In Memoriam Louis W. (‘Bill’) Berndtson, Jr., Feb. 18, 1934-July 31, 2017
Joan Cavanagh, Former Archivist/ Director, GNHLHA
Louis W. Berndtson, Jr., immediate past president of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, passed away on Monday, July 31, 2017 from complications of pancreatic cancer.
A member of the LHA Executive Board from 2000 until 2016, Bill played multiple roles with dedication, enthusiasm, and skill: treasurer, web master, “go-to guy” for all crises, and self-described “I.T. Geek.” He spearheaded the effort to produce a labor history mural for the entryway to the newly renovated Augusta Lewis Troup School, and co-wrote and edited an award-winning booklet describing the life of the school’s namesake. He also proudly contributed to the successful attempts to legislate a curriculum of labor and working-class history in Connecticut’s public schools, which passed and was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in July 2015.
Growing up in the Cottage/ Lawrence Street area of New Haven, Bill graduated from Commercial High School. One of his teachers there thought he was “too bright” not to go to college, and personally enrolled him in Southern Connecticut State Teacher’s College in 1952. He did not finish, although, as he said later, he didn’t actually “quit,” he just took a long sabbatical, returning to get his degree in Psychology with a specialization in Mental Health at age 65.
In 1959, after a short stint in the army, Bill went to work as a lab technician at the Yale Medical School. Here began his career as a hard-working union organizer who never actually got to belong to a union. By the time Local 34 finally achieved victory, he had moved on, but his commitment to economic and social justice continued. He became active in the Democratic Party, and got a job with the Unemployed Workers Council of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council for about a year after the election of Ronald Reagan.
Eight years ago, when he accepted the Labor History Association’s Augusta Lewis Troup Award, Bill said that he had first been motivated to fight for a union because of the personal need to care for his own family, but soon he became a magnet for all the stories of other workers and their stories became part of his own. This kind of empathy and insight guided his life.
Bill’s family has asked any who may wish to make donations in his memory to the Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA, 267 Chapel Street, New Haven CT 06513).