Oral History of Carmen Bernal Timm
Interviewed by Jen Amodei on March 6, 2008
I walked in the interview room, not knowing what to expect, but Carmen looked at me with bright eyes, ready to get started. Her laugh was warm, and she was kind, allowing everyone to know that she is a courageous and dignified woman and that her life is her passion.
Carmen Bernal Timm was born in January of 1946 in Mesa, AZ because Gilbert didn't have medical centers at that time. Her grandparents moved to Gilbert in the 1900s where her grandfather became a hay hauler. Her mother was born in Miami, AZ where she later married her husband in the 1930s and settled in Gilbert on their own in a new house in 1940. With this new house, an acre lot was purchased with five trailers. The couple soon began their family. Carmen was the third of seven children. She had a typical childhood, having friends over and playing 'kick the can'. Times were different back then as burglars were not a worry; people would always have their doors unlocked, even at night. Carmen recalls the evening as a special time, bringing mattresses out onto the grass, looking at stars and seeing a whole different type of yard than what we do today. She says, "I also remember the view of a full moon rise over the Superstition Mountains. We could look out over the fields from our back yard, with no buildings obstructing the view. It was magnificent. There was no air pollution to blur the view in any direction." Carmen also remembers how her mom would sew dresses for her and her sisters for church on Sundays. Education wasn't an option for her mother. She dropped out in fifth grade to help out the family with money. Even though this tragic act happened, Carmen's mother became a role model for her family, making do with what she had and staying so strong throughout her life.
When Carmen was just a baby, schools in the area were segregated into English speaking and Spanish speaking. Her oldest sister started attending the English speaking school at this time, while their cousins attended the all-Spanish speaking school. This angered her uncle, and he rallied in front of the building to integrate them. His argument was recognized, and the schools were joined into one English speaking school, which is where Carmen attended, herself. Carmen says that high school is where she began to get serious in her life. Her shop teacher, and role model, Mr. Emanuel Erma began to teach the women of her class how to fix faucets, lamps, and even how to tile a floor. He also pulled her aside on his own, recognizing her artistic talents and urged her to go to college for art studies, giving Carmen the chance to be an individual of her time. However, she did not fulfill his wishes.
Along with learning to be an individual, high school is where Carmen met her husband Walter. Shortly after they were married, the couple was shipped to Germany for her husband's job as a pilot in training. During her 10 year stay, Carmen gave birth to her son, Walter, in 1970. Carmen went through culture shock during her first couple years of marriage abroad, especially because she didn't work while her son was first born. Finally she settled down to a job in a bar and restaurant, which she enjoyed. But that wasn't her first job; when Carmen was 15 she started working at the local pharmacy. Then she proceeded to Motorola, which is now Honeywell. Then later, when she was older, Carmen went to college, and attended Ottawa University to get her bachelor's and attended Western International University for her master's degree. Carmen soon got burnt out working and going to school at the same time.
More recently, Carmen took on a new challenge: becoming chair of a reunion committee. She found the work to be "one of the most exciting times of my life." She was originally pushed into it, but found it quite enjoyable. Her job consisted of calling alumni since 1975 to reunite. To make the reunion successful, Carmen and the committee had to start two years before, tracking people down from siblings and relatives they had on file. Reaching out to invite them was exciting as it was a "voice from the past".
Now, Carmen does her own bead work and jewelry as a side project which takes up much of her time. Her only regret is that she didn't attend college right after high school, because she was going to be sponsored with a scholarship. But at that time, those grants were uncommon, and she felt it a hoax. But despite that, she broke through the glass ceiling to be very successful in her life, which was not common for women during her childhood. She was able to become an inspector at her job, buy a new car and house, and make her dreams into reality. Her thought is that everything is possible with the right attitude; it was a great thing she could apply that principle to her own life and thrive.
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Photos courtesy of the family.