I had the privilege to attend the recent funeral of Bernie Gottner. A privilege because the celebration of his life was so uplifting as a result of the rituals that gave clear evidence of a rich life well lived.
Why start this edition of my series on generosity and gratitude with a condensed obituary?
Bernie was the spouse of Eileen Burtle, one of our retired therapists whom I consider to be one of the founders of the Center. She began her work with us in 1981, not long after the arrival of Ellery Duke and Jeff Means—and just ahead of Jeanne Schossow. These “founders”, along with others who were the first counselors and staff in the early years of the Center, did so much to set a direction, establish common values, forge a mission and care for those we serve with genuine pastoral concern.
As I have deepened my understanding of the Center in my first years as executive director, I have regularly been inspired by the depth of commitment of our staff. I am fortunate to be surrounded by such good and committed people who work so hard to carry out our heritage, passed down from our founders since 1972. Sacrifices abound.
I have heard many stories of the struggles the Center encountered in the early years. That too is a heritage shared by many nonprofits. I’m sure there were many sleepless nights when those folks—and the board finance committee—wondered if there would be enough money to pay the utility bill and make payroll. Word on the street is that even contemporary administrators at the Center have similar concerns. 🙂 And yet those forebears forged ahead. One step and day at a time, always doing their best to help those in need of hope and healing.
Which gets me to Bernie. Would all the staff who have gone before us been able to make the sacrifices and carry on the work if they didn’t have the support of loving spouses, family and community. You can imagine the heavy burden one brings home after a day of helping others to carry their load by listening to stories and offering counsel. Going “home” to friends and family (in the broadest sense of that word) provides a shelter and context for self-care after a day of caring for others, many of whom carry horrific burdens.
As I reflect on generosity and gratitude, I think of all those who are in this work with us. Some directly as volunteers, as donors, but others indirectly by providing love and community for those who serve our mission. None of us make this world better on our own. We do it in the context of community and shared values and commitments—and by loving and supporting one another.
Bernie did plenty of good, inspiring work in his own ministry and career, but he and Eileen together did something magical in their shared mission. And the two shall be one. We are the better for it.
And we are better because of you. Not just two become one, but many who share one goal of serving those in need of hope and healing. Thank you for the many ways you support our efforts at the Center. A special thanks to our families and communities of support. Your love means the world to us and those we serve.