Memories of a Great Teacher – Donald J. Bergsma
When I decided to write a blog, one of my first thoughts was to post about someone or something that has influenced me in design. It may be someone who attended school with me, someone who I have listened to lecture, or someone who taught me something new.
A great example of this is a man whom (other than my family) has had the most influence on my life. Donald J. Bergsma or Mr. B., came into my life when I was a student at St. Petersburg Junior College (SPJC). I was an aloof, undirected student and Mr. B. was the head of the Architectural department. He was our design studio professor and had the reputation of being a hard ass. On more than one occasion, I received the literal prodding of his thumb to my side to "get with the program." It didn't take long for me to realize that these misguided perceptions were wrong and Mr B. was someone who genuinely cared about each of us. He was indeed hard on us (those that needed it), but did so to make us better. He pushed us and expected nothing less than the best.
I distinctly remember two philosophies from Mr. B that I still use today. The first is the concept of "turd on a plate". He would use this term when we presented a project and it didn't have great ideas to support it. It was understood that each design should have a grand idea (concept) and then 2 to 3 supporting ideas. If it was a building, a commercial, or an ad...it didn't matter... If you started with a weak idea for placement, message, etc...and supported it with something random, you would hear the reference of "turd on a plate". I have seen many ideas that have little to support it and many more that seem to be post-rationalized...Turds on a plate!
The second of his philosophies that stuck over the years is the "attractive guy/girl" concept. Mr B. would refer to this when we were presenting our work. It didn't matter if it was architecture, an ad, or whatever... He said, you can look at something an say "wow!", that's attractive...or conversely, it's horrible. If an "attractive guy/girl" passes, you are likely to stop give him/her an extra look. At that point, you may realize that he/she has three eyes , dirt on his/her face, or even smells a bit....but you would never have noticed that unless you stopped in the first place. Our job as designers is to get that initial stop, to be the attention grabbers. If we can get someone to commit more than the typical 7 seconds of time, then we have succeeded.
Our goal is to have them enjoy or even question our work. The more time we get, the better we have done. In the years after J.C., I would randomly exchange notes with Mr. B. Sometimes it would be a joke, a note about his cars or even word about his paintings. As you can see in the image below, Mr B was quite the accomplished painter. An interesting fact is that he would often use everyday media to paint on. This particular image is painted on the flip side of a Ritz cracker box. Anyway, there are many things I remember about Mr. B, many laughs and many lessons. Thanks for everything you did. You are missed!
Almost 20 years since that picture was taken. Not too many days go by that I do not think of his wisdom.
This weekend I learned via serendipity that Mr Bergsma died. The man was truly one of those few instructors you remember forever, and wished you had kept in touch with. I washed out of his Design 2 course many years ago, to pursue a career in IT. I of course bear him no ill will, the choice was mine and he helped me discover that with his honest and relentless questioning. His lessons for design are ones I continue to use in everyday life it seems, in everything from landscaping to simply arranging the furniture. He taught us well, and I can only hope to someday impact others in such a way.
As the 28th of January is approaching I cannot help but think of my departed friend Don. We had lunch virtually every Tuesday here in St. Petersburg. We shared an interest in automobiles, English examples, mainly Bentleys. We each had two early post war cars and rarely tired of tinkering or talking about them. Don blessed my wife and I with 10 years of his wit and paintings of which we have at least twenty painted on virtually every substrate known to man. Knowing him has made me a better man….I will never forget him.
Wow, I am extremely sad to hear that Mr. Bergsma passed away. He was our landlord when I was young girl. We lived in his condo at Villages of Seaport. He owned to units and we lived in his rental property. He would never raise the rent and always made sure that we were taken care of. He was one of kind with a heart of gold. I am now 41 years and today while thinking of all the wonderful people I have met through the years, he was one of them. Tonight, I went to look him up online to see how he was doing, and found this post. I did cry seeing this. I sure wish I would have reached out sooner to thank him for all he did for us. I will never forget him. Truly blessed to have known him!
I too had the honor of being taught by Don Bergsma in Arcitechtural Design And Architectural Rendering in 1973. I have always thought of him as the best teacher and the person who had the most positive influence in my way of percieving the world. I am sad to hear he has passed.
So woefully late in hearing of Mr. B’s passing! To echo all the words above, he was indeed a teacher whose influence remained strong and, yes, hard though he could be, he always cared. It is not every day that we can count teachers/individuals/friends/acquaintances in that category, but he certainly was! We are all very lucky to have known him!
Claudia Beck Maggard
Thanks for the memories. I believe we were his children. He changed me as he did you.
Hi Katie … it’s been a long time. Don was very special and he took good care of us all. He made sure we were poised for success.
Hi Katie. Not sure if my first post made it through the blog security gauntlet so I’ll try again. We certainly did have an amazing mentor in Don. He gave you and I all we needed to succeed and just a bit more.
He was an extremely rare human that wasn’t always fully understood.
I smiled when I saw your name — call or write and I’ll share my notes with you.