December 27, 2022 at 2:33 p.m.
Gift-giver Grandma Bernie treasures special presents
Three first grade classrooms at Melrose Area Elementary School in Melrose were filled with heartwarming moments – and love – for Grandma Bernie Rieland Dec. 16.
Recuperating from an injured shoulder, Rieland was excited to return to school to hand out Christmas gifts to each student, the three teachers and the elementary principal. But Rieland received special gifts in return.
“You’re the best Grandma Bernie,” first grader Albertin Hernandez Bravo said.
Rieland started her 21st year as a foster grandma in September.
“That’s the best program ever, and it’s not just for grandmas. We have foster grandpas too,” she said. “I am so proud to be a foster grandma.”
Connections continue today with former students in the form of phone calls and graduation party invitations.
A photo of Rieland surrounded by students as they celebrated her Oct. 19 85th birthday on Oct. 26 hangs on the refrigerator door in her Melrose home. Two days later she took a tumble in her home, which landed her in the hospital, and she is now recuperating at home, where nurses tend to her medical needs.
“They’re my angels,” Rieland said.
But she is hopeful she will return to school to help out in the first grade classrooms her usual three days a week, where students fondly called her “Grandma Bernie.”
But she did not want to miss out on her Christmas tradition of gifting students with a small token of her fondness for them. Thanks to her granddaughter, Emily Welle, a teacher at the school, who helped her fill the bags with goodies, and to her nurses who approved her visit to the school, Rieland was able to hand out gifts in person.
On the sweater of her injured left shoulder was a round face with a frown, an indication to students and staff not to touch Rieland there. There was a smiley face on her right shoulder, the side on which she received many hugs.
Accompanied by what she called her two elves, daughters Lynne Revermann and Nancy Sova, Rieland visited the first of the three classrooms, led by teacher Bunnie Anderson. With her hands folded in front of her and a smile on her face, she listened as students sang one of their Christmas program songs, “Christmas in Our School,” just for her. They also presented her with a large, homemade Christmas card signed by each student. Rieland smiled as she handed each student a gift, which included candy and a small coloring book and an eraser.
“I know you don’t make many mistakes, but just in case you do here’s an eraser,” she said.
Then she ventured over to Tracy Berscheit’s classroom where students sang “Polar Puppy,” after which Rieland handed out gifts, with some children handing her pictures they colored. She received a second large, homemade signed card along with a reindeer ornament made by students.
In Callie Mayers’ classroom, students sang songs and asked Rieland Christmas-related questions, since they have been learning about traditions and celebrations.
“We want to know what Christmas was like when you were a first grader and younger,” Mayers said. “What was your favorite part of Christmas when you were a kid?”
“The cookies my mother made,” Rieland said.
Mayers asked how she celebrated Christmas years ago.
“We always set up the tree on Christmas Eve, and we did have presents, not very many like now; probably a pencil and maybe a tablet. One year I got a sled. Once in a while we got some clothes.”
Rieland told students how her recuperation is going.
“I have nurses who come to my house, and they help me, and I have to do some therapy,” she said, as a young boy blurted out, “I have therapy too.”
Before Rieland left the last classroom, she was presented with a gift.
“We have something special from us,” Mayers said, of the third homemade Christmas card she received.
“I just treasure them all,” Rieland said clutching that card.
These heartwarming gifts and moments made Rieland’s Christmas special.