Bernice Patricia Dykstra was born to John and Bernice (Parsons) Etherington on April 2, 1933 in Watertown, New York. She spent her childhood in Sackets Harbor and was baptized on March 23, 1940 in Watertown. Bernice was child seven of eight. All her siblings have served in the military. After graduating high school in 1951, Bernice enlisted in the United States Air Force on July 24, 1952. Bernice entered into marriage on December 31, 1954 to Leroy Dykstra in Raton, New Mexico. The couple was blessed with four children, Dan, John, Wayne and Deborah. After serving in the United States Air Force for three years, she desired to join the South Dakota Air National Guard like her husband. Leroy enlisted in the Guard at age 40. Bernice was 40 when she was advised she was too old, the age cutoff being 35 for women. Not one to sit back on her laurels, she wrote Senators, Congressmen and state Governors to change the rules. The investigation changed the rules, not only for Bernice, but for all women. Bernice served 20 years in the Air Force and the South Dakota Air National Guard. She was an Air Guard Technician for 17 years, while attaining the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6) and being the first woman to retire from the South Dakota Air National Guard. While serving in the Air National Guard, she participated in deployments to Norway, Germany, Belgium and England. In 1972, she moved to Pipestone, Minnesota where she currently lived. She died on January 11, 2023 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the age of 89.
Bernice enjoyed attending Faith Community Church with her son and daughter-in-law when her health permitted. She often enjoyed decorating Christmas trees at the Calumet Hotel in Pipestone, Minnesota which featured her collection of military bears. She was known for her "Bear Bus" which consisted of a retired ambulance that she used to transport her collection of bears. Bernice would go into classrooms and share her military history while explaining each military branch the uniforms represented. The children would become so excited to have their own memento picture taken with their favorite bear. She will always be remembered for the love and support she showed her family. She would often attend local car shows while driving her vintage cars to them. She enjoyed her many grandchildren and great grandchildren. They will always remember the many get togethers at the Dykstra family farm enjoying the bonfires, wienie roasts and zooming around on the go carts.
Bernice is survived by her sons, Dan (Cheryl) Dykstra of Jasper, Minnesota, John (Darla) Dykstra of Sioux Falls and Wayne (Debra) Dykstra of Pipestone; grandchildren, Trey Cook, Moiria Curry, Taylor Cook, and Allyson Dykstra Parker; and great-grandchildren, Oliver, Finnegan, Beatrice, Diego, Jhiovani, Aislyn, Fiona, Vincent, Cameron, Monalisa, Kisa, Remy, Aerial, Leroy and Ayla. Bernice was preceded in death by her husband, Leroy; her daughter, Deborah Cook; and one grandson, Trevor Cook.