Barbara Berniker was a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother; physician; avid reader; talented gardener, cook, and painter in acrylics and oils; enthusiastic bird watcher; and generally a larger-than-life character. Barbara died at home after battling a succession of illnesses over the past two years. Barbara Blofstein was born in Philadelphia to Harry and Rose (Supinsky).
Her father owned and operated an old-time pharmacy complete with a soda fountain. Her mother trained at a beauty school and was a homemaker and local volunteer. Rose, Barbara, and her brother, Joseph, helped in the store at times, and Barbara enjoyed being able to make herself a milkshake whenever she liked. Barbara treasured the memories of huge family dinners that included many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Barbara loved horses from an early age, and cleaned out stalls at a nearby stable in exchange for the opportunity to ride. Barbara always had an independent spirit – after taking piano lessons for several years at her parents’ insistence, she closed the piano one day and announced she was finished.
Barbara attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she excelled in academics and sports, including basketball, volleyball, tennis, and swimming. Barbara often said that her years there were among the best she ever had, with a close group of friends and many fond memories. One favorite adventure was the time in their senior year when six of them skipped school and drove to New Hope, PA; the day included skinny-dipping in the Delaware River. Barbara always had a great sense of humor and liked to do things her way.
Barbara was adventuresome and loved to travel. She spent a summer during college riding around the country on Greyhound buses with a girlfriend. One evening they found themselves in a tiny town with no place to stay. They ended up talking to the police chief, who let them sleep in cells in the jail. On another trip, crossing the Mediterranean, Barbara met a young Englishwoman who became a friend for life. Barbara also visited Israel at the height of jubilation after the Six-Day War, and had memorable visits to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
Barbara graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English Literature, and received her MD from Jefferson Medical College (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College). Barbara interned in Chicago and then worked in clinics and emergency departments in Illinois and San Bernardino, CA for several years. She and her friends had motorcycles and rode horses on the beach at Malibu. Barbara then completed a surgical residency at Kaiser Permanente (KP) in San Francisco, where she met her future husband, Ken, who was an intern in pathology at the time. He liked to say that they met over the autopsy table.
Barbara and Ken settled in El Cerrito, and had two wonderful children, Isaac and Abigail. Barbara worked for a few years at KP Oakland but retired from medicine to be a full-time mom. Barbara took an active interest in the kids’ school activities, serving as a class parent and attending countless sporting events. Barbara and Ken took the kids camping, went four-wheel driving in deserts and mountains, and enjoyed several long summer road trips around the Western US as well as trips overseas. Barbara was an enthusiastic and imaginative cook who especially delighted in hosting holiday dinners. They also opened their house to several foreign exchange students, a few of whom remain friends to this day.
Meanwhile, Barbara nurtured lovely gardens outside their home, filled a greenhouse with succulents, and served as president of the Berkeley Garden Club, whom she thanked for years of education and fun. “Plants are where it’s at!” She was a prodigious reader, often having a shelf of her own for the books she reserved at the Kensington Library, and was a founding member of a book club that continued for 40 years. She followed the Golden State Warriors closely and savored every sensational victory. Barbara loved nature and animals, especially the ocean, redwood forests, Southwest deserts,sunsets, frogs, and flowers; the household included a cat, rabbits, parrots, and dogs at various times. After she and Ken took up bird watching, they went on guided tours and other nature trips to the Galapagos, Belize, Mexico, and many sites in the US.
Barbara is survived by her husband of 44 years, Dr. Kenneth J. Berniker; son Isaac, principal of Oakwood High School in Morgan Hill; daughter Dr. Abigail Berniker; grandson Alexander, who was a particular joy; brother Joseph Blofstein of Tennessee; a number of cousins and nephews; many friends; and the beloved dog, Maggie. Barbara especially supported Planned Parenthood and organizations that feed the hungry, such as the Richmond Emergency Food Pantry, World Central Kitchen, and Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. A memorial gathering will be held later.
Barbara often repeated a saying that she learned in Girl Scouts – “Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘till your good is your better and your better is your BEST,” and she tried to live up to that.