Through nothing other than extreme good fortune, I sat next to Bernie Wynder along press row seemingly every year at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament.
There are no assigned seats by name along the row; it’s more or less first-come, first-serve, even though there are seats reserved for special friends, tournament judges, newspaper and radio types and Wamba security types, such as Jim Ortiz and for every year prior to last year, the late great Tommy Carroll.
As you come into Frostburg State University’s Bobcat Arena, the friends and judges are seated first, followed by the newspaper. Dr. Ed Root and Bernie were always in the last two seats of the judges section, and I, or Mike Mathews, Chris Appel, Steve Luse, or whoever else might be covering at the time, would be seated in the first newspaper seat just short of center court. Always, always to our immediate left, however, was the beautifully happy person of Bernie Wynder, thumbing through his ACIT program, marveling at the fantastic basketball that we are graced with here every third weekend of March, and always, always, greeting and assisting guests and visitors to Frostburg State University.
Anything and everything we’ve needed has been provided to us, without fail, by either Associate Athletic Director Rubin Stevenson, Sports Information Director Noah Becker and Bernie Wynder. No request has been too large; every one granted with a smile and a reminder that “if there is anything else you need, I’m right here.”
How fortunate Frostburg State is to have people such as this attending to their students.
As for Bernie, whose death on Thursday shocked and saddened all who knew him, I never really knew what his official capacity or position was, so I wasn’t really sure what it was he did for the university. Seeing, though, how he was present at FSU for every event, sports or otherwise, that I have ever been there for myself, I just assumed he did everything. And upon reading his obituary in Saturday’s Times-News I can see I was right. He did do everything. Bernie Wynder was Mr. Frostburg State, not just in my eyes — the eyes of an outside observer, a mere visitor to the campus — but to the thousands of students he loved and mentored, and who will hold him in their hearts and love him for the rest of their lives.
Bernie’s presence wasn’t limited to Frostburg State, however, although it will remain a mystery as to how it wasn’t because I never not saw him on campus. Bernie, though, was everywhere. Everywhere in Western Maryland there was a community event, you could count on seeing Bernie, either simply taking in the event or, more likely, assisting and contributing to help make the event a success.
Bernie came here from Baltimore in 1974 as a student at FSU, and after a brief time working at Slippery Rock University, he returned in 1982 and, thankfully, never left. To even call him an enormous part of Frostburg State would be understating it. He was more of a core of Frostburg State with his love and commitment to her students and for the community as a whole.
Outside of Frostburg State, words that seem so contradictory when it comes to Bernie Wynder, there he was — the Maryland Salem Children’s Trust, Western Maryland Food Bank, Potomac Council Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Allegany County Multicultural Committee, American Red Cross, the City of Cumberland Mediation Advisory Council, the Allegany County Human Relations Commission, President of the Allegany Branch of NAACP, and chair of the Friends of the NAACP.
How did he do it? How was it possible for this man to constantly give so much of himself to so many others? How loving and caring of a family must he have come from for him to have a heart as large and as benevolent as his was? How many of our lucky stars must we count that Bernie not only came to Frostburg State to begin with, but that he came back to stay to help make Frostburg State and Allegany County a more wonderful place to be, and then to call it his home?
You know, whether it is Frostburg, Cumberland, Keyser, College Park, Morgantown, Columbus, Austin or Los Angeles, wherever there is a college or university, there are frustrating and, yes, troubling times that come along, and they’re not easy. Yet when we consider the bigger picture, what these schools provide, not only to their students, who come first and foremost, but to their communities, we must take time to consider so many other variables that are at work here — namely the people who are at work here.
And, in the instance of Frostburg State University, when we consider so many of the good, decent and committed people who have come our way to help the university carry out its mission, and to help make this community stronger — unforgettable people such as Dr. Harold Cordts, Mike McGlinchey and Bernard “Bernie” Wynder — we really must stop and count our lucky stars.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org