Bob Berndt, who had a generous nature, would not have approved of this piece. A private man, he did not like a fuss to be made about him, even in death. As far as I know, there was no memorial service after his death this past July. There may not have been even an obituary in the paper. These were likely according to his wishes.
Mr. Berndt was my high school counselor, teacher and friend, as he was for the many hundreds of other students he taught over the years. He was a social studies teacher at Hayward High. Throughout his life he loved and believed in education and after he retired, he volunteered as a docent at the Oakland Museum, among other activities. I believe he was in his early eighties when he died. A friend and former colleague of his at Hayward, Jeanne Lycett, sent me this note after I asked her about a service:
Yes, it really is too bad about Bob [she writes]. I had him over on the 4th of July for the past few years and it was great to reconnect with him. Every Tuesday, Bob would meet for lunch with some of the other “Old Guys” (Dick Schultz, Georger Enderlin – 90 and still driving!, and Bob Giester.) About twice a year, I was invited to join them and it was great fun. When Bob (Berndt) didn’t show up at last Tuesday’s lunch, Giester called and found that he had passed away that very day. As for an obit or a service of any kind, I haven’t heard anything. Bob was from Southern Illinois, and, I think, may have had a niece still in that area. He also had absolutely NO religious beliefs, so I’m not sure if there will be anything.
As I recall Mr. Berndt and I never talked religion, but we certainly did talk about lots of other things. In my senior year at Hayward he arranged a special independent study class for me in which I was the sole student and he was the teacher, at least in name. He didn’t do much teaching in that class, and that was the point of it. The purpose of the class was for me to write, on my own, with only occasional guidance from him. The class was third period. When the bell rang and the rest of the students at Hayward gloomily trudged off to their teacher-led classes, I skipped off happily wherever I wished.
Sometimes I went to the library. More often I headed off to the parking lot to find Dave Costa or someone else who didn’t have class that period and who wanted to grab a bite at Quarter Pounder or create some other mischief off campus. Needless to say, I screwed around a lot in my independent study class. This would come as no shock to Mr. Berndt, who surely would have expected it. But I also read a lot during that time. And I wrote. I wrote about a writing hero of mine, George Orwell, and his book, Homage to Catalonia, about the Spanish Civil War. I wrote about my adventures as a pearl diver at Banchero’s Restaurant (memories of which can be found in this post and that one), and I wrote another longer piece about a forty-mile, late winter snowshoe trip I took to Ten Lakes in the Yosemite wilderness with Gordy Kulis, Tom Coopman and Allan Plougher. A few days after I turned in the Yosemite piece Mr. Berndt approached me and said, “I enjoyed my trip to Ten Lakes.”
The class in an inadvertent way-inadvertent to me, though not to Mr. Berndt, I’m sure-taught me a little about managing my time and a little about responsibility, and I’ve never forgotten the trust he placed in me.
Steve Bragonier, a successful Silicon Valley financial executive who has worked at Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, and other firms, was also a student of Mr. Berndt’s. “He was my teacher and my counselor,” Steve wrote me after hearing about his death. “I felt lucky to be in his class. He guided me to junior college and then on to Stanford rather than going straight to a state college. I’m not sure why he did that (probably my maturity level) but it was good advice in retrospect. I remember he had us keep a journal when we were freshmen. We also kept a journal when we were seniors. Sometime during our senior year he gave us both journals so we could see how much we had changed and matured in four years. I wish I had that journal to read today.”
No doubt many other students of Mr. Berndt’s could tell similar stories of how he had influenced them. That’s the way it is with teachers; they change lives. I am sure that if a service had been held to mark his passing, and all the students he had helped in his years of teaching had shown up, every seat in the place would have been filled and there would have been lines of people stretching for blocks outside. This is probably true of every teacher, the good ones anyhow.
Donations may be made in his memory to the Hayward Public Library, Stanford School of Education, Oakland Museum of California, and the Nature Conservancy, all causes and institutions Mr. Berndt believed in.