Friends, colleagues and neighbors gathered on the Artisan Green in Old Town Sunday to dedicate a stone bench in honor of the late George Oberst. In a ceremony attended by approximately 50 people, Oberst was remembered as a man of many talents, whether it was as a woodworker, stone mason, a folk dance enthusiast and organizer, an avid cyclist, or as a civic-minded citizen who served his community.
Recalling Oberst’s service on the Berea Planning and Zoning Commission, Mayor Steve Connelly recalled an incident in 1993 in which Oberst took the lead in insisting that new subdivisions include sidewalks on both sides of the streets. Up until that time, requirements for sidewalks were routinely waived by the commission. That changed when Oberst began championing the cause of sidewalks, and later, bike lanes. “Now sidewalks have come to be expected amenities, instead of luxuries you are lucky to have,” Connelly told the audience. “Our job now is to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work that George cared about so passionately. We do so today, in part, with this memorial. We all salute George, appreciate his contributions, and we will be steadfast in trying to keep his memory alive,” Connelly added.
Speaking on behalf of the local dance community, Shirley Carlberg recalled Oberst’s wit and good nature when it came to organizing events for the Contra Dance Association, which Oberst helped found in 1992. Carlberg also noted Oberst went out of his way to welcome and encourage new dancers, and that he was a dedicated supporter of the dance and music community in Berea. Said Carlberg: “It was an honor and a joy to have him as a part of our group. We’ll miss him.”
Addressing the gathering on behalf of cyclists in Berea and Madison County, Dave McFarland remembered George Oberst as man of youthful energy and optimism. “He was 66, had the spirit of a 23-year-old, and the legs of a 32-year-old, and he was the most community-minded person I’ve had the pleasure to be around. George left a happy legacy, and he just left this place we call life a whole lot better place,” said McFarland.
Stone mason Mark Martin, who designed the artisan bench and helped install it, expressed hope that Oberst would have approved of the memorial. “When I came up with the idea, George was looking over my shoulder,” Martin said. “I just like to think that George is grinning when he sees that.” Martin noted others helped bring the project to fruition, including Frank Jenkins, Joe Dinwiddie of North Carolina, Berea contractor Gary Cheeks, as well as McFarland, who lobbied city officials to make the event possible.
Concluding the ceremony, Oberst’s wife, Wendy Satterthwaite, thanked the audience for attending and noted her husband would have been delighted that so many of his friends of such diverse interests were present to honor him. “I think he would have been so tickled by this gathering, with all of his most beloved activities right here: biking, city governance, contra dancing, stone masonry, all assembled together. He really was a Renaissance man,” Satterthwaite said.
Satterthwaite added the location for the bench was especially fitting, since Oberst loved attending the outdoor concerts on the lawn in front of the Berea Welcome Center. Satterthwaite closed her remarks by adding it’s comforting that Oberst, who passed away in March 2016, will continue to be remembered. “We miss him every day, and it helps to know he’s not forgotten,” Satterthwaite said.
After the ceremony, several attendees mounted their bicycles and departed for a bike ride in Oberst’s memory.