Donna Bernhardt, the shy editor of the Checkerboard, has organized the last reunion of the 99th Division. A native daughter of Marion KS, Donna began working at the Marion County Record while in high school and married her sweetheart Dennis Bernhardt after graduation. Bill Meyer, editor of the Marion County Record and the Checkerboard, hired her to work in the mailroom and edit copy. In 1980 she began to set type for the Checkerboard and then progressed to assembling and editing the articles and photos on a computer. Her duties increased as Bill Meyer, a demanding editor, realized that this young, quiet woman was unusually capable.
In 1994 Bill and Joan Meyer asked Donna to accompany them to her first 99th reunion in Denver. There she met many of the vets she had come to know through correspondence, phone calls, and submitted articles, for she had assumed the job of keeping track of the members and sending out subscription renewals. Donna remembered Denver as a wonderful experience because the 99ers treated her as if she were part of their family.
In 1996 the difficult task of organizing the reunions fell on Donna’s shoulders. Going to the reunions became her summer vacation; eventually Dennis and their two daughters accompanied her and helped with registration and other assorted duties. In 2001, Bill Meyer suffered a heart attack, so her responsibilities at the Record and the Checkerboard increased. It is safe to say that without Donna the Checkerboard would have ceased to exist. Bill subsequently returned to the office, but Donna essentially ran both papers.
According to Donna the work has been a “labor of love.” With the Checkerboard “I get to see each edition from beginning to end — keying the letters, designing the pages, and mailing out the finished product to people who look forward to each and every issue.” At reunions, “I have to be more visible than I care to; I’m forced into a role in which I am not really comfortable. But, the reunions are like family gatherings to me. Although it is hectic and time-consuming, I want to give back because these guys gave so much. They are a special group; I don’t think that people today have the same ethics as these guys. I am going to miss seeing everyone.”
Fortunately Donna has other interests — doting on her three grandchildren and riding motorcycles with Dennis on the open road. Next summer it will seem strange and sad not to be traveling to some city where veterans gather to renew friendships and remember what they did in the great World War II.
PS. My connection with the 99th Division began when I learned that the division had its own newspaper. In the spring of 2001, I submitted my first piece to the Checkerboard, which Bill and Donna published. Seeing that I had an outlet for my writing, I decided to do more. I also discovered that the paper published a list of active members. That roster gave me names I could contact for their stories. Without the Checkerboard and the cooperation of many 99ers, “Once Upon A Time In War: The 99th Division in WWII” would never have been written.