A Celebration of Life will be held for Mrs. Bernice Ailene Oakley at Alden Lane nursery in Livermore from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12. Bernice passed away on Aug. 16, 2019, at her home in the presence of her family. She is survived by her children Renee, Charles and Craig, as well as four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Bernice came from adventurous stock. Her mother, Bessie Lowder, was born in a sod house in Kansas, dreamed of moving West, and later worked as a Harvey Girl in Arizona. This led to working for the Wrigley family at the iconic Huntington Hotel in Pasadena and then at the Wrigley hotel on Catalina Island. Bernice’s father, Edwin Reeder, moved West from Missouri, to join Bessie and they were married in Riverside, CA. They bought a house in Alhambra, and Bernice was born on Jan. 4, 1925, at Benedict hospital in Hollywood.
The early years of the depression weren’t difficult. Bernice took dance lessons twice a week and the family could go to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert once a month. In 1932, there was a 6.4 earthquake in Long Beach, which caused her schooling to be transferred into tents until repairs were completed.
Starting in the 8th grade, Bernice would help her father work in the grocery store on weekends. The advantage of working in a store, of course, was that you can take home the produce that no longer looks good enough to sell. As a teenager, Bernice worked at the A & P market after school and at Van de Kamps in San Marino on Saturdays, taking the street car to get there.
High school found Bernice joining the pep squad and numerous clubs. She enrolled in more than one language class. She loved the theater and performed in plays throughout grammar school and high school. She graduated from Alhambra High School in 1943, six years after Hillary Clinton’s mother and a year after comedian Stan Freberg.
She attended Pasadena Junior College, now Pasadena City College, getting there by street car. She enjoyed her geology class, particularly the field trip to Walker Pass, which gained notoriety last Spring for the magnificent poppy bloom. Bernice continued her interest in drama, performing in theater groups and light opera companies. She was active in Native Daughters of the Golden West. The war years kept Bernice busy. She performed in revues for the USO in San Pedro and Hollywood, arriving by limousine. She worked at Voltee Aircraft as a Rosie the Riveter making airplanes for the war.
Graduating from Pasadena Junior College in 1946, Bernice got a job with the business office of the Bell Telephone Company where she worked for 8 years. She was in the Air Force Reserve from 1949 until 1953. In 1952, she attended a dance at Cal Tech, where she met David Oakley. She enjoyed his company, but she didn’t get a call from him for about a month, partly because he went home to Marysville on spring break and partly because he couldn’t remember her name. Fortunately, he remembered her phone number and with a graduate student’s determination and attention to detail he was able to discover who she was by cross-referencing through the phone book. Their first date was to a chamber music concert. David started to propose to her on May 27, but she got the giggles. He tried again on May 31 and she cried. David wasn’t sure at first what kind of an answer that was. They were married on July 19, 1952. Bernice continued to work for the phone company while David completed his PhD. He was hired at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and they moved to Livermore in August 1954.
Bernice continued to be involved with numerous organizations. Along with other new mothers in her neighborhood in Livermore, she created a cooperative playschool, enabling each mother to have some time to work and pursue their interests without worrying about their children. She and David were early members of the Cask and Mask theater group and they participated in Dale Carnegie. She joined the League of Women Voters, organizing Candidates Nights and conducting studies of issues of local and statewide concern to provide input to legislators and voters. She was on the State Board of the League of Women Voters. She was a Girl Scout leader for many years. After the family moved to Pleasanton, she was a 4-H leader for projects as diverse as Entomology, Vegetable Gardening and Gourmet Cooking. She also served on a BART Advisory Board while BART was still in the planning stages.
The family moved to Virginia for 3 years in 1973 and she found plenty to do there. She continued with League of Women Voters and was on the study group for the Washington DC Metro Transit. She became a docent at the historic home of the “Lighthorse” Harry Lee and Robert E. Lee families. She volunteered at the Executive Office in Washington, D.C. with many others to address birthday cards and Christmas cards for the president of the United States.
Bernice was a founding member of the Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club, arranging garden tours for club members, and serving as club historian. She became a Master Gardener, offering solutions and giving advice to fairgoers every year. With a few other friends, Bernice learned all about the gardens at the Filoli Estate in Woodside and conducted tours there. She read a wide variety of books in her Book Club. As a classical music enthusiast, she enjoyed attending local concerts and operas, including the live broadcasts from the Met in movie theaters. She often hosted dinner parties and liked getting together with family and friends. She was generous with her time, often asking friends “What can I do to help?” before they even realized they needed help.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hope Hospice or the Arthritis Foundation.