Long-time Laguna activist honored at peace rally

Jean Bernstein never gave up a fight for a cause in which she believed, and her dedication was honored Saturday at Main Beach when admirers and friends joined the peace vigil to which she was committed.

Bernstein, who had been ailing for months, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 22 with all her children and her caregiver at her bedside in her South Laguna home. She was 88.

"It was a great blessing that all four of us were there," said daughter Leyna Bernstein, who described her mother as the quintessential cup-half-full person as she coped with illness and the death of loved ones.

"She died like she lived. She did a really good job," Leyna Bernstein said.

The family thanked caretaker Angie Rivera, who was also at Bernstein's bedside, and Bernstein's three daughters expressed gratitude to their brother, who was their mother's primary caregiver for the last three years of her life, enabling her to live at home until she died.

Bernstein had outlived doctor's expectations by 18 months.

"She was sent home to hospice a year and half ago," said longtime friend Anita Dobbs. "There was a hospital bed, and we were told to whisper. They gave her a week or two. But she just wasn't ready to go."

Dobbs had shared a commitment with Bernstein to alternative learning programs that led to the formation of the Community Learning Center at Top of the World Elementary School for students in first through fourth grades.

But Laguna is most familiar with Bernstein's commitment to peace.

As long as she could, Bernstein was among the handful of protesters waving peace signs on Saturday mornings at Main Beach.

"I would imagine the end of the Iraq war was of great relief and celebration for Jeanie," Jinger Wallace wrote in an email. "She is considered by many to be the 'mother' of the peace movement in Orange County, working for nuclear disarmament and a ban on nuclear power plants.

"In 1968, Jeanie and friends began the longest running peace vigil in the United States," she wrote.

Wallace encouraged participation in Saturday's vigil as a memorial to Bernstein's lifetime commitment to peace.

Bernstein was also committed to a clean environment.

"I knew her as one who seemed to show a limitless wonder of nature, was able to articulate so clearly why we should act to protect it and had an uncanny ability in conflict situations to express a solution that could garner agreement from those of many perspectives," said South Laguna resident Ginger Osborne. "She is a jewel who will be sorely missed."

Bernstein, known to her friends as Jeanie, was born in Ohio, the daughter of Emil and Henrietta Newman. The family moved to Capitola when Bernstein was a young girl.

According to family members, she often said that seeing the extreme poverty of her schoolmates and their families in the rural community during the Great Depression fueled her lifelong passion for social justice.

The family moved to Los Angeles in 1939. She attended Beverly Hills High School and went on to UCLA, where she was editor of the campus newspaper and a political activist.

Bernstein met her future husband, Sanford, at UCLA. They married in a small ceremony in the university chapel. Her parents did not attend because they disapproved of her choice of an impoverished radical for a husband, according to Leyna Bernstein.

During World War II, she dropped out of college to work at Lockheed, and the young couple became active in liberal causes in the 1940s and '50s.

Her marriage ended in divorce after the birth of their children, and Bernstein moved to Laguna in 1958 to raise her brood first as a single mother and then with her partner, the late Peter Carr.

Bernstein continued her social activism.

She protested the Vietnam War, supported the work of Cesar Chavez on behalf of itinerate farm workers and was a founding member of the Alliance for Survival, and committed herself to ending the threat of nuclear war.

One of her grandchildren summed up Bernstein: "That's my grandma. She's just crazy about peace."

Bernstein was also crazy about nature and wild places. She traveled widely in the U.S. and abroad, including trips to Europe, New Zealand and Africa. In her 70s, she sailed the Amazon and visited England and Ireland with her extended family.

She donated time and money to many environmental causes and fought fiercely to protect the Laguna greenbelt against development.

Bernstein was arrested for chaining herself to a bulldozer to stop the construction of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor through the open space in Laguna Canyon.

One of her last campaigns resulted in the preservation of the precious hills and the habitat of the endangered Crownbeard behind her home near Aliso Creek.

Bernstein was a board member emeritus of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, South Laguna Civic Assn. and Village Laguna.

Bernstein is survived by her children Marc, Jolie, Leyna and Shari; adopted daughter Marion Pack; grandchildren Zachariah, Lucas, Jaelyn and Eli; nephew Lester Krupp Jr.; nieces Donna Hunt, Jamie Newman, and Erika and Lisa Krupp; cousins Donald Newman and Patty Krupp; and beloved brother-in-law Les Krupp.

A celebration of her life is expected to be announced in January.

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