By Kevin Wilson
Hundreds of couples said, “I do,” while standing in front of Herbert Bergstrom. Thousands of people said goodbye to friends after hearing that friend’s life told by the pastor known by everybody as “Dr. B.”
The people who knew Bergstrom the best couldn’t stop talking about him if they tried.
“There are not enough adjectives,” Joe Provence said, “to describe this great man.”
Bergstrom, technically leading the retired life in Lubbock but never far away from performing a service, died Friday in Lubbock at age 97.
Born Oct. 16, 1916, in Thrall, Texas, Bergstrom came to New Mexico after graduating high school to work on a farm and at a laundry. It was near Portales, at the age of 26, he felt a call to be a pastor during a revival meeting at Bethel Baptist Church.
“That night during the meeting,” Bergstrom said, according to his family obituary, “I thought the Lord wanted me to do something, so I went forward to ask for prayer. When the pastor prayed for me, he asked the Lord to reveal what His will was for me. Then, clear as a bell, the Lord said He wanted me to preach. I’ll never forget that experience that night.”
And he never shied away. After graduating from Eastern New Mexico University — he served during that time as pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church near Dora — he attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and was a pastor for numerous churches in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
Provence, who spent three years at youth minister at Clovis’ First Baptist Church, said Bergstrom was a biblical scholar and the complete opposite of a “fire and brimstone” preacher.
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle Christian men I have ever known,” Provence said. “My wife and I have been gone from that church for 50 years, and we still consider him our pastor. Any time we had a problem we needed to talk to someone about, I would pick up the phone and call Herbert Bergstrom.”
Bergstrom was remembered so fondly by the youth group Provence led that when he put together a 50-year reunion of the group last year, members opted to have it in Lubbock and not Clovis so Bergstrom could join them. Bergstrom fell ill just before the reunion, unfortunately, and a daughter performed in his absence.
Bergstrom served churches at Ranchvale, Clovis and Portales — and even hitchhiked between Clovis and Portales to do services. Family members said he did against their advice, and even against the advice of the drivers who picked him up.
He returned to ENMU as a visiting professor of religion from 1953 to 1960, and spent another 29 years teaching religion classes on a part-time basis. He also taught at Chapman College and Clovis Community College.
Kevin Duncan, who first met Bergstrom as a teenager starting out in the mortuary business, said he could always call Bergstrom about a person who had died, and receive instant recollection about the person, their families and the businesses they ran.
“You could call him and tell him somebody passed away, and he’d know the names of the family,” said Duncan, funeral director at Steed-Todd Funeral Home. “It blew me away how well he could remember names, even into his 90s. He hardly ever used the Bible. He just knew the scripture from his mind.”
Bergstrom moved to Lubbock in 1995, Provence said, because it was the only way to have a quiet retirement. He still, Provence said, “kept the highway hot,” and would visit Clovis multiple times per week because everybody requested “Dr. B” officiate a wedding or funeral.
“He made them so personalized,” Provence said. “He did not just pull out a sermon he did at 100 funerals. It would always be geared to the person. He always knew these people, so he could minister to the families. When you sat in on one of his funeral services, he made it feel like he was talking directly to you.”
And when Bergstrom couldn’t come to them? Why, they’d go to him. Bill Griggs said Bergstrom married him, his son, his brother and his daughter, but wasn’t so sure his granddaughter would get the same honor.
“She wanted to have Dr. Bergstrom do her wedding, but he was in assisted living. It tickled him to death. We had the wedding (at his facility) on a Saturday. They set up the meeting. He went down in his wheelchair and performed the wedding. It was a real prize to us that he could do that.”
He even touched lives by proxy, Provence said, as some of the flowers sent to the dual services Tuesday in Clovis and Lubbock were sent by people who had never met Bergstrom but heard “Dr. B” stories.