Reflecting on Bernice, other women like her

July 20, 2012 

A strong family usually has one person at the center as its heart.

The heart of the family doesn't have to be loud or flashy. Sometimes gentle kindness is the best source of cohesion and strength.

Gentle kindness was the spirit of Bernice Duni, who died last month at 87. She was the heart of an active, gracious Los Banos family.

Her husband, Amelio, also has many virtues, but he would be the first to acknowledge how much Bernice kept the Duni family together for the 65 years they were married.

I was fortunate to be Bernice and Amelio's neighbor for 25 years on Granada Circle. They lived two doors down, just past the home of Butch and Mary Woltman, another kind and friendly family.

I came to know the Dunis well. Their son Danny would often walk or stop by, brightening the neighborhood with his cheerful smile and positive approach to life.

The Dunis and the Spevaks were also connected by concurrent construction projects one spring. My brother-in-law Terry -- a carpenter, craftsman and contractor -- had come to convert the Spevak garage into a family room. While he was in Los Banos, he also put a new roof on the Duni home.

Spending time with the Dunis was always enjoyable. Amelio is engaging and outgoing, with a firm handshake and a strong voice.

Bernice was equally caring, but quieter. Someone visiting the Dunis for the first time might overlook her impact on the family. But the more I came to know Bernice, the more I realized how strong her impact was.

Bernice cared deeply for her husband, her sons, her daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She experienced hard times in her life, including the deaths of her sons Don and Ron. But she had exceptional faith, in her God and in life itself.

That faith enabled her to appreciate life, take great pleasure in her family, and create a warm and inviting home, an enjoyable place for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was the person around which the family revolved.

Bernice was also a wonderful neighbor. She was always interested in the Spevak family and how we all were doing. Whenever one or more of the Spevak kids would wander over to her house, she always welcomed them with a smile.

When I would take a walk around the block, if Bernice was in her front yard or near her front door, she'd ask, "John, how are you doing?" and we'd start a conversation. Often that conversation included Danny, her youngest son, of whom she was particularly proud.

There were many laughs during our conversations, and they were part of many pleasant afternoons and evenings. Her congeniality extended to everyone on the block, and she helped make Granada Circle a friendly neighborhood.

When my wife, Susan, was diagnosed with cancer, Bernice was especially consoling and encouraging to her and the entire Spevak family. She would bring to our house delicious home-cooked dishes made with skill and love.

Her faith helped sustain her and us, a faith that was an integral part of her life. She was an active member of St. Joseph's Parish, a member of both the Altar Society and the Society of Madonna del Carmine.

Losing the heart of a family is hard. Amelio and Danny, in particular, feel the loss of Bernice deeply. But they and all the extended Duni family also feel the spirit of Bernice uplifting them, the same spirit that supported them while she was on earth, a spirit that would not allow life to get her down and that kept her moving forward.

Reflecting on Bernice and all the good memories associated with her reminds me that we should all pay closer attention to people who radiate gentle kindness and strength like Bernice.

There are many people like Bernice in Los Banos, especially older women, who might be overlooked and underappreciated, because their serenity belies their strength.

Maybe there are people, dear reader, you know who are like Bernice. I encourage you to take a moment and tell them how much you respect and appreciate them.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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