Maurice Paul Bertino

Custodian, athlete, theater-lover

Maurice Bertino, a longtime fixture in the Claremont and Mt. Baldy communities, died on July 6, 2012 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Hollywood. He was 80.

Mr. Bertino was born April 18, 1932 to Joseph and Angelina Bertino, 3 ½ years after the Wall Street Crash heralded the start of the Great Depression. The youngest of 3 children, Mr. Bertino grew up in the tightly-knit Italian community of Guasti, just east of Ontario, California.

With the enactment of prohibition from 1920 to 1933, economic troubles came early to Guasti. In a memorial written for Mr. Bertino, his longtime friend James Cooley shared that, “The elements of struggle in the lives of the grape-growing Italian families and their children were, for Maurice, offset by the freedom of the open countryside.”

Mr. Bertino’s father operated a service station and garage he’d opened in 1924. Now run by Joseph Bertino’s grandchildren, Bertino’s Automotive Service is still flourishing in Rancho Cucamonga today. While Mr. Bertino did not inherit his father’s passion for automobiles, he was drawn to athletics from an early age, competing on the swim team at Chaffey High School, from which he graduated in 1949.

As a teenager, Mr. Bertino also worked at the Mt. Baldy Ski Tows in exchange for free skiing—alongside friends Bob Bentley, Larry Upham, Charles Fagg and Harvey Stone—pioneering many of the runs at Baldy long before the local ski patrol was organized.

In fact, Mr. Bertino is credited with naming the most harrowing ski run on Mt. Baldy. Mr. Stone recounted a day when the youthful band of daredevils hiked up past a run named “Bentley’s Dream.” The run next to it was nearly vertical, as steep as ski runs get, and conditions were icy that day. Mr. Bertino suddenly slipped and half-skied, half-slid out of view. Fearing the worst, his friends skied down after him and found him at the bottom, dazed but still in one piece. From that day forward, the run carried the moniker “Bertino’s Nightmare,” although over the decades the name has been shortened to “Nightmare.” 

At 5’6” and 125 pounds, Mr. Bertino may have been on the smaller side, but he was also wiry and determined. After being drafted into the Army during the Korean War in 1952, he was interviewed by a lieutenant at Fort Ord, who asked him what he wanted to do. Mr. Bertino immediately answered that he wanted to be in the Special Forces.

“Don’t you mean Special Services?” the lieutenant asked. “You look like a tap dancer to me.”

Mr. Bertino, unfazed by cracks about his size, went on to train in the Special Forces in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, becoming a Green Beret. As it was toward the end of the war, Mr. Bertino was never sent overseas, but he served 2 years, joining the reserves upon his honorable discharge.

Upon his return to civilian life, he stepped back into his skis and, in his 20s, took up gymnastics, a pursuit that increased his capacity as a skier. Mr. Bertino won a number of prizes in downhill skiing competitions and, over the years, hit the slopes in the Grand Tetons, the Canadian and Eastern Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas as well as his beloved Baldy. 

Along with his love of sports, he was deeply engaged in artistic and intellectual pursuits. Mr. Bertino was a custodian at El Roble Intermediate School from 1974 to 1999, working a nightshift that allowed him time during the day to attend many of the impromptu artistic, literary and musical happenings that enlivened Claremont in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1964, Mr. Bertino, already a fixture in the Claremont art community, served as the model for a rendering of Christ at the crucifixion, painted by the noted artist James Strombotne, who lived in town from the 1950s to the 1990s after attending Claremont Graduate School.

 Mr. Bertino was particularly passionate about theater, acting in productions by the Valley Community Theater and serving as a member of the stage crew at UCLA. He also enjoyed a seasonal gig installing exhibits in the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Fair under the direction of Richard Petterson and his wife Alice.

Between his love of athletics and his community engagement, Mr. Bertino was often out and about. Katy Hertel’s father Carl Hertel taught at art Pitzer College, where Mr. Bertino participated in the Thompson Creek Ranch Project among others, and he and Mr. Bertino became longtime friends. She remembers a memorable encounter with Mr. Bertino when he was in his mid-30s and she was perhaps 11.

“He was coming down the sidewalk doing a handstand on a skateboard,” she said, noting that she never forgot the image.

Along with Mr. Bertinos worldly undertakings, there was also “a kind of tranquil undertone to this life of action,” Mr. Cooley said.

Mr. Bertino read extensively, delighted in music—particularly classical, Brazilian and jazz—and never missed tackling the daily Sudoku puzzle in the Los Angeles Times. He built an extensive library of books and records that would serve him well when failing health drew him away from his cherished skiing.

Mr. Bertino remained remarkably active into his late 70s. At 65, Mr. Bertino took to the air, becaming a member of the United States Hang Gliding Association, member # 48317. At age 76, he skied Mt. Hood in Oregon and, 2 years ago, a 78-year-old Mr. Bertino hit the slopes of Mountain High with his nephew Charlie Bertino.

“He did really well,” Charlie marveled. “He was in super shape—he was Mr. Fitness.”

In his memorial essay, Mr. Cooley emphasized the significance of the day Mr. Bertino died. July 6 is not only the Dalai Lama’s birthday, he noted, but also the anniversary of the death of 2 of Mr. Bertino’s favorite contemporary figures; writer William Faulkner and musician Louis Armstrong both died July 6, in 1962 and 1971, respectively.

“In another dimension, these Fortean phenomenon might have had some astrological significance. But in our present dimension, they are merely-thought provoking coincidences to help assuage our grief,” he said.

Mr. Bertino is survived by his sister, Alberta Lawton; by his nephews, Charlie and Bud Bertino and Mike and Gary Lawton; by his nieces Julie Stendel, Nancy Foley and Karen Lipton; by a number of grand-nephews and grand-nieces and their children, and by many friends. The run now known simply as Nightmare also lives on in Mt. Baldy, continuing to tempt the bravest of local skiers. 

-Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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