BOB & WILLA BERNHARD THE ART OF GIVING
BY RYAN G. VAN CLEAVE
JOHN ANNIS OF COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF SARASOTA COUNTY SAYS BOB BERNHARD’S A BORN PROBLEM SOLVER WHO’S ALWAYS DREAMING UP WAYS TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES IN OUR COMMUNITY. “THERE AREN’T MANY 91-YEAR-OLDS WHO ARE SO ACTIVELY ENGAGED WITH LOCAL ISSUES, FINDING ARTICLES ONLINE AND SENDING THEM AROUND, AND THINKING ABOUT WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”
The technical savvy Bob displays on a computer? “It’s born of pure necessity,” he claims. That necessity comes from the Bernhards having two main types of philanthropic outlets. The first? Supporting big organizations like ACLU, Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, and local hospitals. The second? Bob admits that “my real pleasure comes from seeing a need that no one else is filling—or hasn’t filled well—and then I try to do something about it. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money, but it DOES take initiative, and it takes the help and guidance of someone like John Annis to help make it happen.” Bob’s the first to admit: “I like to poke around and find opportunities on my own.” “They’re a great team,” Willa says. Bob adds that John’s a bright guy who comes through with everything he says he’ll do. “And I trust him,” Bob says. “Sometimes he says wait a bit on a project, and sometimes he says that now’s the time.” One of their recent projects was to buy books from First Book to give to low-income area students at Gocio, Tuttle, Booker, churches, and nonprofits. The per-unit got better as the total book order grew, and Bob ended up buying an entire truck36
SARASOTA SCENE | NOVEMBER 2017
load—40,000 books. “The response we got was unbelievable,” Bob says. “Letters from teachers, students, and others. It was so well received that I decided to set up an endowment so John would know in advance that he’d have the money for books, and that would give him bargaining power with booksellers. This way he could get what he wanted versus having to accept what they offered.” Annis notes that the endowed fund has enough money to spin off enough proceeds to buy books every year. Forever. That’s the type of impact Bob wants. Long-lasting and profound. Another example of this is how Bob decided that minorities weren’t well represented in the Sarasota Police Department—certainly not to the extent they were in the community. So he got online and did his research. What he found was that unlike other cities, Sarasota didn’t pick a candidate for the police force and send them to school. Candidates for the police academy had to pay their own way. Bob reached out to the SPD and their chief of police hugged him, admitting that they’d been trying to save up enough money to put one person through the academy. Bob and Willa gave enough to send three minority candidates through the academy, about which Willa says, “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever funded.”
Get ready to gather around the holiday table and enjoy the November issue of Sarasota Scene!