NORTH STAR —Bernadine “Bernie” Niekamp and Melva Barga have a lot in common. Both are widowed, residents of rural North Star, members of the auxiliaries of the North Star Fire Department and North Star American Legion and members of St. Louis Catholic Church in North Star and its St. Ann’s Sodality,
Soon, they will share another common thread, as both have been selected to be this year’s grand marshals for the North Star Picnic, set for July 16 and 17. It is sponsored by the North Star American Legion and North Star Fire Department.
Niekamp has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary for 48 years, and the fire department auxiliary for 12 years, while Barga, too has been on both for a number of years. She has been secretary of the fire department auxiliary for 18 years.
They were both surprised and figured their age had something to do with being chosen. They found out at the Quarter Auction the first Friday after Easter when it was announced by Fire Chief Bill Roll.
“I was also surprised and pleased,” said Niekamp, a retired educator.
Niekamp, who was widowed in 1995 when husband Victor died. He had been active on the fire department and their three sons are all volunteer firefighters. Stan and Jim [who is a captain] are members of North Star Fire and Jeff is now with Sidney.
Niekamp, who also has a daughter, Sharon Niekamp of Tucson, Arizona, and five grandsons, is retired from teaching. She taught third grade at North Star Elementary School [now known as the town’s Community Center where the celebration is now held] for six years, beginning in 1959 via a cadet program while attending college. She then stayed home while raising her children and returned to the classroom in the Ansonia Local School District from where she retired in 2003 with a little more than 30 years in education.
The daughter of the late Arthur and Leona (Gehle) Sheets, Niekamp is their only living child. She had two brothers, John and Dan, and a sister, Barbara, all of whom are deceased.
She graduated from Ansonia High School in 1957 and earned her bachelor of science in education from Bluffton University. She taught third and fourth grades and finished with seventh and eighth grades, teaching the latter for 15 years.
“It was a cultural shock [going from elementary to junior high students,” she said.
She is a member of the Darke County Retired Teachers Association, bowls Tuesday nights on a bowling league in Versailles for a 33-week season, plays cards with a group of women every Friday and meets with other Ansonia retirees once a month at Bob Evans in Greenville.
Barga, daughter of the late Cletus and Dorothy (Ayette) Goubeaux was one of seven children. She has two three brothers, Ivan, Leonard and Wayne Goubeaux as well as one sister, Diane Carter, living Her oldest brother, Edward and youngster brother Norbert, are deceased.
Husband Eugene died in 1992.
“He was treasurer for the fire department for 30 years and, I did it for him after he had his stroke,” Barga said. “I quit the treasurer’s job after five years because I figured it was time for someone else to take over. I was told I was the only woman ever on the board.”
She and her husband were married in 1955, after having met at the Crystal Ball.
Barga, who loves gardening, said she worked at Midmark for a couple of years and also worked part-time at Stemley Canning Co. and Star Greenhouse over the years.
The Bargas are the parents of 11 children: Kathy (Buening), Rita (Griesdorn), Ralph, Theresa (Poling), Norb, Eileen (Lochtefeld), Joan (Heitkamp) and Ruth, Bob, Mary and Tom. There are 24 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren with two on the way.
Niekamp and Barga said the old elementary school is the third site for these North Star Picnics. They were initially held at Ungren Woods west of North Star and, for many years, was at the old American Legion, which is now the town’s fire department.
During the picnic, both of them work at the Fancy Stand, and Niekamp also works with the barbecue chicken line.