It’s not every day that an organization gets to celebrate a retirement and even rarer to celebrate the retirement of two people on the same day. So that makes the retirement of a married couple with a combined service of more than 50 years at OU a special occasion. On December 5, after three decades of service, Joe and Linda Berardo will bid farewell to OU Outreach. This couple has made a lasting imprint on Outreach but as most stories tend to do, theirs has a simple beginning.
Linda started her career with Outreach on September 10, 1985. She was originally the head of Management Information Systems when Outreach was still known as Continuing Education and Public Service (CE&PS). It wasn’t long before she landed the job where she would stay for nearly 30 years. When Bill Dunsworth retired as director of CE&PS Financial Services in March 1986, Linda was ready to step in.
“The academic environment was a big change,” Linda said. “Before coming to OU, I was in manufacturing in Silicon Valley. One of the things you do when you are in manufacturing is build up the cost of a product, which is very similar to building up the cost of a course. Even though it was a different environment, the skillset was transferable.”
Joe’s journey to making Outreach home began on a slightly different path than Linda’s. Joe had been in the Navy since 1980 and once his squadron tour was finished, Joe started at OU in 1985 as a Naval ROTC instructor, a position that he held for three years. However, when the Aviation department was transferred to CE&PS, administrators sought someone with aviation knowledge to look after the details. Joe’s experience as a Naval Flight Officer made him an ideal candidate, and he began working as a temporary employee for Dr. Richard Little in 1989.
In that role, Joe taught supervisory and management noncredit courses to local businesses. But as the CEAP division grew, so did Joe’s job skills. In 1990, he moved into a full-time program specialist position and, in 1992, he advanced to Administrator II and operations manager for the CEAP division. He also taught for Aviation as an adjunct instructor for 15 years.
More recently, he has been teaching courses in the OLLI program. In addition to working full time and raising a family, they both began work on graduate degrees at the same time. Once their two sons came along, Linda took some time off from her studies, while Joe continued his coursework, though taking only one course a semester to ensure that he could keep on top of his day job, help Linda with the kids, and remain in the Naval Reserve. Eventually, Linda and Joe finished their graduate degrees at OU, making them both “official Sooners.”
“Blessed and Valued”
Joe and Linda are not only Sooners by degree but by heart as well. They cite several reasons for staying with the university for nearly 30 years, including the benefits, the relaxed environment, feeling valued and working with excellent people.
“We have felt very blessed and valued over the years,” Joe said. “It’s been a great place to work, so we happily came to work. I think people often don’t realize how lucky they are to be here.”
In addition to enjoying the company of coworkers, the couple also got to enjoy each other’s company: having the freedom to pop into each other’s office to say hi or going out to lunch together. But the biggest rule they followed during the day was “work is work and everything else is everything else,” as well as never sitting together at work functions. They both note with pride that new Outreach employees seldom realize they are married, which Linda says is a huge compliment because it shows how professional they are.
“In one sense, we have worked at the same place but not really together,” Linda said.
However, working in the same space does have other benefits. There is often no need to talk about work since they know so much of each other’s job and day-to-day experiences.
“I think the thing we carry away from our jobs is being able to laugh about the same things and we can be sad about the same things,” Joe said. “For example, when people we know go through tough times or when something happens that we can both laugh about. We get it. We both know the same people and sometimes it’s a source of humor and sometimes it’s comfort and support.”
Once they decided to retire, Joe and Linda knew they were about to start a whole other “career,” which would require using some of the same skill sets they employ in their everyday jobs. The process of selling and buying a home is difficult enough, but when you add three states in between the home you are selling and the one you are buying, the challenge becomes even greater. Since their jobs involve finances, they are both very detail-oriented, which they found to be a great asset during the process. They wasted no time getting started, beginning with de-cluttering their Norman house and moving items into storage to prepare their home for showings. Then they located the perfect home in Las Vegas. Without assistance from family or friends, they packed the rest of their possessions, settled into a rental house after their Norman house sold, made several trips to Vegas to unload items into their new abode and, all the while, kept a good attitude and managed to work well in tandem.
“Much like we do things at work, we calculated, planned, and paid attention to the details,” Joe said. Linda agreed, adding, “You know the love is in the details.”
The Berardos chose a newly built home in Las Vegas, complete with a smaller yard, an upstairs loft that will become a hobby room and, coming this spring, a resort-like hot tub and outdoor kitchen. Not only will they have a new home to decorate and enhance, moving to Las Vegas has other benefits as well. They will be in much closer proximity to their sons (both of whom live in Los Angeles) and closer to Joe’s family, who lives on the West Coast. They are also looking forward to living in a place with very little grass to mow, a dry heat in place of a humid one, no stormy weather and plenty of entertainment only minutes away. While Linda and Joe say they are not interested in gambling, they are excited to dine on food prepared by world-renowned chefs because they are self-proclaimed foodies, as well as see world-class shows by critically acclaimed performers.
“As much time as I spent doing survival in the military, I ended up being more of a city kid after I grew up,” Joe said. “So I gravitate back to the city as I get older because I like to go to a show; I like to go out and eat. I want to be able to go and see the lights; I like the excitement of the city at night.”
Working in a university setting for 30 years tends to leave an impression. The Berardos have been fully committed to their jobs at Outreach, always knowing that they were making a difference. And even though they are leaving Outreach, they would like to serve the higher ed community in Las Vegas. Joe plans to research the OLLI at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) to find out if they are in need of instructors. Linda has also considered teaching at UNLV, but her interest is in gateway classes for freshman.
“I think it would be fun for us and be a way to give back,” Linda said. “A lot of times they teach life skills classes in high school but the students aren’t ready to learn that yet.”
In addition to contributing to their new community through education, the Berardos are looking forward to learning how life works during retirement. Aside from a few trips to see family, their calendar is wide open. Joe plans to spend a lot of time in his new hobby room expanding his model plane collection. Linda is looking forward to enhancing her cooking skills and having her morning workouts at 7 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. But there is always the chance their calendar could use a couple hours of work each week.
“I haven’t really decided not to work again,” Linda said. “I am pretty young but it will be nice to have the break. If I go back to work, it will have to be something that is on my terms.”
While the Berardos are very excited at all the possibilities before them, they are aware of things they are leaving behind in Norman. Shopping trips and dining out won’t result in running into friends as it does now. The sense of community will take a bit of time to build up and it will also take some time to get used to their new surroundings and navigating all the hustle and bustle of a larger metro area. They will certainly miss their coworkers, people who often became beloved friends. However, for all the upcoming adjustments and surprises, you won’t find another couple who is more excited about the great possibilities ahead of them.
“It’s going to be a transition for sure but one I am looking forward to making,” Linda said.