Oct. 17, 2006
Ramona Bernhard, Western Michigan University's first lady for 11 years and widow of WMU's fourth president, died Oct. 13 in Kalamazoo. She was 86.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, in the Bernhard Center Ballroom on the WMU campus. The center is named for President Bernhard. The family has suggested memorial donations be made to the WMU College of Fine Arts and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League.
Ramona Bailey was born in Logan, Utah, in 1920. She married John T. Bernhard in 1941 and came to Kalamazoo in 1974 when her husband became WMU's president. When he retired from the presidency in 1985, the couple opted to stay in Kalamazoo and were active in the community, particularly in area arts organizations. John Bernhard died in January 2004.
The couple met while both were attending Utah State University. They were married for 62 years, and she is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
While at WMU the pair was widely regarded as a team. Among her accomplishments at the University was her coordination of a $186,000 fund-raising campaign to decorate and maintain the WMU's historic home, the Oaklands, which now serves as a guest residence for the University.
During her husband's presidency, she helped create the "President's Preview"--now known as the "President's Performance"--an annual dinner-theatre fund-raising event for theatre scholarships. She served as one of the first board members of the Plaza Arts Circle in 1982, and chaired the circle's annual Kalamazoo Showcase for several years.
The Bernhards remained active in supporting the arts on campus and in the community following President Bernhard's retirement. In the early 1990s, they served as co-chairs of the University's $6-million campaign for the Gilmore Theatre Complex.
In 1993, she and John Bernhard shared the Theodore Cooper Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. They were credited with being "leaders in the arts community" and were lauded for their service as volunteers with the performing an visual arts, including the Kalamazoo Civic Player, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Gilmore Keyboard Festival and the Mad Hatters.
In 2002, she was honored as Volunteer of the Year by the WMU Foundation. The award was based on her contributions as a member of the College of Fine Arts Development Advisory Committee. She was instrumental in creating a series of "salons"--receptions based on an 18th century European tradition, which were hosted in private homes and featured performances and works of art by fine arts students and faculty members.
She also was an early advocate and active fundraiser for Gold Company, the University's internationally recognized vocal jazz ensemble, formed in 1978. In addition, she served on the boards of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League, and served a two-year term as president of the latter organization.
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