Nevers Are Hard: Unexpected Death of Colleague Puts Things in Perspective

A favorite author of mine, Mark Twain, once uttered a quote that rings truer — and louder, as I get older — each year: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”


There’s more to it than I have room for here, and I encourage you to read it. But my point is, there are people I have talked to all over this great nation — and world for that matter — that I miss even though some I never met face to face. A couple I did chat with via video, thanks to today’s stupendous tech, and that makes it all the more poignant.

We can’t be everywhere, true, but fortunately I’ve been able to have contact with many of you at industry events. But I always missed Bernadine Strik for some reason. A dynamo at Oregon State University (OSU) who wore a number of hats in her career: breeder, researcher, teacher, and from the comments I received from her colleagues, she did all of them well.

Despite the fact I interviewed her several times through the years for various stories, we never did meet face to face. And now, because of the nature of my job, I’ve learned quite a bit about her since her death, and that makes me regret never meeting her all the more.

When I learned of Bernadine’s passing back in April, her colleagues in the Pacific Northwest sent in so many photos, I prepared a slideshow tribute on and solicited comments (see slideshow above). They were overwhelming in the love and deep respect they held for Bernadine, who clearly loved her job.

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Besides the photos and heartfelt tribute, David Bryla, USDA Research Horticulturist in Corvallis, OR, home to OSU, sent me an interview Bernadine did in 2015 for the OSU Sesquicentennial Oral History Project marking the university’s 150th anniversary.

Interestingly enough, Bernadine, despite having two parents with horticultural backgrounds, didn’t intend to enter the field when she enrolled as a 17-year-old freshman at University of Victoria, in British Columbia, where she was raised. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so she took a wide range of classes. One changed her life, and she detailed the experience in the interview, a fascinating peek into how her professional life blossomed. She understood the impact one special teacher could have.

“I took a botany class that just turned my crank. And it did because the professor was the most inspiring professor, and Dr. (David) Ballantyne is now retired, we still keep in touch. And he got me so excited about plants and research, and obviously more than the practical, because at home I had the practical side,” Bernadine related.

“But he got me excited about whole plant physiology and plant structure and function, and he actually offered me an opportunity to do an undergraduate thesis, because he thought I had potential for doing research. And he was a hobby scientist too, breeding rhododendron, and he still does in his backyard. And he was the one who encouraged me to really switch my focus to plants. He basically injected me with that passion.”

She took that passion and carried it with her throughout her life. John Clark, our senior berry columnist, sent me the following comment upon Bernadine’s passing.

“There was never anyone I met that had the understanding of small fruit plants and their physiology and cultural management that Dr. Bernadine Strik commanded. She was the best. What an impact she made, and a tremendous life she lived.”

I would have liked to have witnessed that passion in person, and I always thought “Next time.” My advice: Pick up the phone and reach out. Make sure “next time” happens.