Helen Keller ServicesPress Release

Passing of retired HKNC employee Sister Bernie Wynne

Passing of retired HKNC employee Sister Bernie Wynne

February 22, 2018

It is with heavy hearts that announces the passing of retired HKNC employee Sister Bernadette “Bernie” Wynne, who for over 38 years served countless individuals with grace and passion.  Below is our last interview with Sister Bernie which appeared in 2014. Our condolences to her family.

Sister Bernie’s story started in 1975 when she began working at The Helen Keller National Center. As a certified teacher of the people with vision loss, “Bernie” as she is fondly known, was a natural fit as supervisor of the Basic Education Department.

In 1981, The Helen Keller National Center established a National Training Team to train professionals to work with youths and adults who are DeafBlind. Bernie was named coordinator of the team, which also included Liz Janson, the supervisor of the Home Management Department, and Maureen McGowan, the supervisor of the Orientation and Mobility Department. The importance of having qualified staff was summed up best by Helen Keller herself; when asked what the most important day in her life was, Helen answered, “The day my teacher came to me.” The goal of the National Training Team was to assure there would always be an adequate number of professionals trained to work with individuals who are DeafBlind.

The National Training Team collaborated with Western Maryland College and Northern Illinois University, where a certificate program was implemented to integrate coursework on being DeafBlind into college curriculums. This program has continued for 30 years. Initially, people would attend at the DeKalb, Illinois campus for three-week training on being DeafBlind. When the program started, Bernie was a one-day lecturer and other experts from The Helen Keller National Center would participate as well. However, students never had the opportunity to interact with individuals who are DeafBlind, so Bernie eventually suggested that the college incorporate a week-long practicum at the Sands Point headquarters in Long Island. In 2009, this model was put into place with resounding success.

Over the 32 years that Bernie was “on the road,” she trained staff in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. However, her training was not just limited to the United States. She had a long-standing relationship with agencies serving DeafBlind individuals in five Nordic countries where she would provide week-long trainings to staff once a year from 1980 – 2010. Bernie was also invited to provide training in Poland and lecture in Peru.  

Bernie was also well known for her stories, each one carefully chosen to impart a lesson. One of her favorites is “The Cracked Bucket” whose moral is do not judge yourself too harshly and do not confuse your strength for a weakness.  

Bernie’s passion for her vocation and the people she worked with was her driving force, and was clearly felt by those she taught. She reflected back on her years and said, “Whatever I taught, I learned first from the students I worked with. They were the experts. Books can only teach so much. It’s the human interaction that taught me the most.” When asked what has changed for the DeafBlind community, Sister Bernie related the indispensable role of assistive technology. “The world is wide open for people who are DeafBlind thanks to technology,” she said. “It has changed so radically, and so rapidly, in the years I have been working, and it will continue to do so. People have the ability to communicate with people all over the world. And {technology} is one thing I can’t teach,” she laughed.

mary fu

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