By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
Your Subtitle text

Wealth of humor, memories makes a good life

Photo by Joseph Garcia: Bernice Briggs knits caps, blankets and booties that are donated to the child cancer ward at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. Briggs and others in a knitting group meet every Thursday at Help of Ojai.

March 10, 2008/Ventura County Star

At 95 years old, Bernice Briggs continues to draw her happiness from a life lived to the fullest.

"I've done most of the things I've wanted to do," the Ojai senior said. "I am happy, and I've always had a sense of humor."

It has indeed been a life rich in comforts and experience; it is a pleasure for her to look back.

An only child, she was born in 1913 in Minneapolis, in the same hospital as her father — "but not at the same time," she joked.

After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Minnesota, where she earned a master's in education.

"I couldn't find a job teaching, so I went into public utilities and worked for the gas company in Minnesota," she recalled.

When she got married at 26 to her husband, Clarence, "I had to quit my job because those were the rules in those days," she said.

From Minneapolis, the couple moved to New Orleans, where Clarence found work as a salesman. In 1945, they had twin boys, Lawrence and Leonard.

"We didn't like the humidity in New Orleans," Briggs said. "We felt it was no place to raise children."

In 1947, the family came to Los Angeles and bought a home in Baldwin Park. Clarence took a job in sales, and she found work with Southern California Edison, where she remained for 28 years.

They stayed in Baldwin Park until 1955 and moved to South Pasadena into a 5,000-square-foot home. It was there that the couple began their antique car collection, which grew and changed over many years.

"We had a 1932 Rolls-Royce, five Cadillac limousines, a custom Lincoln Cadillac. I have no idea how many we had over the years," Briggs said. "We had so many at one time, we had a car show."

At the time, their Rolls-Royce was worth $22,000 — and they bought it for $600.

"Now it's priceless," she said. "My son Leonard has it."

They had so many collectibles, one day Briggs declared: "No more cars!" But she came home one night and saw another automobile. When she went into the house to confront her husband, she saw the gift he bought for her: an antique Civil War dresser.

"I said, Is this a peace offering?' " Briggs recalled with a laugh.

After the couple retired and their sons were grown, they sold their house in Pasadena and moved to Tahiti in French Polynesia in 1980.

"Clarence had heard about the South Seas," Briggs said. "At the time, you could go for about $300."

For nearly 20 years, they lived in Tahiti, until Clarence died in 1997 after 57 years of marriage.

"He died in my arms. He was buried in Tahiti," said Briggs, who has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. "I stayed for two years after he died, but it was too isolated."

In December 2000, she relocated to a mobile home park in Ojai; she moved in June to the Gables of Ojai senior living community, where her favorite hobbies are knitting and crocheting, skills she learned when she was 8.

Once a week, she makes caps and blankets with a sewing circle of senior volunteers at Help of Ojai, which donates the goods to the child cancer ward at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara.

Briggs' positive attitude is an inspiration to everyone around her, said Kathleen Tarrats, director of the Retired Senior & Volunteer Program at Help of Ojai.

"She likes to have fun, and she's willing to try anything," said Tarrats, highlighting the time when Help of Ojai put on a senior fashion show.

"She wore a tutu. We had her on top of the grand piano and she was so cute," Tarrats recalled. "We could dress her up in anything and she would just go for it. I hope to have that kind of an attitude when I'm her age."

Briggs' fun personality, sense of humor and sharp mind are apparent in her golden years, Tarrats added.

"She has her own aches and pains, but she knows that's the way of life and she just keeps being positive," Tarrats said. "She's her own self, and she doesn't have to change for anyone. People accept her for who she is."

Lisa Meeker, director of West Campus at Help of Ojai, said Briggs is a regular who always arrives with a smile.

"What makes Bernice unique is her willingness to share knowledge and skills, and her incredibly strong sense of humor," Meeker said. "She has been one of the many reasons that I love working with Help of Ojai. She makes me feel great to be present."

Website Builder