She wasn’t a famous person, so those of you reading this won’t recognize her name.
You won’t recognize her from these photos either.
But Bernice Stensgaard was a friend of mine, and she died the other day.
She was a gentle woman, who lived a long and full life, raising two sons, who she was proud of, and had every right to be. She was 90 when the curtain rang down on her life in Moorhead, Minnesota.
I first came to know here when my wife, at the time, Mary Ann, went to work at Moorhead North Junior. Bernice worked with her at the library.
It was 1969, and it seems like yesterday.
It’s cold tonight, in Bismarck. The temperature is sinking, and the days ahead don’t give much hope for relief, and so as I sit here in my little tin shack, with my two friends, Bailey and Brandy, the memories of time spent with her come rushing back as if I’m watching some long ago family film because, for all of those years, she was part of our family.
It’s cold tonight, but thinking of Neecer seems to warm the evening chill.
The years between 1969 and late 1976, were years when we enjoyed her company, the company of her two sons, Dale and Daryl, and where laughter was the order of the day. We got to know her family, and they in turn got to know many members of our families.
We did some traveling together as well. A trip with Bernice and Daryl to Winnipeg, and a long road trip to the East coast with Bernice, where we hit Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, Connecticut, Boston and back again. It was a wonderful experience for the three of us, and I still have all of the photos I took during that trip.
In 1974, Bernice agreed to be a Godparent to our son Ryan. The other Godparent was a young Priest from Nativity Church in Fargo, Jack Davis. I always thought it was an interesting situation. First of all, Mary Ann was Catholic, and I was Lutheran. Now you have Bernice, a Lutheran, and Father Davis, a Catholic, as Godparents for our son, and I thought it was perfect.
I changed things in late 1976, when I initiated a separation from Mary Ann, and as anyone who has ever gone through a divorce knows, that act upsets the dynamics of many relationships with our mutual friends. With Bernice, that didn’t happen.
I knew she was a major support for Mary Ann during those late October days, but she was never judgemental, and over time, my relationship with Bernice, never changed, and that was something that I’ve never forgotten.
Those were some difficult years for me, but whenever I stopped by to see Bernice, I felt better. In 1980, I worked for Al Olson, a Republican who was running for governor, and when he won, he appointed me press secretary. Bernice gave me one of those nice portfolios, the kind that holds a legal pad, and room for a few other papers. I still have it today, and I still use it today, and every time I do, it reminds me of “Neecer”
Whenever I would come through Fargo after those years, I would stop for coffee, or meet her for lunch, and for several Christmases, as I was coming back from Minneapolis, I would bring her a small present from Nieman Marcus.
Bernice was a lovely woman, who was a part of my life, and the memories of her help warm this winter’s night. I am sad that she has left us, but I know that she had a full life, and to her two sons, I can only say to them they were really lucky to have had such a woman in their life. I think they know that.
It’s been a lot of years, and while we didn’t see each other as often as we did in the 1970’s, time and distance mitigated against it, we did keep in touch, and did find time, on ocassion, to have coffee and a visit in the house where she had lived for so many years.
So, as I said at the beginning, she wasn’t a famous person, or someone you would recognize from her photos, but to us she was famous, and to the world, she could be used as a model on how to conduct a long and fruitful life.
I am proud to have called her a friend, and will cherish the memories we created during those years.
Hail and Farewell
“Neecer,” we called her.
And Bernice didn’t mind.
She worked with Mary Ann,
At another time in our lives,
And we became lifelong friends.
Time with her was full of life and laughter,
With travels together, and memories made,
That remain today.
Her smile was as big as her heart.
Her gentle soul
Could melt a winter’s frost,
And her light could illuminate
The corners of the darkest nights.
“Neecer,” we called her,
And she was a friend.