Alumni Profile | Orland Bergere ’51

Alumni Profile | Orland Bergere ’51

Orland Bergere ’51 and President Mark Nemec standing next to each other.

(l-r) President Mark R. Nemec, PhD, and Orland Berg re ’51 at the 2021 Golden Stags reunion this past November.

Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Fairfield’s First Graduates.

Orland Bergere ’51 was one of 214 undergraduates to receive a diploma at Fairfield University’s first Commencement exercises on June 12, 1951.

Seven decades later, he made the familiar journey from his current home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania back to his original hometown of Fairfield, to represent the Class of ’51 at the 2021 Golden Stags reunion this past November.

He hasn’t missed a Golden Stags reunion in 20 years. “I wasn’t the only one [from my class] at the last reunion five years ago,” said 92-year-old Orland, “but I’m the only one now!”

Accompanied by his wife Nancy and son Timothy, Orland cheerfully reminisced over lunch at Alumni House — about his Connecticut upbringing, his classmates and professors, and the many blessings that sprang from his Fairfield days.

In the 1940s, Orland’s father had a business in Bridgeport’s garment industry and the family lived in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield. As a teen, Orland walked three miles each way to attend Fairfield College Preparatory School. He graduated from Prep in the spring of 1947 and joined the first cohort of University students on campus that fall.

“Fr. [John] Donnelly taught ethics, Fr. [Gerard] Landrey taught chemistry, Fr. [Laurence] Langguth taught physics.” As if classes had ended just yesterday, Orland rattled off the names of his favorite Jesuit professors from 70 years ago. “Fr. [Arthur] MacGillivray taught the classics, and he wore a cape. When he recited Hamlet, he would jump up on the desk!”

With a major in math and minor in physics, Orland was recruited upon graduation to work for Remington Rand, a burgeoning computer company with offices in Rowayton and New York City. Remington’s first Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC 1) had just launched, and the company was in great need of mathematicians.

The size of a single-car garage, UNIVAC 1 used magnetic computer tape (and later, punch cards) to input data that was then tabulated using vacuum tubes and state-of-the-art circuits before being either printed out or stored on tape.

“I knew circuits and I knew logic, so math and physics equipped me well for the work,” said Orland, who credits his Fairfield liberal arts education with better preparing him for his engineering career than any narrowly focused program could have.

Of the engineers he worked alongside, he said, “Nobody else was as well-rounded as I was. They’d had no philosophy or history, no poetry… Who else could recite ‘The Hound of Heaven’?”

To his wife’s delight, Orland reeled off a few lines of the Francis Thompson poem, then nodded toward Nancy and grinned. “She gets me!”

Except for the two years that he was drafted into the army and sent to San Antonio, Texas to work on projectile trajectories and government computers, Orland worked for the same employer his entire professional career. The company had changed names several times and was known as Unisys when he retired early at the age of 59.

In retirement, Orland set up a workshop in his cellar where he restores old clocks. “They have to be 200 or more years old,” he said. “There’s no money in it, but it keeps me alert, requires my engineering background. I do it to save the antiquities.”

One of Orland’s closest friends at Fairfield was his classmate Jack Merry ’51. Over a school break during their undergraduate years, Jack invited his buddy for a visit to the Merry family’s home in Portland, Maine.

While there, Orland met Jack’s younger sister, Nancy. She was finishing high school and heading off to Wheelock College, in Boston.

Today, blessed with six children and 23 grandchildren, Nancy and Orland recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

Orland wasn’t the only Stag from that era to wed a college pal’s sister. Another friend, Robert Hayden ’52, married Orland’s sister, Beverley. As a result, said the Bergeres’ son Timothy, “Growing up, family get-togethers were like mini-Fairfield reunions!”

As newlyweds, Nancy and Orland had settled in the town of Fairfield. Their six babies were born within five years (“numbers five and six were twins”), and they raised their young family in a house just off of Beach Road, up until Orland’s job moved them to Pennsylvania in 1966.

With strong family and University ties, the Bergeres have returned regularly to town over the decades, although this most recent visit to Fairfield was no small feat, given the ongoing pandemic and Orland’s hip replacement surgery earlier in 2021.

“I have a new hip,” he boasted, then gestured toward his wife, “and she’s going to have a new knee…we’ll be bionic!”

“Well, we had to come to his 70th reunion,” said Nancy with a laugh, “I mean, 92 and still kicking — that’s pretty good!”

“She was a ‘child bride,’” teased Orland, referencing their 4-year age difference. “She doesn’t like creamy peanut butter, doesn’t like brussels sprouts… Other than that, we’ve been very compatible for 65 years.”

Nancy smiled at her husband. “Some of us never grow up.”

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