Learning, books have been Berhnardt’s joy

As tears well up, Betty Bernhardt, 82, talks about the note she recently sent to the library-reluctantly leaving a volunteer position there after 13 years.

“So I wrote this note to Cathy,” Bernhardt said about Cathy Fish, director of the Hillsboro Public Library. “I even put a happy-face sticker on the note,” she said with a brave smile.

Scheduled for two hours every Monday since Oct. 8, 1990, Bernhardt has been checking in and shelving library books without pay.

“She was very, very reliable and took her job very seriously,” Fish said.

“She was real calm. She always shelved books for us on Mondays. No matter how many books, she just stuck with it and wasn’t overwhelmed.”

Bernhardt’s last day on the job was the end of the school year in spring, when she took the summer off and planned to return in the fall.

But because of health concerns, her resignation was tended before the new school year started in August.

The oldest of three siblings, her life began in McPherson. But grade school through her freshman year in high school was spent in Kansas City, Mo.

The family moved to Hillsboro in 1935, and it’s been her home to the present.

In 1938, she graduated from Hillsboro High School and went on to earn a degree in elementary education from Tabor College.

After marrying Alvin H. Bernhardt, she and Alvin had two children, Barb and Ken.

Ken currently lives in Florida, but tragedy hit the Bernhardt family when daughter Barb died suddenly at the age of 31-leaving
Bernhardt blessed with granddaughter Kayci Ann, who now lives in Olathe.

Alvin worked at the local creamery and was a car salesman until he passed away in 1975, after 32 years of marriage.

A retired teacher since 1986, Bernhardt spent 38 years working with children in four different school settings-the first three were country schools in Marion County and the last in the Hillsboro system.

Fresh out of college, she accepted a position at Sunflower School, where the roll list included a total of four children.

“The good Lord knew what I could handle starting out,” Bernhardt said.

That first experience was followed by USD 56, with 15 children, for three years and then two years at Hope Valley School, with 31 children in grades one through eight.

“In between the country school and town school, there were seven years when I raised my kids,” Bernhardt said. “I was a stay-at-home mom.”

She moved on into the Hillsboro school system as an elementary teacher-working there for a total of 31 years before retiring at the age of 65.

“Teaching was the love of my life,” Bernhardt said.

“I just love teaching and learning with the kids. That’s what it was all about.”

Four years after retirement, she was at a Mentor Study Club meeting and was told the library needed volunteers.

“The Mentor Study Club was the organizer of our library, way back when the library started,” Bernhardt said.

“So they said they recommended that we volunteer over there.”

But why did she decide to heed the call?

“I volunteer because I want to help people,” Bernhardt said. “And it was the library-no lesson plans, no homework, checking in and checking out books, and just being there among books.”

She reads at least one book a month and often has been known to polish off a book in just two weeks.

Arriving at 10 a.m. on Mondays, her job consisted of removing books from the library drop and checking them in. The remainder of her morning involved shelving books.

In the earlier years, she learned her way around the library with the help of former librarians Delilah Deckert and Elaine Jantzen.

“They’re the ones who taught me how to categorize and shelve the books,” Bernhardt said.

But in later years, technology brought new changes in the library system, including the introduction of the computer.

“At the beginning, we checked books in by all these library cards,” Bernhardt said.

“Then they got the computer, and I’m computer illiterate. But Cathy showed me how to use the scanner to scan the dates.”

Fish extolled Bernhardt’s persistence in the face of the new technology.

“From the time when everything was done on cards to now, where everything is automated on the computer, she really stuck with that,” Fish said.

“She tried to learn it and did well.”

While other volunteers took the summer off, Bernhardt always stayed on and worked her Monday shift.

“Cathy said, ‘If you would like to take off this summer like the other volunteers do, just take off,'” Bernhardt said.

But this summer was different. She was troubled with arthritis, which made walking difficult.

“I wasn’t walking with a cane yet, but I was limping pretty bad,” Bernhardt said.

By the end of summer, she was forced to use a cane to get around.

“So during the summertime, I took off. It got closer to school starting in August and I thought, “Gosh, I can’t go back limping around like this with a cane in one hand and some books in the other.”

Writing the note to Fish was difficult after so many years enjoying the company of staff, patrons and books, Bernhardt said.

“She really enjoyed talking with people, especially kids,” Fish said.

“She taught school for so long that some of the kids she had in school are now adults with kids. She just really liked being in touch with everyone.”

Leaving her volunteer job doesn’t mean she won’t step back into the library.

” I told Cathy in the note I’d be coming in,” Bernhardt said. “I’ve been in there a time or two. I just miss being around Cathy. Gosh, she’s so sweet.”

But retirement doesn’t mean that Bernhardt’s life is empty, she said.

For beginners, there’s the morning gathering at a local fast-food restaurant with three other ladies at 7 a.m.

“Every morning, six days a week, I get up very early, and we go out to McDonalds,” Bernhardt said.

“It’s just nice to sit and relax.”

Ticking off a list of other activities keeping her busy, she said she belongs to Delta Kappa Gamma women’s club, the Marion County Area Retired School Personnel and Mentor Study Club. She’s on the board of the Marion County Historical Society and treasurer of the Lutheran Ladies Aide at her church.

Still able to drive her car, she’s on-call when needed at the Hillsboro Senior Center.

“I run around a lot,” she said with a chuckle. “There are people who can’t drive anymore, and I just thank God I can still drive.”

Among the pleasures in her life, Bernhardt talked about looking forward to the weekly conversations she enjoys with son Ken on Sunday nights.

Because her son has a Free Press subscription mailed to him in Florida, Bernhardt wanted to send a special message.

“Hi, Ken,” she said with a twinkle in her eye one day in late September.

And maybe one Sunday night, mother and son can laugh about her surprise greeting in the paper, making Monday mornings a little less sad for the former volunteer.

“She sure is missed here,” Fish said. “We really miss seeing her and visiting with her.”

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