CORVALLIS, Ore. – Bernadine Strik, who brought dedication and innovation to her position as berry specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service for 34 years, died on April 14. She was 60.
Strik’s three-decade career was studded with accolades. In 2021, as she retired, Strik received the highest honor bestowed by the International Society for Horticultural Science for her industry-changing program on berries. The prestigious ISHS fellowship is presented to scientists who have made a significant impact on horticulture worldwide.
Strik's innovative research, teaching and Extension outreach had a significant influence on the state’s berry industry. A similar honor came in 2007 when Strik received the American Society for Horticultural Science Fellow.
“Bernadine’s impact is felt worldwide as an icon of the berry industry, a mentor, and a friend,” said Scott Lukas, OSU Extension berry specialist and Strik’s successor after her retirement. “Her infectious energy for horticulture, science and education produced industry-changing advancements and a legacy of knowledge spread across the globe. Her wisdom and passion for horticulture and life will be deeply missed.”
Strik’s impact stretched to the many students and colleagues she mentored over the years.
“In addition to the professional accomplishments, accolades and impact she made, Bernadine was a marvelous colleague, mentor and friend to so many of us,” said Ryan Contreras, associate head of the OSU Department of Horticulture and professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “She was a giant professionally, but more importantly, she was an amazing person. Bernadine was the genuine article, and we will miss her dearly.”
Born in Holland, Strik grew up in Australia and Vancouver, British Columbia, where her parents owned and operated a large retail nursery. She worked at her parents’ nursery, became enamored of horticulture and attended the University of Victoria, where she earned an honors bachelor’s degree in botany and did her undergraduate thesis on rhododendron propagation.
Strik went on to earn a doctorate with distinction in horticulture from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, at the age of 25. After graduation, she went to work for the OSU Extension and the College of Agricultural Sciences as a berry specialist and professor and spent her entire career supporting the industry.
Oregon blueberry growers worked closely with Strik and benefited from her expertise. Dave Brazelton, owner of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, said, “To berry growers in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Strik was just Bernadine. That familiarity came from her unique ability for professional yet personal relationships with those in our industry. She was straight talking, to the point, always with that infectious humor. She squeezed every ounce of useful information out of her many research projects. She was the quintessential approachable scientist. Her presentations lifted us, enlightened us and helped us to learn and change. We are better growers and we are a better industry because of Bernadine Strik.”
In Strik’s 34 years at OSU, blueberry acreage in Oregon jumped from 1,200 to 15,000 acres with large changes in production systems based on her research. Her landmark 14-year project on organic blueberry production – planting methods, fertilization, mulching, cultivar adaptation, weed control – helped drive an increase in Oregon organic acreage from 2% in 2006 to 20% in 2020 as growers adopted Strik’s research-based production methods to increase their profitability.
Bill Braunworth, head of the OSU Department of Horticulture, said, "Bernadine contributed so much to the berry industry and to training students. She made strong service contributions to our college and department, especially in mentoring newer faculty members. In addition to being a great scientist, she was a warm and welcoming friend to many and loved and treasured by her family.”
Strik met her husband, Neil Bell, in Canada in 1990. They married in 1994. Both were studying horticulture and Bell says, “Berries brought us together.” Bell retired in 2022 from OSU Extension as a community horticulturist,
Outside of work, Strik and Bell were avid travelers, visiting other countries for pleasure and often professionally for collecting plants or sharing information. Sometimes their two daughters, Nicole and Shannon, traveled with them, and all four enjoyed hiking, especially challenging routes.
A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25, at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus.