Bernadette “Buck” Verhamme, 95, passed away peacefully Friday, Dec. 11, at Lakeview Assisted Living in Gladstone due to Covid-related complications. Her family was by her side.
She was born March 3, 1925, in north Escanaba to Severin and Leona (Cretens) Buckland. She graduated from Escanaba High School in 1943. Her time as a cheerleader in high school would provide joy to many throughout her life, as she would burst into a cheer anytime, anywhere, up to just a few weeks ago.
After high school, during World War II, she moved to Milwaukee and worked in an ammunition plant. Just before the war she went on her first date with Eugene Verhamme. Their romance rekindled after the war, and he soon became the love of her life. They married Sept. 21, 1946, and were married for 59 years when he passed Oct. 10, 2005.
Bernadette and Gene were partners in everything. She would tell anybody, at any time, their secret: no matter what you’re facing, like a difficult home project, perfecting their hunting camp up in Osier, donating their time to various school projects or making pasties for the Catholic church in Rapid River, whatever you faced in life, “just make it fun.” That belief served her time and time again throughout her life.
In her early years she was also a telephone operator for Bell Telephone and, in the early 1960s, she signed up residents for the brand-new Medicare. Later she and Gene operated the Verhamme Grocery behind their home in Moonshine Valley in Gladstone. The Bungalow Bar in Gladstone was built by Gene’s parents. They served food, and opened the bar when Prohibition ended in 1933. The bar stayed with family for decades. Gene’s sister, Mickey Esler, was the last Verhamme owner, and for years Bernadette and Gene worked the amazingly-busy Friday fish frys.
All the while they were raising their family, Bernadette was well known for keeping her children in tow, using her loud voice to shout them home even if they were a great distance away, playing in the woods up on the bluff or at the Sand Bowl where the sports park is located today, or retrieving one of their beagle hunting dogs that had once again just escaped.
There were countless ways Bernadette’s and Gene’s unselfishness and “just make it fun” qualities were on display, like helping to fund-raise and then install the lights for playing night football at Holy Name High School. Bernadette, with Luella Maskart, started the PTA at the Buckeye School. Buck was also secretary-treasurer for the 10th Mountain Division U.P. Chapter (that was the unit that Gene, a decorated war hero, served in).
Soon after Gene passed away, Bernadette received a personal letter of condolence from longtime U.S senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole. Bob and Gene were wounded on the same day and in the same battle in Italy, leading to Gene being awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of their unselfishness was, when the thought of being empty-nesters was just around the corner, they nevertheless brought the three Rudden children to live in their two-bedroom home along with their own children (Mike, Pat and Mary). Bernadette’s sister, Arlene, a widow, had just died, and Bernadette and Gene sacrificed much to keep Diane, Jimmy and Rick together.
That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and boy, did they “just make it fun.” Christmas celebrations were pretty darn amazing. They would go house-hopping to the Bucklands, Lafonds, Kennedys, Lalondes and Stevensons, with all the kids joining in. At each house Bernadette would lead a rousing rendition of “12 Days of Christmas,” with the help of 12 drinking glasses, with a separate lyric imprinted on each one. If they were lucky the worst singer would do a loud and boisterous “on the fifth day of Christmas” verse. That tradition continued up until just a few years ago at Bernadette’s dream house on the Stonington Peninsula.
Bernadette was a bus driver for the Rapid River schools up until her later years, and she worked for 25 years for Holiday Travel.
Bernadette and her friends griped a bit when their husbands went to hunting camp every year, so she made a proposal to travel agency owner Lois Anderson. Let’s fill up a bus and take all the ladies (yes, a few gentlemen went, too) on a fun trip of shopping and fine dining to first, Chicago, and then, years later, Branson, Mo. It was called the Hunters Widows Trip.
The first year one bus was filled, and it wasn’t long before they filled five buses. More stories, of course. Like the time Bernadette danced on the bar at NFL star Walter Payton’s place in Chicago. Or the time they stayed at a hotel with, coincidentally, a high school cheerleading team. Yep, Buck became its honorary captain. Or the time in Branson when Dolly Parton became the second-most effervescent person on stage. Dolly invited Buck up to lead the audience in “The Yooper Song,” which Buck performed countless times throughout her life, even when she was battling dementia at Lakeview Assisted Living.
Bernadette knew how to enjoy life to the fullest while continuing to make sacrifices all along the way. She put smiles on peoples’ faces and will never be forgotten.
She was also preceded in death by her parents, brothers Russell Buckland and Robert Buckland (who just died of Covid Nov. 1), and sister Arlene (and Arlene’s husband Mike Rudden).
Survivors include: sons Mike (Barb), Au Train, and Pat (Marcia), Escanaba; daughter Mary (John) Kreutjans, Washoe Valley, Nev.; grandchildren Mary Jane (Jerry) Feuerbach, Escanaba, Andy (Danielle) Verhamme, Grand Rapids, Eddie (Alec Hershman) Verhamme, Ann Arbor, Kristin (Jim Zuidema) Verhamme, Sherwood, Wis., Mark (Ginny) Verhamme, Scottsdale, Ariz., Jessica (Jordan McClean) Singer, Brooklyn, N.Y., Joe (Grace Power) Singer Sacramento, Calif., and Natalie (Jonathan), Armstrong, Alta, Calif.; special niece Diane Carlson, Gladstone; special nephews Jim (Loretta) Rudden, Las Vegas, and Rick (Patricia) Rudden, Wells Township; sister-in-law Lois Buckland, Gladstone; and many great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.
With assistance from Skradski Funeral Home, private visitation and Mass of Christian Burial will take place at the convenience of the family. Burial will take place at Fernwood Cemetery in Gladstone. Thanks to Daryl Miron and all the staff at Lakeview Assisted Living for all their love and service, U.P. Health System Home Care and Hospice, and Rev. James Ziminski of All Saints Church.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the new Holy Name High School project by contacting Michelle Bink, Development Director, 409 S. 22nd St., Escanaba, MI 49829 or call (906) 786-7550.
All the family asks, when remembering Bernadette and Gene, “let’s make it fun.”