82 Lambert Drive, Sparta, NJ 07871 bmmf@melberger.com


Any one that had the opportunity to know Bernadette Melberger (Bernie), recognized that she was indeed a strong, intelligent and determined woman. She was a wife, mother of three children, the middle child of eight siblings, an educator and most of all, a very interesting person to be around.

On December 24, 2012 Bernie was diagnosed with Stage III Ovarian Cancer. The surgery went well. Doctor says prognosis is good. Get chemotherapy and she will have another 5 years or so.

Bernie fought hard! She did not miss one chemotherapy session over the 48 months she lived with cancer. Her attittude was always positive. Her humor never faded. Her love for family and friends was constant. One thing Bernie did was help people. She helped her students and volunteered in community organizations (Kiwanis, Sparta Food Bank). She traveled the world while she was sick. She did not stop living.

On May 14, 2016 she passed away. She did not lose the battle. She never asked to engage with Ovarian Cancer. She passed away with all her family and friends by her side, as they have always been in her life.

So, we have set up the Bernadette Melberger Memorial Fund. This fund will continue to help people, as Bernie did all throughout her life. All donations are tax deductible and the funds will go directly to help cancer patients that are being treated at the Sparta Cancer Center (where Bernie received her care).

Below is a tribute that was written by Kacey Konwiser, one of her friends and colleagues at Sparta High School. We really think this sums up how we can remember Bernie’s life.

Subject: Katharine Hepburn – Neat Dude and Bernie
“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” – Katharine Hepburn

On May 14, 2016, a light went out. It was a bright one. If you knew it, knew her, you realize that your world is now a shade darker. This woman, this teacher, this wife, this mother, this sister, this friend – she lit the way, lit the world. When you were with her life was funnier, less serious, less heavy.

I knew of her my first year at SHS, you couldn’t work here without hearing of her. She walked into my office one day and said “I hear you’re good”. It appeared to be a statement, but I heard the question, heard the challenge, heard the fear. “Was I good enough to take on her children”. That’s what she meant. Her favorite counselor was leaving and Chris needed one more year, Sara four and Emily would need me to be consistently good enough for the other two in order to be trusted for her.

That began our almost ten year relationship. My office was often filled with her irreverent sarcasm (ok, part of that tendency is mine – which is why we got on so well) – as we watched her children grow up.

One of my last school conversations with her happened in Maryann Fallone’s office. We were, of course, laughing – she stopped and turned to me and said Kace, my back is hurting me and I’m going to see someone about it. We were about to leave for Christmas break, when I returned, I learned of her diagnosis and her surgery during that very break.

As the months went on, you only had to be her friend on FaceBook to know that something truly amazing was happening. Through it all she smiled, laughed, made fun of, lived, joked, and most of all made all of us feel better about what was happening. She came to tell me she was retiring so she could take care of her health. I remember the fear that started working its way into my smile and she turned as she left my office, “I got this Kace”, she said. And she did. She kicked it’s ass. She fought with her life. Her crazy, wonderful, life. She loved her friends, she had dinner parties, she celebrated her children’s accomplishments (who could forget that amazing moment when she hugged Emily after handing her her diploma), she checked off items on her bucket list, she endured chemo and gall bladder surgery and finally that moment occurred when Facebook went quiet, when she cancelled our dinner outing and I knew, without knowing.

This past Saturday morning, May 14th, I read Facebook and knew for real. That bright light had – I was going to say – gone out. But it’s not out, is it? She is everywhere, in the halls at SHS, in every place you have ever been with her, in every memory. Look at Facebook now – this is not a light that has gone out – this is a light that has burst out into countless memories, burst into many hearts, and will live on every time any of us think of her.

So why start this with Katharine Hepburn? Maybe this quote will help enlighten you:
“Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.” – Katharine Hepburn
Because they have something in common, they were both one of a kind. They both lit up the path of every life they touched. They both fought like a girl. Although I won’t see her face, I will hear her laugh, I will remember the most important thing she taught me – never apologize for who you are.

I know some of you have no idea who I am actually talking about but Bernadette Hamilton Melberger was one of a kind. If you did not know her, find someone who did and give them a hug or ask them to tell you a story. Then you too can feel her light.

So finally my very brave friend – in the immortal words of Katharine:
“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” – Katharine Hepburn

Thank you for trusting me – we are all going to have to take care of each other now – I promise to do it irreverently, with sarcasm, and to to never apologize.

To the original “neat dude” – Enjoy this new party. We will all keep a light burning.