I always wanted to be a geologist; well, maybe not always. An eighth grade yearbook stated that “Bert” wanted to be a carpenter. In the ninth grade, called junior high school in the late 40s, I saw a classmate's father, who happened to be a geologist, driving a 1948 Cadillac. It was the first model with tail fins and the most beautiful car I had ever seen. My immediate thought was, If a geologist could own a car like that, then I want to become a geologist. It was a pivotal decision, perhaps made with the wrong motive, but resulting in a satisfying and prosperous career.
I was born and raised in Bethlehem, PA, not far from Reading where my ancestors settled in the Oley Valley in 1726. The first Bertolet settlers spoke German and were purported to be hard working, kind, trustworthy and religious. I was fortunate to inherit those traits. In third grade I was transferred from a small country school to Calypso Elementary in Bethlehem, PA. My report cards were full of VPs (Very Poor) and Ps (Poor). When I reached Junior High, because of the early bad grades, I was assigned to a homeroom designated 7-5. Seventh grade consisted of seven homerooms with the brightest students in 7-1 and the slow learners in 7-7. However, the misplacement caused my 7-5 classmates to nickname me “brains” so that my self esteem sky rocketed. The following year I was placed in 8-2 and found out I was not so brainy. I did pretty well in high school taking the college and career curriculum. With an assist in the form of financial aid from Lehigh University and a night time job designed for college students at the Bethlehem Steel, I graduated with a degree in geology.
The next move was employment with Standard Oil of Indiana, working as a petroleum geologist in their Wichita, KS, office. My career was interrupted after one year, being drafted into the U. S. Army. It actually was good duty with postings for six months at Fort Dix, NJ; six months at the Presidio in San Francisco and twelve months overseas in Tokyo. After being honorably discharged, I was re-employed by Stanolind in their Jackson, MS, office.
Guard Duty at the Presidio
While living in Jackson, I shared a bachelor’s apartment with a guy who was the assistant administrator at the University Medical Center. In 1958, he got me a blind date with a nurse named Yvonne Pressgrove, a Southern Belle. We were married a year later. We raised three children, sons Barry (cardiologist) and Todd (petroleum geologist) and daughter Toni (ophthalmologist). All three children and my wife graduated from Ole Miss, which, I was informed, entitled me to be classified as a “Southerner by Adoption”. I am proud of both my northern heritage and my southern exposure. In 1964, the family moved to Vidalia, LA, where I joined a small independent and was exposed to the more practical aspects of the oil business. Four years later, I formed my own oil exploration company located in the river city, Natchez, MS.
Natchez is known for its many antebellum homes and fierce dedication to preservation and restoration. Caught up in that environment, I purchased and restored a 1920 dilapidated brick building, considered a major eyesore by the Natchez Garden Club. The remodeled structure, located in the Historic District, became the Bob Bertolet Building. Although, I retired in 2004 and moved to Ridgeland, MS, a small community northeast of the capitol city of Jackson, I still maintain and use the office building.
Other than being a geologist, there were two other things I wanted to accomplish. One was to learn how to play the piano and the other was to write a book. Unfortunately, a playground accident caused some nerve damage in my ear leading to a difficulty in recognizing certain tones. I was forced to abandon any attempt at playing the piano, but not writing the book. In high school and college I received many compliments from teachers and professors about my writing ability. And so the idea was germinated early that some day I would write a novel. I suppose if the driver of the 1948 Cadillac had been a writer, I might already be a famous author.
Bob in His Study
On my retirement in 2002 I decided to write a novel. The result was The Justice Lovers Case, about two individuals who attempt to personally correct the poor administration of justice and the social decay of our American society. Recently I completed a sequel, Typecast For Murder, which chronicles the escapades of criminologist Clarke F.D. Gable on a completely new case.
A literary ancestor, Peter G. Bertolet, MD, wrote in 1860, “This has not been a work for speculative gain, but a mere labor of love and delight.” Writing these two novels, although not without struggle and setback, still was an enjoyable and fulfilling adventure.