Super Seniors: Sylvesters fill lives volunteering, but travel and photography are never far off
Ed and Bernadette Sylvester have an attitude of gratitude.
They are thankful for their wonderful family, great friends and rewarding volunteer jobs. Most of all, they are thankful they fell in love, married and moved to Nevada County.
“This is a great place to live. We’ve had a wonderful life in this community,” said Bernadette.
“Bernadette is my greatest joy in life and my best friend,” Ed added.
Another joy in their lives is travel. These Super Seniors have visited 108 countries. Their early excursions centered on Ed’s marathon competitions.
“When I was 46, someone talked me into running and eventually I did the San Francisco marathon,” recalled Ed, now 81. “Then I saw you could run the original route from the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens, so I did.”
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Before that, Ed and Bernadette had never traveled extensively. They marveled at the adventures awaiting beyond their adopted hometown of Nevada City.
“His running opened up the world,” said Bernadette, age 82.
In 1995, Ed learned a group of runners was planning to run marathons on each of the seven continents. Chasing that goal led Ed to complete 23 marathons. He was the 14th person in the world to complete marathons on every continent including Antarctica.
Most of the marathoners were men and their wives were cheerleaders, according to Bernadette.
“We were ‘athletic supporters,'” quipped Bernadette, who has been known to wear a sweat shirt emblazoned with, “My Next Husband Will Be Normal.”
Bernadette herself was swept up in marathon mania 15 years ago, but not for long.
“The running club was going to Hawaii, so I started training,” she said. “I trained for nine months. I finished that marathon and proved I could do it, so that was enough for me.”
“She’s obviously smarter than me,” Ed said laughing, adding that his own running days are over.
“I blew out a couple discs carrying a kayak and it torqued me,” he said. “Now I do Pilates and a lot of walking.”
Photography is the driving force behind their travel these days. The two have trekked with many photography tours organized specifically for travelers who want to experience and photograph exotic events, people and cultures.
“We are addicted travelers and we enjoy the photography,” said Ed. “I can look at every photograph and remember exactly where we were and what we were doing there.”
Despite traveling with an array of photographic equipment for a month or more, Ed and Bernadette each take only one carry-on bag. They pack just as light heading home because they purchase only one small memento during each trip.
“We never buy tourist T-shirts,” said Ed, pointing to a wall in their home lined with marathon medals and T-shirts. “Each of those cost me 26.2 miles.”
Every year, they enter their favorite photos in the Nevada County Fair photography competition. Ed has won Best of Show. Bernadette says her time is coming.
Neither has ever taken a selfie.
Both had fulfilling careers before retiring 10 years ago. Bernadette was a real estate broker and travel consultant. Ed, a retired civil engineer, was founder and president of both Sylvester Engineering and SCO Planning and Engineering.
“Forty years of fun-filled engineering!” said Ed with a grin.
His middle name could be “Chairman” considering he’s chair of the boards of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Nevada County Broadcasters, which owns KNCO 830-AM and STAR 94-FM. His previous chairmanships include the California Transportation Commission, Nevada County Transportation Commission, Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Nevada County Business Association, to list a few. He’s also past president of the Grass Valley Rotary Club.
Ed is currently lead director of the $5-billion strong Westamerica Bank, a company he helped found in 1974 which was then named Gold Country Bank.
Ed’s favorite charity endeavor is the hospital foundation.
“The hospital is nearest and dearest to my heart,” said Ed. “The people there are incredible. We’re working on $23 million of improvements throughout the hospital right now, including improvements to the Emergency Room. It was designed to serve 15,000 people and now it serves 55,000.”
A favorite past accomplishment was helping usher the Dorsey Drive interchange through the State Department of Transportation. It was a tough, years-long battle.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough to see it happen,” he said.
Bernadette’s volunteer resume is as illustrious as her husband’s. She has donated countless hours to Friends of Hospice of the Foothills, the Nevada County Chapter of the American Association of University Women and the board of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Now she enjoys serving as a member of the hospital’s auxiliary.
“I think the hospital is critical to our community,” she said. “Where would we go if we didn’t have it? It’s worth working for.”
The couple will have been married 60 years on June 14. They met at Sacramento City College, where Bernadette was secretary to the Dean of Aeronautics and Ed was an engineering student.
“I saw her walking across the campus,” said Ed, “and managed to manipulate a meeting with her. I was president of the Engineers’ Club and talked her into doing secretarial stuff, then started taking her out.”
Two years later, the couple married.
“He was persistent,” said Bernadette, “and that was the best thing that ever happened. Our three daughters are the second best.”
The couple has four granddaughters, and for the past 25 years, the entire clan has spent a week together during the winter holidays.
“Those vacations are our gifts to ourselves,” smiled Bernadette.
“Our kids and grandkids are also our friends and we have fun together,” said Ed. “Our vacations together are cherished memories.”
Bernadette’s future hopes and dreams are simple.
“Just to keep going,” she said. “To get up every morning and live here.”
“The wonder of this community is all the nonprofits,” said Ed. “But memberships are going down, and it’s harder to find people to serve on boards and volunteer. I want people to know they can make a difference.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at Lorraine Jewett Writes@gmail.com.