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Community Advocacy Organization

Family Makes All the Difference-Virg and Teri Bernero

Courtesy photo from Bernero family: Teri and Virg in Pompei.

Family means everything. Not just his, hers, or their family; everyone's family. The call for public service came early and ran deep. Former Mayor Virgil Bernero met the love of his life, Teri Johnston, while in college. They both attended Adrian College in Michigan. Virg, a political science major, was campaigning for student council president. He knocked on Teri’s door with some literature about his campaign. “I remember that I was wearing sweats and had my hair up in a ponytail,” said Teri. “I was cleaning my dorm room.” When Teri's roommate returned home later that afternoon, she asked, "anyone stop by?"

“No, just some nerd stopped by; he was running for president," she replied. "He left us some literature. It’s over there on the table.”

Teri was an elementary education major. “I called her “EE,” said Virg. Teri made a career of helping to educate children. She has been with the Lansing School district for 32 years. In addition to teaching, Teri was the principal at several Lansing schools.

Virg and Teri have been married for 33 years. “That’s how we actually got together,” said Teri. “It was through student council.” Virg achieved his initial goal, becoming student body president. He held those positions for three years. In Teri's sophomore year, Virg was looking for a commissioner of elections. After doing his homework and asking around, everything led to Teri as the ideal person to recruit for this position. Teri was a resident assistant (RA) at the time and held other leadership positions. When Virg came to ask Teri to fill his commissioner position, she told him no because she was too busy. "That's okay," said Virg. “I like busy people.” He kept at it and eventually convinced her to join his cause. “The rest is history,” said Teri.

The couple's first date was Christmas night in 1985. It was Virg's senior year. "We went to see a "Christmas Carol" at Oakland University," recalled Virg.

Virg grew up in the Pontiac area, and Teri grew up in the Frazier area. "So, our hometowns were only like 35 minutes apart," said Teri. "Right off the bat, I knew he was a brilliant and articulate young man,” said Teri. “He had big dreams and goals.”

Teri recalled a time where the two lovebirds were hanging out (in their cars) in the parking lot at Adrian College. Virg inquired about Teri’s future. “I want to make an impact in the world,” said Teri. “I want to do it through education, one child at a time.” Virg had a similar answer to the same question. “I want to change the world, too,” said Virg. He knew then that his future was in politics. “We were drawn to each other because we both had a passion for public service,” explained Teri.

"I knew she was the one," said Virg. "During this time, Teri often traveled to Texas to visit her mother. "I missed her every moment she was gone, and all was not right with the world until she returned," acknowledged Virg. "She was the one!"

Teri admitted that she planned to move back towards the warmer weather after college. “Yep, Virg messed up my plans,” said Teri. Teri took a job with the Lansing School district right after college. “Marrying Teri was an instant positive,” said Virg. “When I would canvas for votes, people would say, oh, you married to Mrs. Bernero. It was all positive.” Teri was the kind of principal that her students loved. Most kids would dread going to the principal's office. Not Principal Bernero. Teri had a way of working everything out, so then everyone was happy. "She's a phenomenal person," said Virg. "An educator extraordinaire."

Virg noted that he must give his wife tremendous credit for being that exceptional person who’s able to give her children everything and have an outstanding career at the same time. "Her strength, patience, and wisdom make it all work," said Virg.

Courtesy photo from Bernero family. Pictured (L to R) are Kelly, Miles, Virg, Teri, Logan and Virginia.

Teri and Virg raised two daughters, Kelly and Virginia. Kelly is a lawyer, and Virginia works for a nonprofit. "They have just brought us our first grandkids (Miles, 4 months, and granddaughter Logan)," said a proud grandpa.

What made you decide that politics was your direction? “It was all I ever wanted to do,” said Virg. “There was a time early on that I considered being a police officer, or maybe a lawyer. Nah,” I thought,” I went back to my original dream of changing the world through politics.”

Virg explained that having a social conscience ran in the family. "My mother was ahead of her time on social justice," noted Virg. "Any injustice, she would speak out. Now, my aunt Betty was a county commissioner. I started campaigning for her when I was age 10. She was the politician of the family. I got an early taste of it and was bit by the political bug. I loved the people, the door to door, and the debate. My aunt was a tell it like it was politician," explained Virg.

While in college, Virg worked for congressman Bob Carr. “We hit it off from the start,” stated Virg. “I was his driver.” Virg planned to go to law school at this point. “Why would you ever want to go to law school,” said Carr. “Well, you went to law school,” said Virg. “Yeah, and I would like to get those three years back.” Carr explained to Virg that if he wanted to practice law, go to law school, but his goal was politics. Go into politics!

Virg thought to himself, well, he should know, he is in congress. On that basis alone, Virg ran for county commissioner. "You either go to law school, or you serve on the county commission," said Teri. "You are not going to do both." Virg was a county commissioner for eight years. In between running for Mayor of Lansing, Virg ran for State Representative.

The opportunity came up for him to run for Mayor of Lansing. “I ran because there was a need,” said Virg. “I was able to accomplish some things that I am very proud of as Mayor. I could not have been as successful without the love and support of my wife. She truly is my rock.

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