Albert Ramon Bertolas was an accomplished professional and extraordinary family man. He loved his wife and children with a depth that held them secure in hard times and a breadth that embraced them with the joy of living. His gift for teaching influenced the lives of students long into adulthood, and throughout his lifetime, he never lost his love for learning.
Albert was born to Louis and Anna (Yob) Bertolas on June 8, 1928, in the family homestead at 1607 N. Van Buren Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the last of six boys to join the family. His story began at a time when America was enjoying industrial prosperity, unaware that it would soon be in the throes of the Great Depression.
Having emigrated from Trento, Italy, Louis and Anna settled on Milwaukee’s east side to raise their six children. Albert attended the neighborhood Cass Street Grade School and graduated from Lincoln High School. He excelled in academics and the arts. He was a talented musician, learning to play ten different instruments, with saxophone, clarinet and piano being his favorites. In college, Albert pursued a degree in teaching from Wisconsin State Teachers’ College, later named University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His choice to become an educator would prove to be the perfect fit for him and for the thousands of students who benefited from his passion for teaching.
In the mid to late 1940s, community centers were popular places for young people to socialize and enjoy entertainment. Partial to the sound of the big bands, Albert played in a dance band that attracted many listeners to the center. One young woman, Dorothy Peters, often came with her friends to listen to music and dance. Albert took notice of Dorothy, and during a band break, he approached her on his way to the water fountain. His opening line—“Don’t you ever stay home?”—must have been spoken in a way that kept Dorothy coming back. In fact, it turned out to be the beginning of their love story. The two of them enjoyed each other’s company, whether they were taking a walk to downtown, going to dances or attending concerts of popular singers. After a four-year courtship, Albert and Dorothy were married on June 23, 1951, at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
No sooner had the young couple decided to begin their family, than Albert received a military draft notice in November of 1951. When he reported to the draft board, he was placed with the Marine Corps. Albert tried to apply for a deferral because Dorothy was expecting their first child, but he was inducted nonetheless. The Corps recognized his level of intelligence, and sent him to radio school, where he eventually became a radioman. When he was later transferred to North Carolina, Dorothy joined him and the couple was blessed with the birth of their second child. In 1953, Albert was discharged and the family of four returned to Milwaukee and put down roots at N. 22nd Street.
Albert and Dorothy’s home was located across the street from 24th Street School, where Albert took a position teaching 5th grade. His presence, as well as his teaching, made a lasting impression on his students in that first class. To present day, they still gather yearly for a reunion, and up until the last two years, Albert was the guest of honor.
Albert taught 5th and 6th grade at several schools in the Milwaukee area. He was always reaching out to help his students, and at the same time, he was mentoring them in life. More often than not, Albert could be found on the playground after lunch, playing ball with the students or encouraging his colleagues to do the same. Because of his love for music, he produced musical programs for the whole school and sometimes became the solo performer. He helped promote the audio visual department and oversaw the Safety Cadets. Continuing his own education, Albert graduated with a master’s degree in education from Marquette University in 1958.
At one point in his career, Albert was promoted to acting principal at McDowell Grade School. As it turned out, he missed the classroom setting so much that he returned to teaching at Kluge School. It was where he belonged.
When Albert wasn’t in the classroom during the summer months, he found work to supplement the family income. The temporary jobs were varied and, for many of them, he was overqualified. But nothing was beneath Albert, who was eager to support his family that had grown to eight children.
Albert’s enthusiasm in the classroom was transferred to his home life. He often played little tricks on the family, hiding in closets or tossing ice cubes on an unsuspecting person in the shower. With only one bathroom in the home and Albert’s antics, life was an adventure for all ten of the Bertolas family.
In 1987, Albert retired from teaching after 36 years with the Milwaukee Public Schools. The National Teaching Hall of Fame recognized him for his dedicated teaching career. But the following year, tragedy struck the family with the disappearance of their beloved daughter Sandra. It was a pain that never went away.
After retiring, Albert and Dorothy journeyed to many parts of the world. Traveling was a joy for both, and one trip in particular was a real treat for Albert. They traveled to his ancestral homeland in Italy, including visits to his parents’ villages—a trip he treasured for a lifetime.
Over time, Albert developed heart problems and suffered two strokes. Still passionate about music, he continued to play by finding a way to perform with one hand. He also did woodworking projects, making a hobby of crafting bird houses and shaping animals and painting them. After the first stroke took his speech, Albert depended on the “love of his life,” Dorothy, to be his interpreter…and joke teller! He always had a great sense of humor and, taking his cue from his favorite comedian Jack Benny, he liked to tell jokes. Dorothy took on the role for him, but even she acknowledged that her delivery wasn’t the same as his. Throughout the trials of his life, Albert persevered. He was a tireless worker in all he did, and he had a great sense of humor.
In 2007, Albert developed cancer of the bladder and battled it courageously until his death on Wednesday, March 10, 2010, at the age of 81.
Albert will always be loved and dearly missed as a husband, father and grandpa.
Albert Ramon Bertolas is survived by the love of his life, Dorothy, married 58 years. He was preceded in death by his youngest, unforgettable daughter, Sandra, and 5 brothers and their spouses Alfred (Annabelle), Aldo (Madeline), Rudolph (Mary), Tulio (Pearl) and Julio (Theresa) Bertolas. Survived by his loving children Laura (Kim) Duvernell, Alan, Donna (Paul) Sheperd, Cynthia (Scott) Arnoldussen, Perry, Paula (Roger) Patoka, Lisa (Rob) Pearson; grandchildren Mark (Shannon), John (Ayme), Peter (Laureanna), Tiffany, Travis, Hannah, Katrina, Tony (Bertolas), Marisa, Nick, Sara, Ryan, Jeremy, Tony (Pearson), and Angela; great grandchildren Kaitlyn, Emily, Matthew, Nathan, Riley, Sophia and Sierra; nieces and nephews. Visitation at the Funeral Home, Sunday, March 14th, 4:30 – 7:00 PM. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Anthony’s Church, N74 W13604 Appleton Avenue, Menomonee Falls, Monday, March 15th, 10:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the American Cancer Society. The family was served by Suminski Family Funeral Homes, Suminski/Weiss, 1901 N. Farwell Avenue (414-276-5122). To leave a memory of Albert or to sign the online guest book, visit www.lifestorynet.com.