Colleen Berninger was often the first person to greet APSE conference attendees at the registration desk each summer. Whether you were a newcomer or a veteran, Colleen’s bright smile and warm Southern hello made you feel special.
For 11 years, she was at the side of her husband, Jack, APSE’s executive director at the time, performing any task to help make the national conference a success and to ensure that everyone felt welcome. For those efforts, Colleen was honored by APSE with the Jack Berninger Award for service in 2018 (pictured above). The award so caught her by surprise that she was almost speechless at the podium while accepting. But her wide smile showed her appreciation.
Colleen died at age 75 on March 14 after a brief battle with cancer.
“Jack Berninger was and is an indispensable part of APSE,” said Mike Sherman, a former APSE president. “He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make our events and gatherings a success, and none of that could have happened without Colleen. She was the friendly face at the registration table for newcomers and the encouraging presence for new officers.”
Recalled Terri Thompson, journalist and former managing editor for sports at the New York Daily News: “Back when I first started attending APSE judging conventions, Colleen and I were among the few women in attendance. She was always the first person to greet me, and she made me feel so welcome and so happy to be there. I looked forward to catching up with her every year, laughing and talking about life, its absurdities and its delights.”
Colleen was born and raised in Richmond and attended Douglas Freeman High School. She was a member of the first graduating class of newly named Virginia Commonwealth University. She taught elementary school in Henrico County for six years, then was a much sought-after substitute for 20 more years.
Colleen was a longtime member of the Tuckahoe Women’s Club, the Richmond Wine Society and The Richmond Gentry.
She belonged to three bridge clubs and attended weekly social gatherings with other groups. Colleen’s love and focus of her family, especially her two grandsons, is legendary. Beyond family, her faith was uppermost in her mind. She started attending Trinity United Methodist Church as a 3-year-old and was a visible and volunteering member of Trinity until she was no longer able to in January.
And then there was APSE. Members could seldom mention Jack’s name without including Colleen’s. They were married 50 years and were inseparable at APSE events.
“She and Jack were a team in the truest sense of the word,” said Bill Eichenberger, APSE’s executive director. “APSE won’t be the same without her.’’
Added Thompson: “As Jack wrote in his note about losing his wife — ‘her light was as bright as any star in the sky.’ May it continue to shine on all who had the pleasure to know her.”
Some information for this story was obtained from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. You can read Colleen’s obituary here.