Old Peace Pole at Franciscan Retreat Center Prior Lake MN Feb 5, 2017

Of course, we got pieces of paper at the retreat, and they were talked about by the conference facitators. Thomas Merton was a favorite source of quotes. I think I was in college when I first read his “Seven Storey Mountain”…inspiring book.

And we saw a movie on Saturday night, one I’d highly recommend – very thought provoking. It’s called Unconditional, and is 90 minutes, here on Youtube. Take the time, and watch it! It may speak to you, in some way….

Franciscan Retreat Center celebrated its 50th birthday last year, and there were panel displays remembering events surrounding its history, which began in 1966. I found these interesting in themselves, and they don’t need additional elaboration.

late 1960s

1970s forward

2000s

Somehow, the panels spoke to me in a pretty powerful way. The list may not include something of importance that you remember from those past years in our history. Add it in!

That what’s a retreat is for….

Have a great week.

August Wilson’s “Fences”

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Sunday night we went to the Denzel Washington film interpreting August Wilson’s play “Fences”. The film is very powerful. Here is detail of showing places and times for your area.

Fences is one of ten August Wilson plays, representing the African-American experience in each of the ten decades of the 20th century. The play, like the film, largely takes place in the tiny back yard of a tiny apartment in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. One would presume the general setting is similar to where August Wilson grew up, at 1727 Bedford. The cast for Fences is all-star, and it would not surprise if the film is a candidate for one or more academy awards.

More about Fences, Wilson and his career can be read here.

It was serendipity that got me acquainted with August Wilson, and then his sister, and later his niece, Kimberley.

(click on photos to enlarge)

1727 Bedford, Pittsburgh PA, April, 1998

The photo above shows August Wilson’s boyhood home in 1998. The door can be seen in white at the rear of the building. Looking west, down the hill, the Pittsburgh downtown skyscrapers can be seen.
I took this and other photos on a rainy day.

My daughter Joni, and I, had the immense good fortune of getting the tour of August Wilson’s neighborhood with his sister, Freda.

Back in the late 1980s while living in Hibbing Minnesota I got a piece of junk mail from a new theatre in St. Paul, the Penumbra. Life then required many trips to St. Paul for meetings, and on one trip I went to some unremembered play at the theatre, and I liked it. In 1990, I attended Fences at the Penumbra. Penumbra was a small intimate theatre, and we were all near the stage. I remember this play, and it was powerful.

Along the way, I think I’ve seen all of Wilson’s ten plays (“The Pittsburgh Cycle”) at one time or another, almost all of them at the Penumbra.

It was awhile before I connected a few dots, and learned that I had met August Wilson “way back when”, about the time he moved to St. Paul.

It would have been about 1979 or so, and at the time I was volunteering on occasion at Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, on Lake Street in south Minneapolis. This particular day I was there at the time of lunch, and the person who cooked the meal for us and sat at the same table as I and the others was August Wilson, though, of course, I (or he, for that matter) had no idea of the celebrity he was to become not many years later.

Wilson had taken the job of cook because it interfered least with his passion to write, and his first play was first given a test run and performed during his time there, at the Playwright’s Center not far away on Franklin Avenue. It was “Black Bart and the Sacred Hills”. Some of the then staff at Little Brothers were among those who attended that reading. Black Bart… does not appear in the anthology of his works, but was nonetheless a successful play by him.

I met August Wilson one more time in the late 1990s. It was at a fundraiser of some sort, and my impression of him was that he was not comfortable being there – a quiet man out of his element. A little later I was to attend a conference in Pittsburgh and was introduced to his sister who, in turn, treated my daughter Joni and I to a long and very fascinating tour of his and her Hill District, the setting of most of his plays.

I feel especially honored to have had the opportunity to get to know August Wilson and his world a tiny bit more than most.

I hope you can see Fences.

Daughter Joni and August Wilson’s sister, Freda, at 1717 Bedford, Pittsburgh PA Apr 1998

Freda in kitchen of the apartment at 1727 Bedford, Pittsburgh Apr 98.

Kimberley and Freda at Little Brothers, Minneapolis, Feb. 15, 2011

Dr. Kimberley C. Ellis can be found here; Freda Ellis passed away in Pittsburgh in 2015.

COMMENTS:
from Laura, who knew August in the Little Brothers days: Of course, I saw Fences(movie). I sat next to August on the opening of Fences, the play, at Penumbra. I cried during the movie. August definitely would have approved.

from Thad, who knew August well at Little Brothers: Thank you very much for the link to your blog. In fact, and you won’t believe this, I just saw “Fences” today. The film ended at 7:00 pm and here I am emailing you half an hours later. What a coincidence. Anyway, I was really moved and like you, feel really privileged to have known August for the time he worked at Little Brothers.

Uncle Vincent’s Pastureland

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

Thoughts on the final day of 2016.
Remembering a North Dakota farm family.


(click to enlarge any photo)

Since 1934 an impressive cottonwood tree has stood watch over the former Busch farm between Berlin and Grand Rapids ND. I took the above photo, and wrote a story about the tree in 2005. The story is accessible here.

A few blocks to the west of the tree stands a piece of pastureland, which, 106 years after the prairies became a farm, has yet to see a plow. For reasons only my Uncle Vince knows, this pasture was a very important piece of ground to him, even though it was only a small part of the farm.

This was a pasture well known to Vince and Edithe’s parents and brothers and sisters, going back to the beginning of the farm in 1905; and known to any of their nephews and nieces who visited on occasion. We became familiar with “cowpaths” and the lane from pasture to the barn, and if old enough we could watch the cows being milked by hand, and even try our hand at milking. In a sense, the cows were part of physical life of the Busch place, the milk cows with names.

For most of its years it was pasture for a few milk cows. Here is a photo from the 1940s labeled Aunt “Edithe’s favorite milk cow.” Unfortunately, the cows name isn’t included; most certainly she had a name.

“Edithe’s favorite milk cow”, 1940s

My first vivid memory of the pasture is in the winter, sometime in the 1940s, watching what seemed to be gigantic white rabbits loping across snowdrifts. It wasn’t an illusion:

Uncle Vincent and Uncle Art with a productive hunt for rabbits, sometime in 1941-42.

Over the years, the rabbits disappeared, for some reason never explained to me.

As for the cows, we grandkids, who showed up from 1940 on, knew the drill: Twice a day, cows came home via the cowpath – force of habit, I guess – with a lead cow. Here’s an old slide from Nov. 1980 showing my Uncle and cousin Mary Kay. (double click to see the cows in the background, or a closer view of the cowpath)

Uncle Vince and Cousin Mary Kay (on a cowpath in the pasture, Nov. 1980)

In my growing up time, there were maybe 10-15 cows maximum, milked by hand twice a day, later usually by Edithe and Grandma Rosa. Kids were allowed to try milking, but it was hard work – the fun wore off very quickly. Cats hung around for a possible treat. Once in awhile a cow “kicked the bucket” partly full of milk, probably the origin of the saying about dying.

The cream separator initially was hand-powered. Cream and milk would be kept in cans, and kept cool in a water tank by the door of the barn. For years, Uncle Art kept the old separator; later he gave it to me; I think my sister has it now…”antiques” have their day…a nuisance, but yet a reminder of what once was.

I can remember the tedious job of hand-churning cream to make butter: the butter didn’t just magically appear. We kids didn’t have the patience, I’d guess. But once in awhile you could actually see the butter begin to appear.

Once in awhile we might be there when a truck came from LaMoure to pick up the milk and cream. In LaMoure was a small Land-o-Lakes Creamery which made things like butter and, perhaps, ice cream. At least once I can remember a visit to the creamery. Every time, however, we stopped at the Dairy Bar in the same building (photo below) for ice cream. Successive renditions of that Dairy Bar continued until very recently. I think it’s now closed.

LaMoure ND June 28, 2009. Edithe, Vincent and Dick Bernard at what used to be the Creamery and the Dairy Bar in LaMoure. We all appear to be tired. Must have been a busy day.

I can’t fix a date when the Busch’s stopped milking. It probably came sometime in the 1960s, before Grandpa died, and by then Grandma was in her late 70s. There quite likely was an extended period without cows in the pasture. Someone could correct me on this.

Beginning about 1980, Uncle Vincent began to graze a small herd of beef cattle in the pasture. This lasted until the bad winter of 1996-97, when snow conditions and his own advancing age made it impossible for Vincent to take care of the cattle. On occasion one or another of us would go with Vince to the pasture. The cattle were familiar with him; for strangers, particularly if there was a newborn calf nearby, extreme caution was advised. Mama’s cottoned no nonsense. Strangers were a threat.

After 1997, for reasons known only to Vince, this particular piece of pastureland lay unused, except he allowed a neighbor to cut and bail the hay for a fee.

Vincent in the pasture spring of 1987, photo by his sister, Edithe.

From 2006 on, Vince and Edithe lived in LaMoure, and the trips to the farm normally did not include the pastureland.

But in early October of 2012, just about a month or so before Aunt Edithe went into the Nursing Home in LaMoure, Uncle Vince felt a need to go out to that pasture one last time, and that we did, on a very breezy and chilly North Dakota fall afternoon. It would have been wiser to stay home, but Vincent was determined, and we went.

This particular day, Vince had his mind set on pieces of tin on an old feeding station out in the pasture, and we set about successfully taking off the roof, later to be used to cover a broken window or two on an old shed on the farmstead.

October 4, 2012

The farm has now been sold, and the young couple with three young children who now own the farmstead and have a contract to purchase the pasture in a given time period. When I was at the farm in early October, I saw the two calves who, by next summer, will bring farm life to the pasture, as the family is rebringing life to a rural North Dakota farmstead.

Two young calves outside the Busch barn, Oct. 6, 2016

Uncle Vince would be pleased, of that I’m certain.

As this year ends, and a new one begins, what do you remember about your growing up years when your life was being formed?

Busch barn, rural Berlin ND, May 24, 2015 at approximately 100 years old.

COMMENTS:

from Jon, Uncle Vince’s grand-nephew Jan. 3: Hi Dick..Hope you had a Merry Christmas.This is Jon Busch..Don’t know what you know about the pasture land..But in my few conversations with Uncle Vince with my dad alive the land where the pasture is has never been tilled for crops (native prairie). It was grazed by livestock many years ago. Also there is a native American burial ground at or near the farm..Not sure if nearby or on their property no idea if that would be the pasture? Or mounds? Elsewhere.. Thanks for all of the time you guys spent working on this stuff. Have a happy new year…Jon

Response to Jon from Dick: Over the years I’ve gotten to know a great deal about this particular piece of pastureland, primarily many visits with Vincent, which is a main reason I’ve endeavored to deal very carefully with it, particularly carving it out as a specific parcel of the property. It is a legacy of the family. It was very, very important to Vince, for some reason; more so than even the surrounding long-tilled land which was more valuable. Your Grandpa George, Vincent’s older brother, as you doubtless know, had a great affinity for this land as well.

The Indian mound(s?) of which you speak were a short distance north of the Busch property – to the north of what I call the Grand Rapids road. I do not know much about them, except they existed and (probably) weren’t respected by someone or other over the years. The Busch farm sits very near the western edge of the James River, and no doubt saw a great deal of Native American activity in pre-white settlement, which primarily came with the railroad about 1880 or so.

Over my life-time, now nearing 77 years, the size of the usable pasture land decreased as it is part of a watershed which, when combined with the natural consequence of wetter years, and drainage by farmers upstream, increased the permanent wetland. The gate to what we used to know as the south pasture has long been unusable and I think the south boundary of the property has been somewhat difficult to fence because of the water issue.

Thank you very much for your comment.

from Fred: This is an excellent, evocative and thoughtful study. It brought to life a different time, one with which I can identify — there were farmers in my family too. Very nicely done.

from Joe: I read and greatly enjoyed your essay about the pasture and your excellent 2005 story about the old cottonwood tree. Thanks for both.

from Gail: Good story. Even better, it’s true.

from Shirley: Another “so-very-interesting” piece! Thanks.

from David, whose Mom grew up on the then-adjoining farm: I still recall that great old barn.

from Leila: One of my relatives had an old barn near Forman that withstood all kinds of severe storms when others didn’t. He claimed that it was because air could move easily through all of the gaps in the roof and walls.

Response from Dick: It makes sense. They do get very strong and frequent winds out there! Often! There is another factor with this particular old barn. About the first day of August of 1949, the roof blew off the 1915 barn during a big windstorm. As a matter of fact, we were staying in the house, 200 feet away, that very night. It was a scary evening to say the least. I was 9, and I remember the fright of the night! There was lots of damage in LaMoure County. Re the barn itself, all that was lost was the entire roof; even the floor of the hayloft was intact. My Dad, being a schoolteacher and on summer break, stayed and helped build new roof beams, one at a time. My Grandpa had made the form, based on a barn he saw in the area. The construction of the beams was by hand and thorough. It is also possible that the roof itself, at least to this point, buttresses the rest of the structure, but that will change unless it is re-roofed. Without extensive and very expensive renovation, the barn will not be saved. Most likely, I would guess, someday we will see a pole barn for the small herd the new owners of the farmstead hope to have. It is an interesting process.

from Jo: Your farm story brought back my entire childhood until I turned 17 and came to [college]. I can read paragraph after paragraph of your story and it so resembles my story. We had a huge red barn which also went with the wind. It lifted the roof and haymow over the house we lived in and set it down on the pasture past us. This haymow we used to swing out over and drop into the hay that had been brought in by a team of horses and hayrack and pulled up to the huge opening with a chain which the horses pulled up (the sling hooked unto the dropped down part). When that load of hay was in the proper part of the haymow, a trip rope would trip the catch and it would drop unto the haymow floor. It took many trips with that hayrack, (each held 2 slings) to fill that large area. There were holes to throw down the hay into each stall below where the milk cows stood. For safety sake, I am sure, each hole was surrounded with about a 5 foot tall box around it with a lid. Harder to put the hay down as have to be lifted up before going down. Our cream cans were not picked up, they were driven to the Casselton Creamery by us. As we waited for them to be processed, our great and always anticipated joy was to order and savor an ice cream malted milk. They probably cost 10 cents or a quarter.

Our pasture was filled with large cottonwoods under whose shade in summer we would sometimes picnic. One of the first “jobs” I had was to help to drive the milk cows to the “North Pasture”. It was through the regular pasture and over the railroads tracks so there was a gate to get over the tracks and one to get into the N. pasture with due diligence paid to making sure there was no train either way. Not being old or big enough to open those gates, pulled shut with a barbed wire round, I was the chaser for cows that started other ways.

So thanks for triggering some very old memories. Life is so far from that now. Thank goodness.

from Dick, in addition: Thanks very much for this. We are old enough, now, I’d guess, to admit that we had our feet pretty deep in what truly were “the old days”. We just came to the farm to visit, but because we moved so much (my folks were both small town school teachers), the farm really became a “home town” in a very real sense of the word for me. They didn’t get electricity until the very late 1940s, so a wind charger did that duty; Grandpa was the rural telephone guy (“three longs and a short”, and perhaps 20 parties could “rubberneck” on calls), that sort of thing. But it was a good, solid upbringing for us.

*

Below are two photos, one after the storm, and one of the beams. You can click twice on them and see a closer enlargement.

Henry Bernard in the hay mow June, 1991, standing by the roof beams he helped construct in 1949.

Look closely at the below and you can see all five Bernard kids, including John, who was then a year old. Plus Mary Ann, Florence, Frank and Richard. Henry is hidden behind Richard.

The Bernard kids the morning after the barn went down, summer 1949. Richard (Dick) is the kid facing away from the camera.

Two Christmas Gifts

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016


(click to enlarge illustrations)

Tuesday brought an unexpected assignment: the kind that goes along with the general category of “honey, do….” Ellen, my spouse’s long-time friend, needed a ride to a doctors appointment, and there was a schedule conflict. I volunteered.

Ellen is a long-time U.S. citizen, of African descent, whose accent betrays her growing up in one of the islands of the British West Indies. Ellen’s appointment flowed out of a knee problem so serious that she had to be transported by ambulance recently from the city bus on which she was riding for medical care. The pain had been too excruciating.

Back and forth to her job requires 3 1/2 hours a day on the bus, part of which requires a two block walk to the bus stop closest to her home, and a transfer in downtown Minneapolis. It has been very cold recently, and one day was just too much. Ellen badly needs a knee replacement. She needs her job more. She has no car.

As I drove her to and from the appointment we chatted about this and that. Ellen is someone you’d enjoy visiting. Even on the worst of days, she is upbeat.

I noted the big difference between Christmas weather here and on her home island. She’s been here a long time, and she thinks the snow is an important part of the Twin Cities Christmas season.

We talked a bit about Christmas back home on the island, and it brought out her own nostalgia.

I didn’t take notes – I was driving, after all – but she talked about how at Christmas time people from the churches went around singing Christmas carols in the town in which she lived. There was visiting, small gifts exchanged, other rituals that go with important occasions.

An apparently important event was the seasonal changing of the window drapes in homes…I gathered it was not a competition, rather an opportunity to admire and compliment the work of the occupants of the homes.

It brought to mind simpler times, not filled with fashion, and day after exchanges at the malls, a quest for things for which we have no need, as we have here.

There are many more pieces to this story, of course.

But on a Tuesday afternoon in St. Paul MN I got a great Christmas gift, thanks to my spouse and her friend, Ellen.

(In the caption for this post, I talk of two Christmas Gifts.

The second gift came in the form of the Christmas card which included the two pictures you see above.

This came about the same time as my visit with Ellen, and came from Mohamed, who I have been honored to have as a friend for 63 years. Mohamed (his birth legal name) I knew by another name way back then in rural North Dakota. His faith, then and now, Mohammedan (Muslim).

There was a brief message with the card, but the card really says it all.

“Let there be peace on earth” goes a song oft-sung.

Let peace…and its necessary neighbor, justice…begin with each and every one of us.)

Frederic’s Gift: A Message for Christmas 2016

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

In November, 1985, over 30 years ago, a single page letter arrived at my office in Hibbing MN. It was from June Johnson, a teacher of English at Bigfork (MN) High School, who edited our Teacher union newsletter, Top of the Range. Her reminiscence is from the 1940s most likely in the general area of North Dakota’s Souris River (Minot area).

June’s message speaks for itself. The link is here: Frederic’s Gift001

The message is for sharing.

Peace and best wishes for this Christmas holiday, and a good New Year in 2017.

Dick Bernard

Dick Bernard: At Thanksgiving 2016.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Tuesday night came the first snowfall of the season here in Woodbury. Perhaps there will be a little left as we go “over the river and through the woods…” (not really, but across town for a family gathering Thanksgiving Day.)

Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are.

This year I’ve been thinking back to a small Thanksgiving ‘trilogy’ I included in a “kitchen table” newsletter, Chez Nous*, I edited in the 1980s and 1990s.

There was one photo included:

Preparing Wild Rice

Preparing Wild Rice

Three short articles accompanied the post, from Nov. 1993. You can read them here: thanksgiving001. Author Ernest Ebert was a retired North Dakota farmer, then in his late 80s, who wrote often and eloquently about rural life. Jim Northrup has since become a noted Native American author. He is Ojibway from the Duluth area. Sammi Whipple grew up on the Red Lake (MN) Indian reservation. Each tell brief stories from their own perspective.

In addition:

Earlier this week came a once-in-awhile mailing from a good friend, who occasionally selects a few poems for some of us on her list. With her permission, I’d like to share these with you: poems-at-thanksgiving-collected-by-a-friend

Finally, not everyone is comforted by the just completed U.S. election. Pastors everywhere get caught in the middle . Another friend sent along a message from Fr. Joe on Nov. 13, 2016; I asked Joe, who’s a friend, for permission to reprint, and later in the week he sent on another message, for Nov. 20. Both are printed here, and speak for themselves: fr-joe-nov-2016001. A book I’d highly recommend: The Impossible Will Take A Little While, by Paul Loeb. Note: This very well known book was most recently revised by Paul in 2014.

Happy Thanksgiving.

* – If interested in this and other articles from the old Chez Nous, go here , click library, click Chez Nous. All 1000 pages are available on line, fully indexed. These were “kitchen table” productions in the time pre-dating sophisticated word processing. A new compiled three volume set of these 1980-2002 newsletters can be purchased. More information here (scroll down).

Dick Bernard: Dec 22, 1987, and Nov. 7, 1997: Remembering Two Days in the Life of Dad.

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Today we were planning to be at Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, for the 50th anniversary of the Apartment Community, where my Dad, Henry Bernard, lived the last ten years of his life, 1987-97. A scheduling conflict caused a change in plans, so, rather than being on site today, I decided to do what Dad liked to do…look through pictures and reminisce. His travels “were by the National Geographic”, he liked to say.

I’ve picked one particular day in his life at Our Lady of the Snows: his 80th birthday, December 22, 1987.

(click to enlarge photos)

Henry Bernard at home, Apt. 96A, Our Lady of the Snows.

Henry Bernard at home, Apt. 96A, Our Lady of the Snows.

Dad moved north, from San Benito TX, in August, 1987. His San Benito friends, the Brasher’s, were “winter Texans” and lived in Belleville, and suggested he “try out” the Apartment Community for a trial period. He was 79. Mom had died in 1981. It was time.

Depending on one’s point of view, Dad either came and conquered, or was conquered by, this beautiful place with a great view of St. Louis Gateway Arch directly west. He took an efficiency apartment, which over time became his house (in almost a real sense). The beautiful grounds became his lawn, perfect for long walks; the chapel and the library were a short walk indoors, and there was a woodworking shop which he used, and exercise facilities as well. I would guess he was considered a “character” by the community at large. In assorted ways we kids saw him in action each time we visited. He was no recluse!

I choose one particular visit.

His 80th birthday was December 22, 1987, and he set himself a goal, per a national fitness program, to walk a 15 minute mile every day for 80 days, ending on his 80th birthday. His chosen route began at the ampitheater down the hill, and was timed to end at the Angelus bell.

My sister and I were there in the very early morning of day 80, to walk the route with him. He posed for a photo before he began.

The Walking Route, Dec. 22, 1987.  The goal was at the more or less directly behind Dad.

The Walking Route, Dec. 22, 1987. The goal was at the more or less directly behind Dad.

It was a rather icy day, I recall, but that was no deterrent for our Dad. He’d set his goal…period. Back and forth, row by row, he walked briskly. He was hard to keep up with. He was 6’3″, and he had been conditioning for this for 80 days! He arrived at his destination after 13 minutes. We were not far behind. I was pooped. The Angelus Bells rang.

His apartment, 96A, was a place to behold: a single bed, a homemade desk, a recliner, telephone, radio (to listen to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, etc.) There was never a dull moment in his life, right to the end. At his Memorial Mass at the Apartment Community Chapel a few weeks after his death we played an audio tape about family that he had recorded some years earlier at Our Lady of the Snows for St. Louis’ shutins on Radio Information Service (RIS) for the Blind. It was a nice testimony about him, for others.

I had especially hoped to be there this year because, not part of the communities planning of course, his death was on the evening of this day, early in the morning of November 7, 1997, when Dad died in the geriatric unit at Our Lady of the Snows. My sister and I were there at the end. He almost made 90.

Less than two weeks after his death I was back in Illinois, at a conference at the O’Hare Hilton, and picked up a copy of the Chicago Sunday Tribune. By chance, this day, I came across this column by Mary Schmich: My father died 1997001.

To this day, when somebody’s father dies, I sent them a copy of the column.

The following Memorial Day, 1998, we family members gathered at the Apartment Community to dedicate a flag pole to the memory of our Dad, and his brother, our Uncle Frank Bernard, who died December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. We thought it a most appropriate memorial, and it is still there. Here is the program from that day: henry-bernard-flag-dedic008

Dedication of flagpole with Grandpa Bernards 48 star flag, Memorial Day, 1998, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL

Dedication of flagpole with Grandpa Bernards 48 star flag, Memorial Day, 1998, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL

We Dads are people like everyone else. We have our stories, our triumphs, tragedies, dilemmas…. This is a good day for me to remember my Dad. I hope this story has a similar effect for you, about someone in your own life.

On the grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

On the grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

At work in his "office" in Unit 96A

At work in his “office” in Unit 96A

Checking for a "postal" in the days before computers took over.  I doubt he ever actually touched a computer!

Checking for a “postal” in the days before computers took over. I doubt he ever actually touched a computer!

The Birthday Photo in Dad's unit Dec. 22, 1987.

The Birthday Photo in Dad’s unit Dec. 22, 1987.

The St. Louis Gateway Arch from the Apartment Community Grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

The St. Louis Gateway Arch from the Apartment Community Grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

Dick Bernard: Two encounters with the Chicago Cubs

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

This morning we were in Rochester MN, across the street from St. Mary’s Hospital. We were having breakfast and struck up a conversation with a couple whose daughter was having surgery across the street. They were from Austin TX, and they were giddy about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series a few hours earlier in Cleveland. Others around were giddy as well. Apparently the game was watched by tens of millions last night.

We hadn’t watched the game. Indeed we hadn’t followed the series. The last time I’d heard, the Cubs were down three games to one, almost an insurmountable obstacle. But they had come back, and in the 7th game prevailed.

Nonetheless, diehard fan or not, the Cubs first championship in 108 years was uplifting, and not just to fans in Chicago. And it caused me to think back to two personal encounters with the Cubs back in the 1950s when I was a teenager.

Those days we lived in the country near the tiny village of Mooreton ND (west of Wahpeton). Long trips were perhaps 100 miles and those were very few and far between. Our media was radio, and at the time my baseball hero was Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees. (North Dakota hero Roger Maris was to come later.)

I can fix the dates we went to Chicago quite easily: in 1955 my Uncle Art married Aunt Eileen and they moved to Chicago, where Art was a sales engineer for General Electric. In the summer, we drove over 600 miles to Chicago to meet the new bride.

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Dick, at right, and Frank, summer, 1955.

Dick, at right, and Frank, summer, 1955.

Then, in the summer of 1956 Art and Eileen had their first child, John, and I have a family photo of us visiting the family in suburban Chicago.

It was an adventure taking long trips in those days before the Interstate. You went through cities, not around them; four lanes were rare and not limited access, and usually just wider highways. There were 7 of us in our 1951 Plymouth Suburban on both trips. Air conditioning? You opened the car windows…. The second trip I had a drivers license and could help drive – an adventure in itself. It was a very long trip compared with today.

At Anoka MN, summer 1956, from left: Henry, Frank, John, Esther, Mary Ann and Florence Bernard.  Richard was apparently the photographer.

At Anoka MN, summer 1956, from left: Henry, Frank, John, Esther, Mary Ann and Florence Bernard. Richard was apparently the photographer.

The highlight of both trips to Chicago were, for me, a game at Wrigley Field, the first professional baseball games I had ever seen.

Likely my Uncle had access to tickets through General Electric, and both times, I remember, we sat in the stands above the first base line, looking towards the deep outfield in left.

Of course, the games were day games as Wrigley did not have lights. Both times, the weather was beautiful. On neither visit were the White Sox in town, so our only experience was to see the Cubs, twice. No photographic evidence exists that we were there, which is disappointing. We were.

I don’t remember much of the detail except for one single fact for each year: those years, the League was eight teams; and both years, the Cubs and their opponent, one the New York Giants, the other the Pittsburgh Pirates, were 7th and 8th in the standings. Why do I remember that? I don’t know.

It made little difference. The games were great to watch and a cut above the town team contests we were used to back home.

I’ve always wondered if we saw legendary Ernie Banks in those games. My guess is that we did, since he began his career with the Cubs in the early 1950s. But at that time, he was just a player, not yet a legend!

All I have of those couple of afternoons is pleasant memories of major league baseball in a unique baseball park, named for a chewing gum that was popular at the time!

Congratulations, Cubs.

The wait was worth it, and the ending last night was spectacular. If only the game had been in daylight at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Thanks for the memories.

#1159 – Dick Bernard: Ruby Fitzgerald. Farewell to a gentle lady.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

The note announcing the death of Ruby Fitzgerald, age 95, began with a photo (below) and ended with a brief note “The tiny plaque pictured on the front of this card graced Ruby’s kitchen wall for most of her life.”

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Ruby Fitzgerald

Saturday, I was fortunate to be in a room filled with people who all were privileged to know Ruby over the years. I think Ruby would have been very pleased. Here is the written story of Ruby Fitzgerald as presented by her family: Ruby Fitzgerald002.

My mother and Ruby were first cousins; actually double cousins: their respective Mom and Dads were brother and sister, and they grew up on adjoining farms in rural Berlin, North Dakota.

As happens, family life paths diverged, and because of geography, they only rarely saw each other, and we didn’t get to know Ruby.

Ruby and my Aunt Edithe, born two months apart, graduated from the same high school in the Berlin High School class of 1938. Their families and many others had weathered the very worst of the Great Depression together. Probably from that experience came the significance of Ruby’s plaque pictured in the death announcement.

Ruby was an honor student, and had a scholarship to Jamestown College, but there was no money to go to college. That is how the Great Depression was.

In 1993, for a Busch-Berning family history, Ruby wrote a very vivid descriptive story of her years on the North Dakota farm . You can read it here: Ruby Fitzgerald 1993001. Anyone of a certain age, who grew up in rural North Dakota, will quickly identify with her description of rural life.

I only saw the Fitzgeralds a few times, but the visits are remembered fondly. For some reason, way back, I drove the then-country Jamaca Avenue west of Stillwater to visit them at their small farm. Most likely, then, I was starting my search for the family history of the Busch and Berning families. Their’s was a warm, hospitable place.

By good fortune, in going through my Busch family pictures this summer, I came across a photo of Ruby and her twin sister Ruth taken about 1921.

Ruby and Ruth Berning ca 1921 at home.

Ruby and Ruth Berning ca 1921 at home.

I took the photo to Ruby at the Ramsey County Nursing Home on Father’s day weekend, and she filled in the details of a fact I had known for years, without knowing the details. She was obviously moved by the photo.

She said that Ruth, her sister, had died at age 2 1/2 of whooping cough, most likely at the rural Cuba City WI farm home of her mother, Christina’s, parents, Wilhelm and Christina Busch. (After 13 years in North Dakota, the family went back home for the birth of the twins; thence they stayed in Wisconsin or Dubuque for another thirteen years before returning to the North Dakota farm, which they had rented out. The plant in which Ruth’s Dad worked had closed, and as I heard another family member say, at least on the farm they could have a garden, and eat. That is how it was.)

Three weeks after she saw the photo, Ruby died.

We all have our stories.

Ruby lives on through a wonderful family, and great memories.

I’m honored I could be present on Saturday. Ruby is at peace, and our world is the better for her having been with us.

Chritina Berning 1939

Chritina Berning 1939

August Berning 1941

August Berning 1941

The Berning girls 1977.  (There were two boys, August and Melvin, plus two young children, a boy and girl, who died very young.)

The Berning girls 1977. (There were two boys, August and Melvin, plus two young children, a boy and girl, who died very young.)

Ruby is 4th from left in the photo.