When Bernice Weltha came to Clear Fork Assisted Living and Memory Care in Willow Park a few years ago, the aides weren’t quite sure what to think about her stories of riding motorcycles cross country and camping for weeks on end. The soft-spoken woman, who spent most of her time reading and doing crossword puzzles, didn’t seem the type.
“She’s not just blowin’ smoke,” said her daughter Loann Maldonado. Her parents started taking long distance rides when she was just out of high school.
“It keeps you from getting old,” said Bernice. “My husband (Rueben James, ‘R.J.’) always had motorcycles and finally got a bigger one that would accommodate me. One summer we went all over the country,” said Bernice.
The pair regularly attended motorcycle rallies all over the United States, including the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
“We didn’t have any obligations at home, so we’d just take off,” said Bernice. “We went north, south, east, and west. We put a lot of miles on them,”
She says she loved the freedom of being on the bike. “It’s also fun to see how other people live and the different scenery.”
There were no cell phones when the couple first began biking long distances. Loann and her three brothers had the plate number written down in case there was a problem, but otherwise, they would only hear from their parents on occasion.
“My dad always said, ‘We’re gonna go while we can, and we’ll sit when we get old. and think about it,’” said Loann.
And they did.
Bernice mother giggled as Loann pointed to a photo of her mother with a broken collarbone — the only time she got hurt on a bike. She didn’t laugh as she recalled a run-in with a Yellowstone bear.
She and R.J. were on a two-week ride and had forgotten to put away some granola they’d been carrying under their seat. The couple watched as the beast toppled the bike and tore into the seat. They knew not to intervene. Eventually the bear left with the food and the two continued on their way.
As they got older, Loann convinced them to pull the bikes in a trailer when traveling to rallies.
In addition to motorcycling, 100 year old Bernice attributes her long life to her “ol’ Norsky background.” Her parents immigrated from Norway before bringing Bernice into the world in the state of Iowa.
Most of her working years were spent in Wichita, Kansas, where she did clerical work. She and R.J. moved to Texas after retirement.
Bernice had been a resident of Granbury for 40 years before moving to Clear Fork in 2017. She and her husband beat a path in their Rock Harbor neighborhood — traveling on foot, bikes or three wheelers.
She continues to stay active since R.J. passed 12 years ago. She walks the perimeter of Clear Fork every day and enjoys the many activities available at the assisted living facility.
“There’s a lot to do,” she said. “Everyone does different things. You can go and do something or stay at home.”
Her small but comfortable apartment was filled with memories and an affirmation that Bernice wrote herself:
“Help me to always be grateful for the gift of being alive and healthy and use it to bring light and life wherever I go.”
She is definitely a ray of light, so it only seemed fitting that Bernice’s 100th birthday wish would be granted last December. Loann worked with a nearby group called Iron Faith Biker Church to set up a ride for her mother.
The church members were happy to attend the birthday celebration and the other residents at Clear Fork were excited to be a part of her big day.
Bernice sported a head band and the family put temporary tattoo sleeves on her for fun.
“She was ready to go!” said Loann.
The group, which included a police escort, took a half-hour drive around the back roads of Willow Park.
Loann says she hopes the group returns this December for Bernice’s 101st birthday ride.
“Shoot, she’d get on one right now,” said Loann. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Anytime,” said Bernice with a smile.