Bernice LaVanch (Erickson) Gates-Parkin passed away peacefully on October 11, 2013, at her home surrounded by family. Her death came after the perfect, culminating celebration of her life, a 100th birthday party held this past summer at her granddaughter’s farm in East Burns Valley. The fact that all nine of her grandchildren and all 20 great-grandchildren were there, and enough other family and friends to fill the barn, is testament to a life filled with happiness, meaning, and love.
Bernie was born in Rock Dell, Minnesota, on July 24, 1913, to second-generation Norwegian immigrants, Rangvald and Alma Erickson. She attended a one-room schoolhouse, carrying hot potatoes in her pockets during the winter months while walking to school. Bernie’s favorite childhood activities were picking wildflowers, performing plays in the corn crib, or listening to her dad as he ‘called’ the square dances in the family’s barn. She took her love of botany and the arts to Stewartville High School where she graduated in 1932.
After graduation, Bernie met and married a gregarious athlete and baritone from Rochester named Billy Gates. Forget Clark Gable, it was a perfect match. The two enjoyed golf, Studebakers, and dancing out at the Oaks Supper Club. Smiles, laughter, and bacon (her husband was a salesman for Hormel) were all plentiful in their home where they raised three daughters— Marlene, Sharon, and Joan. Widowed at 51, Bernie went to work as a dental assistant with Dr. John Cross and Dr. Robert Briggs. In 1980, she got re-married to a kindly haberdasher from Kasson, named Ralph Parkin and moved there.
Her role as grandmother, great-grandmother and family matriarch is her greatest legacy. Her life was as long and beautiful as the stunning valleys that make up the Hallingdal region of Norway, which she visited twice to meet her Norwegian relatives and visit her Norwegian exchange daughter. Her warmth, her style, her wisdom and elegance all gave her descendants tremendous direction and the perfect model for living the ‘quality’ life. Grandma Bernie was always so well balanced— disciplined and fit, energetic and fun-- as comfortable with McVey’s ice cream and gingersnap cookies as she was with granola or hard work.
During her last stages of life, her strength, toughness, and resilience was again on display. In the last weeks of life, she was ever the teacher, and completely embodied grace, welcoming the journey home.
She is survived by a daughter, Joni (Don) Klagge; sister, Clara Brekke of Kasson; nine grandchildren, Doug, Jeff (Gio), Tom (Mary Megan) and Jay (Swati) Cerise; Billy (Nancy) Hull, Amy (Jeff) Wickert, David (Shelley) Hull, Karen (Tom) Hemker and Jay (Jennifer) Klagge; 20 great-grandchildren, Tyler, Jacques, Franco, Dominic, Tyson, Marco, Joseph, Nico and Divya Cerise; Alisia, Kaia, Jackson, and Aiden Hull; Joseph and Alec Wickert, Matt and Ellie Hemker, and Zachary, Tony, and Marit Klagge; Norwegian exchange student daughter, Maria Hogetveit (Hallgrim) Berg. Bernie also had four stepchildren, Mary (Dave) Krenik, Ann (Larry) Anderson, Dr. John Parkin and Jim (Jan) Parkin; grandchildren Sarah, Laura, Karin, Rick, Dan, Tom, Mike, and Kirsten; great-grandchildren, Tyler, Sarah, Ellie, Kelly, Kate, Seth, Reid, Mason and Elise, and great–great grandchildren, Evelyn and Rachel.
Bernie was preceded in death by her parents, her husbands, Bill Gates and Ralph Parkin; daughters, Marlene (Jerry) Cerise, and Sharon Gates Hull; brother, Lloyd Erickson; and sisters, Gen (Casey) Anderson and Ruby (Bob) Matzke; and brother–in-law, Dick Brekke.
A memorial service celebrating her wonderful life will be held on Saturday, November 2. Visitation will begin at 9:00 a.m., followed by the service at 11:00 am. Services will be held at Central Lutheran Church, where she was a longtime member and active as the chairperson of the altar guild and as a Sunday school teacher.
A special thank-you to Pastor Michelle Rem, Dr. Dan Parker and the Hospice Angels who cared for Bernie. Memorials for Bernie can be given to Central Lutheran Church and the Winona Health Hospice Program.
Please share a memory of Bernie with her family, sign the guestbook, and view her video tribute online at www.hofffuneral.com.