Bernice Duff, the oldest member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee, celebrates her 100th birthday on July 5th. She lives with her Son Scott in West Dundee. It would be nice if you sent her a birthday card.
Bernice was born July 5, 1919, to Ernest and Marie Schroeder, who lived in Elgin. Bernice attended St. John’s Lutheran School in Elgin. Her Mother became sick and passed during Bernice’s senior year of high school. Twenty-two months later her Father was killed in an industrial accident at the woodworking shop where he worked in Elgin. Bernice and her older Brother Paul maintained the family home until he went into the service during World War II. Bernice then rented a room in a friend’s house.
In order to support herself, she went to work at Elgin Watch. She had the position of installing a very tiny part, called the “jewel”, into each watch. However, it seemed every time she picked up the “jewel” with a tweezers, if flew across the room. Realizing that this was not her calling, she found a position at Toastmaster in Elgin, where she wrapped the coil that heated the toaster. As WWII progressed, Toastmaster changed to making things for the war effort. At that point, Bernice made tracer bullets.
Bernice met her husband Bob Duff at the Prince Castle Hamburgers and Ice Cream in Elgin. They were married for twenty-eight years and had a Son Scott and adopted another Son Robert.
The Duffs managed the Standard station on the Southeast corner of Routes 72 and 31 in West Dundee. Bob was a very friendly man and, one day he was taking to a customer. The man said he had lost his Son and, to lessen the grief, he started making lighted crosses to put on churches. He felt every cross was a monument to his Son and a way to remember him. Bob came home and told Bernice the man’s story and that he felt it would be a wonderful memorial to her Mother and Father. Bernice had always wanted to do something to remember her loving Lutheran parents, having lost them at such a young age. That is how in 1962 the Duffs came to order a lighted cross to replace the copper-clad wooden cross on the steeple of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee.
This resulted in Bethlehem becoming known as the “Church of the Lighted Cross”
The light source of the cross is neon and is held in place by four bolts. Since the steeple has an extremely steep pitch, it was not easy to find someone to install and repair the cross. A steeplejack was found in Wisconsin to climb up and work on the cross. The cross has been hit by lightning several times. Some trustees recall that one year it was hit at least twice.
The cross is controlled by a timer inside the tower at the lower level. The transformer for the electricity is inside, right under the cross, at the top of the steeple. There are no ladders in the tower-steeple area. In order to check that all is in order, the trustees have had to climb up the framing rafters, certainly not a favorite job.
Today repairs would be done using a crane and the cross could be brought down, repaired and taken back up all in one day.
Thanks to Bernice and her late husband Bob, who died in 1970 at the age of 51, the Church of the lighted cross is still lighting the way to Christ.