Loved ones reflect on cherished Opal

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Loved ones reflect on cherished OpalFriends and family of longtime resident Opal Goode were dismayed last week when, after celebrating her status as one of the longest-living Americans, she perished Sept. 17 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

“In June my mother celebrated her 112th birthday with a lovely luncheon at High Desert Haven and a lavish party at Bank of America,” said her daughter, Cheryl Bernhardi. “She was interviewed by ABC and CBS and was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. At that time, she was the oldest person in California.”

On Aug. 13 Opal was riding in a vehicle at the intersection of Norma Street and Ridgecrest Boulevard. The driver of another vehicle apparently ran a light, totaling the car and injuring Goode in the process.

“Our sincere appreciation goes to staffs of Urgent Care and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, the caring people from Hospice and the loving care provided by the staff of High Desert Haven,” said Cheryl.

Opal was born June 6, 1907, in Oklahoma Indian Territory (before the region had even achieved statehood). She moved to Bakersfield in 1928 and later to our valley, where her husband accepted a job at China Lake. Opal went to work as a teller at Bank of America in 1946, and spent 20 years there, retiring as a manager.

As Opal continued to progress in years, her loved ones remarked that she maintained her grace, wit and congeniality along the way. The more milestones she passed, the more attention she garnered. Opal shared her story freely with all who asked, but offered wisdom to accompany it — the secret to “old age” is gratitude; and don’t put off the things you want to do in life.

Opal continued to drive well past 100 years of age, and lived on her own until the last few years, when she lived at High Desert Haven.

Most often, when she was seen around town, she was accompanied by her daughter, Cheryl.

In addition to Cheryl and husband, Bruce, Opal is survived by grandchildren Kim and Gary Burke and Rob and Jana Bernhardi; six great-grandchildren; and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

Opal also leaves behind a host of friends who made a point of regularly visiting with her. Among these are Jo Stevens — another fixture in local history who passed the 100-year milestone a few years ago.

But Opal was loved by many younger generations, as well. Charlotte Ostermann noted that all of her grandchildren were fond of Opal.

“Hannah and Sara used to play for her when she lived on Monterey Street, then they would go up and play their violins for her after she moved into High Desert Haven,” said Charlotte.

She recalled a memorable piece of advice Opal offered to her granddaughter, Leah, before she moved to college. “She said, ‘Just say no! When you get into difficult situations — just say no!’ Leah always remembered that, and I thought it was pretty priceless.”

All of her grandchildren were devastated to hear of Opal’s passing, Charlotte said.

“She was just so caring and invested in other people. Not about herself at all. She remembered everyone’s names, she always asked how they were doing, and the girls just loved to hear her stories.”

John Cosner recalled how he and Opal would always talk about their shared birthday — what special traditions they enjoyed, how they hoped to spend the next.

“Opal always effused kindness, and found great joy in all the things around her,” said Cosner.

“She had a way of helping you feel so appreciated. You wanted to talk to her just to see her smile or hear her chuckle. She had a genuine interest and intense kinship she shared with people that made each encounter worthwhile.”

He recalled being introduced to Opal by Cheryl, “who happened to be one of the best teachers in my childhood.” He said that Opal personified the Biblical principal of judging a tree by the fruit it bears.

“Cheryl helped inculcate wonderful values through my education and exemplified important characteristics like diligence, intelligence and kindness. I imagine much of this came from Opal.”

John and Opal later became friends, always exchanging embraces and family updates whenever they met. “I find some small solace in knowing the world has been made a kinder place for her having left an imprint on the hearts of so many.”

Pat Farris, another longtime resident, said Opal reminded her of many of the early China Lakers who invested their lives into building our community into what it is today.

“Opal expressed many times her values of God, family and country. That spirit prevails in our community today. She imparted those values to her daughter, Cheryl, who was a teacher in our community for many years, and her son-in-law, Bruce, who also invested those values as a coach.”

The young people whose lives they touched continue to carry out that family legacy, she said.

“I believe Opal will be blessed because of the seeds she sowed during her lifetime, which will continue to bear fruit in the lives of many,” said Farris.

A graveside service will be held Monday, Sept. 30, at Greenlawn Cemetery in Bakersfield. Friends and family are invited to meet at Lugo’s Grill in Ridgecrest at 1:30 p.m.

Pictured: Opal Goode and her daughter, Cheryl Bernhardi. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-09-27