Bernadette Marie Mayer


Bernadette Marie Mayer Obituary
First she taught her own children, later she would teach hundreds more, to view the world through a prism of wonder, curiosity, empathy and beauty.
Bernadette Marie Mayer, a traditional mother who raised six children before breaking free of expectations in mid-life to earn a college degree, launch a teaching career and set an example for generations to come, died Friday at her home in Bakersfield. She was 87.
The daughter of Louis Blanchard, a plumber by trade, and Hannah Murdoch Blanchard, Bernadette was the youngest of 10 children. A lifelong Catholic, she studied her Bible in the ardent belief that it held the answers to most of life's questions. Only her Shakespeare book, her second Bible, some say, was as dog-eared as the Holy Bible, filled with underscored passages and notes scribbled in the margins.
Bernadette never stopped living as a student, even after becoming a teacher. In her final days, surrounded at home by three generations of loved ones, she continued to teach by example.
Born in Seattle in 1926, Bernadette was still a toddler when the Crash of '29 ushered in America's Great Depression. A dozen years later, her 15th birthday was all but forgotten as it fell on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese Navy launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor.
Later she met and fell in love with World War II Army veteran Donald Mayer. The couple married in 1946 and soon began building a family. Thanks to the GI Bill and a lot of hard work, Don would earn a degree from Arizona State College. The young couple moved in the early 1950s from Arizona to Bakersfield, where Bernadette's husband would embark on a 38-year career as an educator.
Somehow, on a teacher's salary, Bernadette fed and clothed four daughters and two sons. Her love of art, literature and music was always evident.
Although she had little disposable income for books, art and records, Bernadette often had great novels around the house and classical music, opera or Broadway musicals playing on the hi-fi.
The books, the music, even the framed prints of Van Gogh and Matisse hanging on the walls were borrowed from the Kern County Library, a magical place with which her children became intimately familiar from an early age.
After the children became old enough, she began to supplement her education by attending night classes. In 1972, at the age of 45, Bernadette earned a bachelor's degree in English as part of the first graduating class of Cal State Bakersfield. One of her sons-in-law graduated with her that day.
Bernadette taught at St. Francis School and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Countless children and colleagues benefitted from her wisdom tempered by her humility and love.
At home and on family camping trips to Sequoia National Park, Yosemite or Carpinteria, everything everywhere was a teachable moment. On more than one occasion, she elicited a chorus of groans from her children as she and her husband seemed to stop at every state historical marker and point of interest along the way.
As one story has it, after entering a forest of redwoods during a family trip, Bernadette was so overcome by the beauty surrounding her that she asked her husband to stop the car. In thrall to the miracle of nature -- and likely to the embarrassment of her children -- she walked up to a stately redwood and tried to wrap her arms around its massive trunk. On that day, Bernadette may have become the world's first tree-hugger.
In 1989, now a grandmother several times over, Bernadette entered a third chapter in her life following her husband's sudden death. Although she was now in her early 60s, Bernadette was able to travel - to Italy, Russia, Austria and other parts of the world. While she never remarried, she was able to continue her education and experience.
Some may ask: Who in her right mind would begin taking piano lessons in her retirement years? Someone who believes that learning must never stop.
While she could never afford a piano or lessons in the days when money was tight, now Bernadette believed it was time to learn how to play. Once she made the commitment, she practiced her piano nearly every day for the rest of her life.
Ever the student. Ever the teacher. Her lessons continue.
Bernadette was preceded in death by her parents, two brothers, five sisters and her husband.
She is survived by two sisters, Irene Dufort and Dorothy Neal; children Lizabeth Horton; Patricia Ouellette; Paula (and Ken) Woodard; Ann (and Craig) Kyles; Steven (and Brenda) Mayer; Philip (and Patricia) Mayer; 15 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and many other loving relatives and friends.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. April 2, at St. Philip the Apostle Church.
Published in Bakersfield Californian on Apr. 1, 2014
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