College Mourns Death of Bernice McKenna

Bernice Waller McKenna, a generous benefactress of Claremont McKenna College and widow of college founder Donald Carnegie McKenna, died Saturday, January 9, 1999, at her home in Laguna Beach, California. She was 91.

“We are deeply grateful to Bernice McKenna for her lifetime of commitment to Claremont McKenna College,” said college president Jack L. Stark. “She was a dedicated and conscientious participant in the founding and development of this college and we will miss her quiet support and friendship.”

Bernice Waller was the daughter of pharmacist Wilbur Waller who brought his young family to Claremont in 1917, a year before the McKenna family came to town. Bernice and Donald met in elementary school and later they both attended Pomona College. They married on June 7, 1928. Their son, Malcolm Carnegie McKenna, is a widely respected vertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Bernice and Donald also raised his sister’s two daughters, Sybil and Felicia, after their mother died.

In addition to Bernice’s passion for the creation of fine needlepoint art, she was an extremely knowledgeable judge and collector of fine ceramics. She was also a born geographer and knew the geography of the world backwards and forwards. An avid gardener and lover of the Colorado Rockies, she and Donald spent part of each year at their beloved mountain home near Ward, Colorado. Bernice shared her husband’s personal and philanthropic interests, and traveled widely with him as well.

Mrs. McKenna provided generous financial support to several key programs at Claremont McKenna College, including the Athenaeum Speaker Series and international student scholarships. In 1981, Claremont McKenna College–formerly known as Claremont Men’s College–was renamed in honor of the lifetime of service and support of founding trustee Donald McKenna. Claremont McKenna College awarded Bernice McKenna its highest honor in 1990 when it conferred upon her an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Bernice McKenna is survived by her sister Margaret Heald of Laguna Beach, son and daughter-in-law, Malcolm and Priscilla McKenna of Englewood, New Jersey, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Memorial services for Bernice Waller McKenna will be private, however contributions in her honor may be made to The Nature Conservancy of Colorado, 1244 Pine St., Boulder Colorado 80302, earmarked for land conservation in the Rocky Mountain Front Range that Mrs. McKenna loved so much.