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Bersell to step down from KANDU Industries

Janesville Gazette - 2/5/2019

Feb. 04--JANESVILLE -- Gary Bersell is ending a nearly 50-year career working with people with disabilities.

Bersell, executive director of KANDU Industries, is retiring at the end of June, ending a 13-year run at the helm of the agency, which offers community and pre-vocational employment opportunities and other services.

Bersell worked as a special education teacher and was the director of special education for the Janesville School District from 1967 to 2000. He was hired as the director of KANDU in 2006.

That year, KANDU's board president asked Bersell to fill the director vacancy temporarily as the agency searched for a permanent director.

"They originally wanted me for three months. After two months, they said, 'Will you stay?' I said 'yes.' I was hooked," Bersell said.

"After 13 years, I think it's time. It was a good gig for me. I'm 75."

Bersell's retirement, which takes effect June 30, was announced Monday in a news release from the board. Bersell said he'll continue to work through June to give the board time to vet replacement candidates.

KANDU is launching a national search, according to the release. Bersell said his executive team, which includes six other people, will give the board suggestions about how to move forward "with life after Gary."

Bersell recalled his first few days at KANDU, which for decades has offered employment for people with developmental disorders and disabilities.

When he first stepped onto the work area floor, he saw something that made him immediately want to stay.

"I saw 10 to 12 students who I'd taught years ago at Parker High School," Bersell said.

During his tenure as director, Bersell said he ushered in several new programs that expanded KANDU's services, including daytime services and activities for people with Alzheimer's disease. Those initially were conceived as a way to give Alzheimer's caregivers some respite.

Under Bersell's direction, KANDU also modified some work programs to give longtime employees part-time employment at "table work" so they could continue working and earning paychecks into their later years.

The agency also launched its Guardian Advocate program, under which it can assume corporate guardianship of some clients who are wards of the state to help them make decisions.

Forward Janesville gave Bersell its Diversity Award at its annual awards banquet last month.

Bersell said he and his wife, a former nurse at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville, worked hard to give their own children a sense of regard for people with disabilities, who sometimes "are not so fortunate."

"I think my whole involvement with the underprivileged people has been my dream and goal for all my life," Bersell said. "I guess that's really what's most important for me."

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(c)2019 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

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