Aug. 19, 2007 — Ask Rotary Club of St. John President Joan Bermingham anything, and pretty soon the conversation comes around to Rotary's good works.
"I'm working on a matching grant from the Rotary Foundation to dig a well in Kenya," she said.
She said she learned of the need on a trip to Kenya. She said she's convinced four Florida Rotary clubs to help with the project, an endeavor that took some doing. She said all she needs now is a Rotary Club in Kenya to work with the St. John and Florida organizations.
Then there's the Flavors of St. John, coming up on Nov. 17 at the Westin Resort and Villas. It's an annual dining event that raises funds for the organization's $12,500 four-year scholarship given every year to a St. John youth.
Currently, Bermingham and other Rotary members are gearing up for the annual distribution of books to students at St. John's public and private schools. She said all first graders get a copy of "Night Before First Grade." Those in the second grade receive a copy of "Best Seat in Second Grade." And all third graders get a dictionary. Students also get back-to-school supplies.
Bermingham has traveled a long way from her roots in the Boston suburbs of Newton and Andover, Mass. She majored in biology with minors in chemistry and education at Wheaton College in Andover, but when she graduated with a bachelor's degree, she found employers unwilling to give her a research job in the sciences.
"They said, why train me when I'd go off to have a family?" she said.
So she switched gear and started teaching science, subsequently earning a master's degree from Northeastern College in Boston.
Along the way she married Preston Pollock, and three children – Leslie Klingsberg, Preston Pollock and Gregory Pollock followed.
She and Pollock started an architectural firm in the Boston area, with Bermingham handling the finances.
They were enticed by the Caribbean, a place where they often went sailing. When the youngest went off to college, they decided to make the move to St. John.
But what had once been idyllic quickly turned dark.
"We were here six months when he was diagnosed with cancer," she said of her husband. Pollock died in 1991.
A year later, she married Ed Bermingham, who she had met through her late husband.
The Berminghams opened the Pizzeria, a business now owned by her daughter and her husband, Leslie and Ronnie Klingsberg, and operated as Ronnie's Pizza & Mo'.
And they organized Good for St. John, a community organization aimed at providing a leg up to fledgling organizations.
After her second husband died in 2003, Bermingham continued to work in the community. Already a member of the Friends of V.I. National Park and the Pine Peace School board, she joined Rotary.
Now a very energetic 69, she said she doesn't have much spare time. She fills in for Klingsberg at the pizza shop every month when he flies north to visit his wife and daughter, who moved to Vermont because his daughter's learning disabilities call for more assistance than she can receive on St. John.
With five grandchildren and four step-grandchildren plus Ed Bermingham's seven grandchildren, she's busy keeping in touch.
Bermingham said she also likes to travel, with many international stamps in her passport. Seeing new places apparently keeps one young.
"It's the couch potatoes that die," she said, laughing.
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