Spotlight on Bernice Whitney
Bernice Whitney sits in the Puyallup Activity Center lounge, holding a paper cup of coffee with her festively decorated holiday nails. “They are my special treat,” she said after receiving a compliment. “I don’t know if I deserve it or not, but they are my splurge. I’ve known the gal at the nail salon for a long time now. I’ve seen her kids grow up, go to high school, and now university…I’m telling you, I’ve been around forever!” Bernice hasn’t been around forever, but she has been in Puyallup for more than six decades—enough time to witness some big changes around the city that is her beloved home.
Bernice moved to Puyallup in 1954 after several years of living in Tacoma. She hails originally from Little Falls, Minnesota, where some of her family still resides. It was the encouragement of her sister to “come see the Northwest” that brought Bernice and her parents out for a year-long visit to Washington. After a year, Bernice’s family moved back to Minnesota. A banking job in Tacoma brought Bernice back to Washington as a young 21-year old. When asked whether it was difficult to travel halfway across the country and start a new life on her own, she replied, “No, not really. You just do what you have to do on the journey life takes you.”
Bernice’s positive outlook remains with her today. She’s lived through a lot of changes—three children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren; the loss of a daughter to cancer, and the loss of her husband last March. It hasn’t been a pain-free journey, but Bernice continues to exude a positive attitude everywhere she goes. Bernice has volunteered for Mary Bridge Hospital, Celebrate Seniority, and Puyallup's own Activity Center. Bernice even started a clown group to bring joy to others at the Activity Center. Although she no longer volunteers at the Center, she still frequents it every week and is known by the staff as “one of the greatest greeters.”
When asked what brought her to Puyallup, Bernice said that it reminded her of her hometown in Minnesota: a small town with a railroad track running right through the middle of it. Bernice has lived in downtown Puyallup for over 60 years now, and “the friendliness of the people” is still her favorite part about her city. She looked across the street from the Activity Center at Pioneer Park. “We really have a fabulous downtown. There is so much to do down here.”
Bernice has seen many changes in Puyallup over the years. “I remember when the main streets ran two directions instead of just one way,” she recalled. One of her favorite places to go was called Nettie's. "It was an old restaurant that’s been gone for a long time now…an elegant place. A place that made you feel special when you went there. But that was forever ago.” Bernice laughed out loud, her smile stretching ear to ear. “I told you I’ve been around forever!”
Bernice’s forever presence in the community of Puyallup has not gone unnoticed. The very friendliness that she so cherishes about the people of Puyallup is exemplified perfectly in her own life. She is known and appreciated for engaging others, whether by listening intently to them or sharing a hug. Though she may not admit it, Bernice is making a huge difference every day in Puyallup.
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