Karen Bergeron, caring for the littlest Kenwoodians
Karen was born in Oakland and grew up with her parents in her grandparents’ home. Her father, Bill Ham, was waiting to buy a home of his own for one reason: he had moved too often in his childhood. His record was 17 different schools. He wanted Karen, and her three younger siblings to have one home. She becomes teary eyed as she remembers the way her father used to sign his cards. “You are loved by many, and I am one.” Loved by many...it’s small wonder.
Karen met her future husband, Jess Bergeron, on a double blind date with her sister. Jess and Karen fell in love, as did her sister with her date. Later, both Karen and her sister married their blind dates. Karen laughed jokingly, “Yes, that’s what we do in our family...we either marry our blind dates, or we have the same wedding anniversaries.”
In 1975, the year Karen had her first son, Jesse Jr., she and Jess moved from Oakland to Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood, where her grandparents, mother, aunt, uncle, cousins and siblings were living on one property. Brought from Oakland during the move, Karen’s “gram,” Dorthy Nilsson, planted seeds which still flourish along a large portion of Adobe Canyon Road.
In 1989, with two children, Jesse Jr. and Joel, Karen decided to start a daycare. She ran the daycare until 1995, when then-director of Kenwood Preschool Valerie Huntsberger approached her about working at the preschool, since Karen had nearly all of the preschoolers in her care already.
Karen loves her work with the Kenwood preschoolers. “From the first day of school each year, I see such a difference in the relationships of the children, and the social friendships that happen among them. Just seeing them grow, and learn how to love and respect each other – to become independent, and sure of themselves. And then, I’d say, on the last day of school, you just sit there and you just smile, because the growth of each child is so amazing. I would say that the first day of every school year and the last day of every school year, for 17 years, it’s just been awesome. It’s nice to have the summers off,” she finished, laughing. “I have no idea, but sometimes, when I’m driving to work, or coming home, I wonder how many times in my life have I driven down Randolph Avenue to the school?”
Flipping through her yearbook with pictures of her preschoolers, or, as she fondly calls them, her loves, she points out the field trips to the Kenwood Post Office and the Kenwood Fire Department, talking about the children with pride and noting their accomplishments during the past year.
It is obvious how much she cares about the children when she recalls what she named “The Kenwood Miracle.” Karen was driving her preschoolers home, taking a left turn onto Hwy. 12, when a car hit her van from behind. The van flipped once, landing in the middle of the highway, spinning three or four times. Karen was relieved to hear the children screaming, a sound that told her they were all alive. Although she was terrified at the time, she laughs as she remembers looking back into the van at the six children. All five little girls were wearing dresses, and as they were flipped upside down, it almost looked like five little umbrellas. The only injury that occurred happened to John DesRoches, who saw the accident and ran to the van, trying to pry open the windows to get to the children and hurting his hands in the attempt. The Kenwood Fire Department quickly arrived on the scene and gave each child a stuffed animal to hold while they were gently removed from the upside down vehicle. “They were just like angels to all of us, that wonderful crew.” Karen’s mother drove over from Oakmont, and later took her home after the children were safely delivered to their families. “I had to thank God. It was a real miracle,” Karen said. “It was just before Thanksgiving, and it was the best Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life. I don’t even want to think about what any of us would have gone through if...”
Overall, it’s been satisfying for Karen to see the results of 17 years at the school. She recently read the names of her first class of preschoolers in the Kenwood Press – except they aren’t preschoolers anymore. They are graduating from their four-year colleges and universities. Her grandson, Jesse III, is now enrolled at the Kenwood School – where his uncles and aunts went to school before him. Jesse III also has the same teachers that his uncles and aunts did – something that Karen feels is very special.
On the other hand, she laments that enrollment at the Kenwood Preschool is low, which she attributes that to the fact that few young families can afford to buy property within the Kenwood School district. She’s hopeful that enrollment will go up. But high enrollment or not, she appreciates and loves the families of Kenwood.
About 13 years after the birth of her second son, Joel, Karen realized that she wanted another baby. Or two. Three years later, Laura was born, and three years after that, Renee. Karen says that her greatest satisfaction has been in mothering her children, and in loving the children she has met and cared for in the Kenwood Preschool. On Aug. 11, Jess and Karen celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, along with their daughter, Laura Salvato, and son-in-law Anthony Salvato, who celebrated their one-year anniversary. It is a special day to Karen, not only because she now shares this day with Laura, but because it was Karen’s parents’ wedding anniversary as well.
Karen is a mild mannered, gentle soul, and she has cared for the little ones of Kenwood so diligently that it is only right for Kenwood to say, “You are loved by many, and we are a just a few.”