Column - August 24, 2007
Bill Berck: Still helping others after years as superintendent
by Jeb Bing
It's hard to recall all the schools and organizations former Pleasanton School Superintendent Bill Berck has served, but he's not done yet. In fact, at age 76, Berck tells us he's just starting. Tomorrow night, he leaves on a red eye for Honduras with eight others from the city's Downtown Rotary Club to deliver 80 wheelchairs. Downtown Rotary has now delivered more than 2,500 wheelchairs to Mexico and Central America.
This trip comes on the heels of Berck's work with Volunteers in Missions a few weeks ago with Pleasanton's Lynnewood Methodist and San Ramon Valley United Methodist churches. He spent 10 days in Guatemala with 18 other volunteers working in a rural medical clinic and making building repairs, including a trip to a remote Mayan Indian village to help provide needed health care. In October, Berck will go to Africa for 10 days as a volunteer with Heart For Africa on a mission to help orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS.
Working with children comes naturally for Burke, whose career as a teacher and school superintendent dates back to the 1960s. A graduate of the College of the Pacific, Berck spent the first 15 years as a teacher and school principal in the Lincoln Unified School District in north Stockton. From there, he was hired as superintendent of schools in San Gabriel in Southern California, moving later to the superintendent's post in Moreno Valley near Riverside. Six years later, in 1978, he was tapped to become superintendent of Pleasanton schools, serving as superintendent both of the Amador High School District, which included Dublin High, and also the Pleasanton elementary school district. For the last eight years, until he retired in 1992, Berck was the Alameda County superintendent of schools. One of the major differences in the two jobs, Berck says, is that a school superintendent is constantly badgered by parents who want better schools and programs for their children; a county superintendent, on the other hand, continually faces school superintendents who want help in running and funding their schools.
Berck and his wife Dee met at the Hayward Methodist Church, married in 1951, and shared the joy of raising their two daughters Susan and Linda. Both of them were avid contributors to local organizations, worked tirelessly to restore antiques and their home and enjoyed traveling. Dee suffered a stroke in 2000, but that didn't stop their travels, taking eight major cruises and traveling more than 50,000 miles in a large RV that accommodated her wheelchair. Dee died earlier this year in March and Bill Berck has resumed traveling, going to the many places in the world she had hoped to go before time ran out.
He also learned many of his wife's well-known gourmet cooking skills and became a respected chef on his own when Dee's disability kept her out of the kitchen. Even today, those fortunate enough to be invited to a home-cooked meal at Berck's restored home on Cheshire Court marvel at his culinary talents.
As a school superintendent, Berck was frequently drafted to serve on a number of boards, foundations and commissions, including the YMCA, Scouts, Campfire Girls and fundraisers. When the workday ended, even after late night meetings, there was always time for another of his passions: bridge. Card players regard him as one of the best.
On a recent cruise he took with friends, Berck's skills caught the eye of the ship's captain, who invited him to assist the official bridge director on several upcoming cruises. He'll lead the bridge games on a 38-day cruise leaving Hawaii in December for the South Pacific, and several other cruises next year in the Baltics, Mediterranean and North Africa. If you want to join Berck at one of his bridge tables, contact the Norwegian or Princess lines for reservations.