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Remembering Berna Boerneman

Berna Boerneman (Photo courtesy of the writer)

My first two years of college, at Columbia University from 1952-1953, were very boring. I had few social contacts. Each day when taking the subway to 116th street, I met Bob Toloukian, another premed student, but otherwise I just studied and worked because I was so focused on getting into medical school and having enough money so that I wouldn’t have to take out any student loans.

The one exception was Sunday night. At the Patterson, N.J., Baptist church there was a group of college-aged kids who spent Sunday evenings hanging out in a diner. None of them were in college, but all had full-time jobs.

At that time Columbia was male-only, and I missed female contact. There were two women in the church group who interested me — Phyllis Reed and Berna Boerneman. Once during spring break, Phyllis invited me to her home for dinner, but I enjoyed Berna’s company more.  

Berna was a very tall blonde with Germanic features. In other words, she was gorgeous.  I had no money for a date, but in the second year I was so desperate for female contact that I asked her out. At that time she was studying to become a nurse at Columbia Physicians and Surgeons Hospital in northern Manhattan.

After going to her hospital to pick her up, we took the IRT subway down to mid-Manhattan to the old Metropolitan Opera House. I purchased tickets to the back row of the balcony, because that was all I could afford. The opera house sold tickets for standing room only, and my tickets were for the last row before standing room.  

The opera was “Aida,” one of my favorites, but it was very long. It was after midnight when it was finally over. I didn’t feel comfortable taking the subway at that time of the night, so I hailed a cab to take us back to Columbia P&S. A taxi for those 70 blocks was the most I had ever spent on a date.

I didn't see Berna after that. I heard she married one of the fellows in our old church group, but after moving on campus for my second year at Columbia, I never had a chance to spend Sunday evening with the gang again.

Bob Larsen

Bob Larsen is a retired surgeon whose eclectic career has allowed him to see the world.

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