Alumni Profile: Mark Bertrand ’76

>When I arrived on the Michigan campus as a freshman in 1972, I had no intention of getting involved in a fraternity. In fact, I had no idea what “greek life” was. Someone on my residence hall knew someone at a fraternity that was having a party.  Turned out it was a Rush party, Wales Tales was involved, and I was hooked.  I pledged after a couple meals by John Russell and getting to know a few more of the brothers.  (As an aside, I have seen some people call it Whales Tales, but that is incorrect. The person who starts it off is the Prince of Wales, hence the name.)

I really liked the small house environment (hated Bursley Hall), loved the food, loved the short walk to the Engineering buildings where most of my classes were held, and at that time I was in ROTC and several of the brothers were also.  I was in Air Force ROTC because I had a low draft number and Vietnam was still raging. I preferred to be an officer (my father was an Air Force pilot), rather than an enlisted man. When Vietnam ended, I decided to drop out as I was never good at following orders. Other guys in ROTC included: Bob Pliska ‘75, Pete Armstrong ‘75, Jim Jenkins ‘75 and Norm Anschuetz ’78. I should mention that Bob Pliska was a positive influence on me, though he might not think so. 

After I moved to the House, I roomed with Pete (Army) Armstrong for a year, and then Rob Vonderhaar ‘75.  Rob was later the best man at my wedding, just after graduation in ’76.  My senior year I lived in the Tower single (nice and quiet for studying and other activities).

In the fall of 1974, the house put together a day canoe trip and at the time, I didn’t have a girlfriend or anyone to ask for this trip. Randy Gordon ’75  and his girlfriend, Julie, set me up with Julie’s roommate, Linda.  So, on a blind date, Linda and I got in a canoe together and within 5 minutes had tipped the canoe over in about 2 feet of water!  Then it began to rain.  After we dried out a little we figured out how to paddle together and had a really great day. Two years later, Linda and I were married. We are still married today.

I graduated with a BS in Environmental Engineering. After graduation I went to get my MBA in Finance, also at U of M. I never used my engineering degree per se, but did work as a financial controller in an environmental engineering firm,  Smith Environmental,  which went bankrupt about a year after I left.  Good timing.   I worked for small and mid-size businesses mainly. I owned a small canvas awning business for 13 years when we moved to Denver in 1980. After that I worked for several small businesses in robotics, flower distribution, a small CPA firm, and a food provider for prison commissaries. The only recognizable company I worked for was Gulf + Western which was my first job out of business school. I worked in the industrial division, but you might recall that Paramount Pictures was a Gulf + Western company.  Later, Sumner Redstone took control of G+W, sold off everything except the entertainment assets and renamed the company Viacom.

Along the way I became a CPA and started a small tax practice evenings and weekends – what today is called a “side hustle”.  To become a CPA, I had to take additional accounting and tax classes at Regis University here in Denver. Then worked for a year at a CPA firm before I could sit the exam and get my license.  All that was night school while working full time.  I still do that today even though I retired from full time employment a few years ago.

I also can’t fail to mention Brian Barrie ‘78  who, because he was in the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, was stuck with Song Chairman. Brian organized a few of us in the house to sing with a group of Tri-delts at a Michigan talent show in December.  In January Brian said the Club was auditioning and encouraged us to try out. Four of us did and three of us made it!  Myself, my brother Lane and Rob Vonderhaar were accepted and sang for a couple years. The Glee Club was an incredible experience and has had a lifelong influence. The Glee Club took several tours while I was in the group. Most of them were in the central US. The most memorable was our West Coast tour when we went to Denver, San Diego, LA, San Francisco, Medford (OR) and Seattle. Had some great memories of San Diego, San Francisco and Medford concerts.

My wife, Linda, went to Michigan and earned her BA in Sociology.  After a few years working for a dentist, she went back for a Dental Hygiene certificate and worked part time for about 20 years as a hygienist.

Linda and I have three children and four grandchildren. Alison is 39, lives in Laurel, Maryland and is a music teacher and mother of our grandchildren.  Charlotte is 38 and is an adoption counselor in Omaha, NE.  And Mike is married (no kids, drat!) and is a surgical nurse here in Denver.

I spend my time now playing classical guitar, playing chess online, managing investments, walking the dog and doing taxes in March and April. 

Finally, my only advice to college students is that after your first job or graduate school, no one will care what school you went to or what your GPA was. It’s all on your accomplishments and work ethic.  Live within your means, don’t go into debt, save money, don’t depend on the government or anyone else to take care of you.

Mark Bertrand 

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