MONMOUTH -- Monmouth and Western Oregon University are grieving the loss of one of their own this week.
Henry "Hank" Bersani, a local resident, professor of special education at WOU, cycling enthusiast and advocate for the developmentally disabled, was killed on Saturday after he was struck by a pickup while riding his bike along Highway 99W just north of Monmouth.
According to Oregon State Police, Marvin Ford, 68, of Monmouth was northbound on the highway in a Dodge Dakota and came behind Bersani, who was riding on the shoulder. OSP said that Bersani drifted into Ford's lane and that Ford veered left, but couldn't avoid hitting Bersani.
Bersani, who was wearing a helmet, was ejected from his bicycle and pronounced dead at the scene. He was 61.
The accident is still under investigation, OSP said.
"While he died doing what he loved doing, it is a tragic loss," said Gary Dukes, WOU vice president, in a posting on the WOU website. "He will be greatly missed on campus."
Bersani was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., "the only Catholic kid in an all-Jewish neighborhood," he told the Itemizer-Observer in a 2005 interview.
He earned a doctorate in special education at Syracuse University, and spent seven years in public health and preventive medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) before being hired at WOU in 1999.
Bersani worked for several institutions tied to developmental disability research and his work was internationally recognized. He was part of the Forgotten People Foundation, an organization that started at WOU that assists special needs children and adults in Vietnam.
The I-O interviewed Bersani not long after he was named president of the American Association on Mental Retardation in 2005. Bersani said then the word "retarded" was offensive to the disabled and vowed to have "retardation" dropped from AAMA's title; the entity was renamed the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in 2006.