Bernice: Volunteer extraordinaire

    2013 Cobblestone Grand Marshal – Bernice Kopetzky, left, served as a public school teacher for 30 years. Since her retirement, she has worked at FC Sacred Heart as a volunteer with a reading program that she initiated. At the right is Cobblestone Parade Director Lori Gottula. Photo by Jim Langan.

Bernice Kopetzky, a retired teacher and current volunteer extraordinaire, will serve as the Grand Marshal of the 2013 Cobblestone parade.  According to parade director Lori Gottula, Bernice was selected by a panel of judges who definitely had their work cut out for them this year.

The panel is comprised of parade volunteers, plus at-large members of the community.  “That way, the panel is different every year,” Gottula said, “and it’s never the same group making the decision.”  (Lori has never voted on the panel herself.  She only organizes the vote.)

Bernice Kopetzky, who was nominated by Bev Kimmel and Kim and Kris Vrtiska, served as a public school teacher for 30 years, three of those in a rural school system, and 27 as a special education teacher for Falls City Public Schools.  Since her retirement, she has worked at Falls City Sacred Heart as a volunteer with a reading program that she initiated.

Sixteen years ago, she started Rescue Reading, which is a one-on-one reading program for kids in kindergarten through the third grade.  Bernice and her troop of volunteers work with kids who are struggling to read, teaching them phonics-based reading skills.  Her program has been so successful that, three years ago, she received national recognition from a group called Retired School Personnel, and got to travel to Washington, D.C. to receive the award.

However, the real work is done on a daily basis when Bernice walks into Sacred Heart at 8 a.m. to work with kids who need help reading.  (She leaves at 10:30.)  That time is reserved for her and her students.  (She also has volunteers who assist.)

Bernice started another program in Falls City years ago, too — one called RESPITE Care.  In its initial stages, RESPITE Care volunteers relieved caregivers for a few hours each week so the caregivers could run errands or simply get away for a while.  Although that purpose continues for the group, the volunteers now also offer transportation for cancer victims who need to go out of town for radiation treatments, kidney dialysis or other medical treatments.  In addition, RESPITE volunteers (which number around 30), will help with any legitimate need that a person has.  (Just call Bernice at 402-245-3444.)

As if those volunteer jobs weren’t enough, Bernice has also served as a church organist for 71 years, with 60 of those as the organist/choir director/music organizer at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Falls City.  She not only directs the choir and plays the organ for one of the weekend masses, she also schedules the other organists, as well as all of the cantors and other musicians, for every mass service.

Bernice has also served as a blood donor, co-president of the Retired Teacher’s Association, president of Catholic Daughters (a church circle at Sts. Peter and Paul), a campaign volunteer and as a member of the Red Hat Society.

One of Bernice’s most enjoyable pleasures, though, is giving away produce that she has grown in her garden.

Bernice’s backyard is a paradise, with flower gardens galore and vegetables and fruit in abundance.   Every day throughout the summer, she tends to all of it.

“I can’t walk very well,” she said in a recent interview, “but I can crawl just fine.”  And all of her neighbors reap the bounty.  She picks vegetables several times a week and gives the produce to neighbors.  On the weekends, she takes boxes full of vegetables to the church and distributes them to those who don’t have gardens.  All for free.

“The exercise keeps me moving,” she said.  And so does her volunteer work.

Like most who deserve honors and awards, Bernice is quick to point out that she couldn’t do all she does without help.

“The other volunteers deserve the recognition,” she said.  “All I do is get people to do things for me.”

Well, Bernice, that is known as leadership.

Bernice, who is a widow, has five sons, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.  And every one of them should be proud when Bernice rides through the parade on Aug. 24th as the 2013 Grand Marshal.




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