West Dundee woman celebrates 100th birthday

West Dundee woman who helped church get lighted cross celebrates 100th birthday

  • The lighted cross on the steeple of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee was donated by Bernice and Bob Duff in 1962. Bernice Duff will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 5.

    The lighted cross on the steeple of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee was donated by Bernice and Bob Duff in 1962. Bernice Duff will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 5. Courtesy of Bethlehem Lutheran Church

  • Bernice Duff, the oldest member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee, turns 100 on July 5.

    Bernice Duff, the oldest member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee, turns 100 on July 5. Courtesy of Bethlehem Lutheran Church

 
Submitted by Bethlehem Lutheran Church
Updated 7/3/2019 7:00 AM

Bernice Duff, the oldest member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Dundee, celebrates her 100th birthday on Friday, July 5. She lives with her son, Scott Duff, in West Dundee.

Bernice Duff was born July 5, 1919, to Ernest and Marie Schroeder, who lived in Elgin. Bernice attended St. John's Lutheran School. 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 in Elgin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bernice and her older brother Paul maintained the family home until he went into the military 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 National Watch Company. 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, it 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 World War II 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 28 years and had a son, Scott, and adopted another son, Robert.

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The Duffs managed the Standard station on the southeast corner of routes 72 and 31 in West Dundee. One day Bob was talking to a customer who 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."

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.

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.

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