Bernice Lorraine Jeffries, 91, died Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at her home in Crete. She was born April 13, 1929, on the family farm near Pleasant Hill in Saline County to John D. and Josephine (Zavodny) Cerny. Bernice attended Pleasant Ridge District #45 through eighth grade, and graduated from Dorchester High School in 1946. Czech was her first language, and like other neighborhood children of Czech descent, she attended Czech language school at Tabor Lodge #74 during the 1930s.
Bernice met Donald Jeffries at a Tabor Hall dance in 1946. Introduced by Don’s cousin, Wayne Plachy, who was Bernice’s high school classmate, the couple courted, and then married at the Seward Methodist church June 13, 1947. They had two daughters, Janet and Joyce. Don and Bernice were married for 63 years before Don died in 2010.
Bernice enjoyed a rewarding 34-year teaching career. After high school graduation, Bernice attended a Normal Training program for school teachers at Doane College, and after their marriage, the couple lived in a small trailer house parked right beside the Saline County District #19 schoolhouse where she taught during the 1947-48 school year. After that assignment, Bernice taught at District #3 in Saline County for a year before taking a hiatus from teaching while her daughters were small. Bernice began taking classes at Doane College in the 1950s, and also taught part time at the nursery school at First Congregational Church. She returned to full-time teaching in the late 1950s, and taught at District #72, Lancaster County, District #4 in Saline County and then returned to District #3 for several years. Bernice continued to study at Doane College and the University of Nebraska, working toward a bachelor’s degree.
Bernice taught in the Wilber-Clatonia Public Schools at the Clatonia location in the mid-1960s. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in education from UNL in the spring of 1968, and that fall, joined the Crete Public Schools staff teaching third grade. She held that position until her retirement in 1989. During her career, Bernice taught more than 800 students, mostly third graders, and was a favorite teacher to many.
Don and Bernice settled in Crete in 1948 and lived in a small house on Norman Avenue. The family then moved to an acreage on Walnut Creek in north Crete where they lived for 35 years. This tract provided space for a big garden, several horses, old tractors and cars and other hobbies.
Bernice and Don were charter members of the Crete and Seward Saddle Clubs, and Bernice supported Don as he participated in many area horse shows and rodeos. She also helped run lunch stands at the annual Crete and Seward competitions. During the 1950s and 1960s, the family traveled almost every summer Sunday to horse shows around the state.
In 1955, Bernice was named Mrs. Crete, and participated in the Mrs. Nebraska district competition. Contestants baked chocolate cakes in front of a team of judges, and were judged on other homemaking skills. Bernice won third place at the contest, and won a gift certificate from the J.M. McDonald store in Crete. Over the years, she often made the “Mrs. Nebraska Chocolate Cake” for special occasions.
Bernice was an accomplished seamstress, and sewed nearly all of the clothes for herself and her daughters. She also made other items for the household. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when Don was restoring Model T and Model A Ford cars, Bernice put her sewing talents to work sewing headliners and upholstering seats for the cars.
Bernice did beautiful needlework, and was first introduced to embroidery at the age of three by her older cousin, Violet Cerny. In addition to sewing projects and embroidery, Bernice grew to love quilting. At the age of 7, while snowed in with a neighbor who sewed, she made her first little quilt. In adulthood, she was a longtime member of Lincoln Quilters Guild, was a charter member of the local Prairie Doll Quilters, and became a superb quilter, mastering hand-piecing and appliqué. After retiring in 1989, Bernice attended many quilt shows, classes, and seminars across the country where she learned various innovative and intricate techniques. Lucky family members and friends were recipients of her handmade gifts. Bernice entered local and state competitions, won many needlework awards with her creations, and in 2011, was honored to be chosen to make the official Saline County quilt block for a permanent exhibit at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island. Each selected quilter was charged with making a block that depicted something unique to her particular county, and Bernice showcased Saline County’s Czech heritage. Her block features the official Wilber Czech Capital logo, and can be seen in the Pinnacle Bank Expo Building along with blocks from the other 92 counties.
Bernice and Don traveled extensively in the United States and to many foreign countries. Bernice made sure the family visited major sites around the country on carefully planned vacations, and then used the experiences in her classroom. Family vacations usually involved camping to save money, and later road trips with Don were often made in a Model A Ford, or a truck, with an itinerary that included stops in remote areas to shop for antique car or tractor parts. She and Don also attended many country music festivals staying in their small camper. For many years, Bernice and Don were active in Crete‘s square dance club, the Blue River Swingers.
Bernice was a vital member of the Crete Community. She was active in the Grace United Methodist Church, and regularly volunteered at Doane College and Crete Heritage Society events. She and Don were members of the Doane College Czech Concert Committee, and helped to plan and facilitate annual concerts. They assisted with the school’s annual Czech Elderhostel, hosted during Boswell Observatory open houses and miscellaneous Advancement/Alumni Office activities, represented the college in area parades and hosted when the Doane Family Association held reunions on campus. Proud of her Czech heritage, Bernice was an enthusiastic participant in all activities involving that culture. She also enjoyed being able to support community projects, and continued her philanthropic gestures until her death.
Bernice and Donald entertained regularly, and enjoyed planning special events for friends and family members. The couple held annual parties on National Pie Day, offering guests a variety of Bernice’s homemade pies. She and Don also hosted many themed parties and meals as prizes for the Grace United Methodist Church Lord’s Acre Auction. These elaborate events often called for participants to be in costume to adhere to the theme. Bernice entertained at these events with her collections of jokes, “funnies,” and often word games. She was a great cook and exceptional baker, and was particularly known for her delicious kolace. She often treated the Doane Facilities Department and others to freshly baked kolace.
Bernice was a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, Prairie Doll Quilters, Lincoln Quilters Guild, Cornhusker Model A Club, Model A Ford Club of America, Crete Heritage Society, Grace United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women, Faith Circle, and the Saline County Retired Teachers Association.
Bernice enjoyed a long, active life and was always on the go with her family and many wonderful friends. She was known for her ready smile, caring demeanor and positive outlook on life. She never met a stranger. Bernice will be greatly missed by all who knew her.
Survivors include daughters Janet Jeffries, Crete, and Joyce Jeffries and husband Sam Rennick, Omaha; eight grandchildren, Sarah Smith, Filley; Lee Smith (Birgit), Flowermound, Texas, Abby Meyer (Brent), Omaha, Sibyl Spencer-Hilton (Russ), Omaha, Lydia Jane Spencer (Bob Petersen), Windsor, Colorado, Laura Spencer, Lincoln, and Elizabeth Spencer, Lincoln. The following 11 great-grandchildren also survive her, Cheyenne Smith, Gabriel Garcia, Ruby and Drake Rinne, Jessica Hanusek (Thomas), Samantha Spencer, Marcus Murray, Nicholas Hilton, Owen Grenfell, Adella Sisson and Iris Yates. Bernice has one great-great granddaughter, Anastasia Hanusek.
Bernice is also survived by her sister-in-law, Nancy Haag, Lincoln; granddaughter-in-law, Nancy Spencer, Omaha; three nieces; and one nephew. She was preceded in death by her parents; husband, Donald; brother, Marvin Cerny; son-in-law, Ted Beauvais; and grandson, Richard Spencer III.
Celebration of Life services will be held Tuesday, April 13, at 1:30 p.m. at the Grace United Methodist Church in Crete with Dr. Wayne Reynolds officiating. Pallbearers are her grandchildren, and interment will be at Crete’s Riverside Cemetery. A catered lunch will be served at the church after the graveside service. Memorial contributions are suggested to Grace United Methodist Church in Crete, the Doane University Instrumental Music Program and the Crete Heritage Society. The family will greet visitors from 4 to 8 p.m., Monday, April 12, at Kuncl Funeral Home, Crete. Masks are required for these events, and will be offered to those without. Condolences may be left for the family at www.kunclfh.com.