‘A class act’ - Bernthal remembered as caring, impactful leader

John Bernthal

‘A class act’ - Bernthal remembered as caring, impactful leader

27 Jul 2021    

John Bernthal, professor emeritus and longtime department chair of the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders (SECD) in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is being remembered by colleagues and loved ones for his contributions to the field and his kindness toward others. Bernthal passed away on July 23, 2021.

An internationally renowned speech-language pathologist, Bernthal served as professor and department chair of SECD from 1984 to 2011. Along with teaching, he also conducted research, publishing in the area of speech sounds disorders. Prior to coming to Nebraska, his career included positions in the public schools of Louisiana, Northwestern State (Louisiana), Minnesota State University–Mankato, University of Maryland, and University of Northern Iowa.

“John Bernthal was a class act,” said Marjorie Kostelnik, professor in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies, and dean of the college from 2003 – 2017. “He was a man of vision – at the same time, he was a stickler for details because he knew how much the details make a difference in people’s lives.”

According to Kostelnik, Bernthal was a champion for the Barkley Memorial Center, the students who learned there, those who sought services there, and for the faculty and staff. When he first became chair of the department, one of the first items on his agenda was a proposal for an 18,000 square foot addition to the Center, which was completed in 1986. 

“John Bernthal was instrumental in my return to my roots here in Nebraska,” said Kristy Weissling, professor of practice and speech-language pathology clinic coordinator in the Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic. “His leadership created a department that enticed me to leave the ocean breezes and come home. He kept a firm hand on the wheel of the department for decades and was instrumental in bringing in some of the best speech-language scientists of all time.”

Professor John Maag has many fond memories of Bernthal. One experience that has stayed with him is when he first accepted his faculty position and hadn’t yet closed on his house in Lincoln, Bernthal opened his home to Maag and let him stay there for several nights. 

“John Bernthal was the main reason I left the University of Maryland to join the faculty at the Barkley Memorial Center. He was kind, truthful, and treated everyone with respect and never said a cruel word about anyone,” Maag said.

Bernthal was very active with the American Speech Language Hearing Association. He was a member and chair of the ASHA Standards Council, ASHA VP for Quality Services in Speech-Language, and served as president of the organization in 2001. Bernthal was an ASHA Fellow and a recipient of Honors of the Association.

In 2018, Bernthal received the inaugural Wisherd Award for Outstanding Service to UNL from the Emeriti and Retirees Association. He received the honor for his leadership in Nebraska’s and Big Ten’s retirees’ associations; ushering at the Lied Center for Performing Arts; leading guest lectures in campus courses; continued service on doctoral committees; representing the university in professional associations; and making accreditation visits for the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association.

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College of Education and Human Sciences
Special Education and Communication Disorders