by Michael Feuling '07
Who knew you could learn so much about life, love, and happiness while riding a bike dressed in Spandex and eating Cliff bars? I quickly found this to be true by having the honor and privilege of riding with Dr. Hank Bersani, a professor of special education here at WOU. On March 31 Hank was tragically killed while riding his bike, something he loved to do, but while he is gone his legacy lives on.
I used think that I was the only crazy person who put on the Spandex, wore the clip-in shoes, and had the fancy expensive bike, but I was wrong. Hank had a garage that was full of those fancy bikes that he loved to work on. What was even more impressive was the fact that Hank taught himself from a book on how to repair and maintain the bikes he owned. For fellow cyclists out there, you know bike repair can be very difficult and time consuming.
I rode many miles with Hank last summer and little did I know then how much I would cherish those rides today. I learned a lot about what living life to the fullest means—and about how to do that—from a man who exemplified loving life. He cared very much for people with special needs and would even fly some of those individuals out and show them a fun week here in Oregon. I will never forget the smile and joy Hank had on his face when he introduced me to his friend, Pete, who flew out from New York.
Hank and I quickly became a great team; in fact we labeled ourselves “Team WOU.” I would set the pace and block the dreaded head wind, while Hank was the navigator and team leader. We would set out not to race or break any records, but instead wave to the farm animals, which Hank loved to do, and explore the many great cycling roads here in the Willamette Valley. While riding with Hank there was never a dull moment, and time would fly by regardless of how many miles we traveled, hills we climbed, or how fast we rode.
Pictured at left: Team "WOU": Linda Bersani, Michael Feuling and Kara Gournaris
His caring and compassion toward others, and his certainty that no problem in the world is too big to overcome, was something that I craved. In the everyday hustle and bustle we can lose a sense of what is really important in life. From Hank I learned it’s not the big-time job, money, or cars that most people crave, but rather the simple things in life that really matter: such as friends, family, and to live life the way you want to, regardless of what others may think.
Following the days after his passing, I connected with one of his other cycling companions, a professor here at WOU, as we started to discuss a way to properly honor Hank with cycling. It shocked us both when we started talking and finding out just how many people here on campus that Hank connected with and rode with. It is amazing to me that one individual, even after he is gone, can still unite individuals for a common theme. But then again I’m not surprised because that is how Hank lived; bringing people together to enjoy life to the fullest.
Hank was a fantastic friend, husband, father, and professor and will be missed tremendously by all who knew him. I will miss being able to talk with him about the Tour De France, the latest cycling gear, but most of all the lessons learned from him while we rode together. Although he is gone, I will never have to worry about riding alone, as I know every time I set out to ride I have Hank riding right next to me, waving to the animals and leading me on my ride and in life.
"Spring term is usually a bright and uplifting term for me, but this year will be very different. I mostly knew Dr. Hank Bersani because of our mutual love of the bike, but I also knew he was a very gifted Educator. He spoke and rode with a passion for life, and inspired me toward an even greater love of the outdoors. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and now that I read his lengthy list of accomplishments and awards, I realize even more that he was one in a million. I know he was very streetwise, and that makes this tragedy almost impossible to believe. His legacy will live on in all of our hearts, and once again I am reminded to cherish each and every day...my condolences to his family and loved ones."
"I loved this man. Hank and I had the liveliest conversations on everything from wine and the best way to fillet a salmon to heart-rates, poetry and the nature of human consciousness. As a professor he could be fiercely independent and irreverent of those old institutional forces that kept “things in their place,” as he once described it. “I’m going to open the drawers and toss some things around,” he said. As an advocate for people with disabilities he was a maverick and a champion, but he was also a selfless team player at a university he loved and where he believed “much good was achieved.” And no one was more of a peacemaker and gentle counselor when those graces were needed most. I turned to Hank for advice when tensions flared between the colleges of Education and Liberal Arts and Sciences—tensions that affected my professional and personal life—and he told me to “listen and listen some more, before doing anything.” I draw often on this useful wisdom. Hank Bersani was so smart, active, funny, kind, patient–just a wonderful human being. God, I will miss him. Our deepest condolences go out to lovely Lynda and their children."
"The world is now void of a very inspiring and amazing individual. Dr. Bersani was so passionate about everything he believed in and taught. He taught me a lot of content over the three years I had him as a professor, but more importantly he asked me to think and refine who I was as an individual. He taught me to always ask questions and do what I believed to be right even if it was not the popular choice."
"I truly admired all of my professors in my grad program at WOU, and Hank was no exception. I loved his sense of humor and have aspired to emulate his engaging teaching style when I give presentations to colleagues. I remember he had a sign on his office door that read “Notice my (dis)ABILITY.” That is how I will always remember him - a passionate advocate, engaging storyteller, hilarious lecturer, and role model for others. Blessings to the Bersani family and WOU staff, you are in my prayers!"
Joy Bergstrom Brown
"I had the great pleasure of sharing a hallway and an office wall with Hank Bersani for several years at work. I got to see and hear first hand the compassion he had for his students and the passion he had for teaching. He was an AMAZING supporter for special education rights. He had a great sense of humor. Hank touched many lives and words cannot convey how much he will be missed. My prayers go out to his family, friends, colleagues and students in this time of sorrow."