Oak Lawn man re­tir­ing from pro bono speech cir­cuit af­ter some 250 gigs

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - News - By Bar­bara Dar­gis

Larry Bergnach was giv­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about Riverview Park, the old Chicago amuse­ment des­ti­na­tion that closed in the 1960s, when an el­derly man in the au­di­ence chimed in with his own mem­o­ries of Riverview.

The talk was at an el­der care fa­cil­ity, and Bergnach later learned the­man­was in an ad­vanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and had not spo­ken at that length “onany topic for four years,” Bergnach said.

Those kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences were why Bergnach, of Oak Lawn, worked the pro bono speak­ers cir­cuit.

“Af­ter I would do a speech, the peo­ple were so ap­pre­cia­tive,” he said.

Bergnach read in 2004 about the need for pro bono speak­ers. Four­teen years and 250 speak­ing en­gage­ments later, Bergnach is re­tir­ing from those un­paid gigs.

“The good lord has been good to me and, as corny as it may sound, I en­joy giv­ing back,” Bergnach said.

The large ma­jor­ity of Bergnach’s au­di­ences have been made up of elders liv­ing in as­sisted and other com­mu­nity liv­ing ar­range­ments. He could tell they ap­pre­ci­ated his time and his sto­ries.

“I know I have made a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

Andy Richard­son is direc­tor of FreeS­peak­ers.org, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that matches speak­ers with or­ga­ni­za­tions in need of speak­ers but with­out the meansto pay for the ser­vice.

Richard­son said Bergnach was “the most high vol­ume” and “most pop­u­lar” speaker in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 20-year his­tory.

While work­ing with the group, Richard­son said, Larry Bergnach, of Oak Lawn, gives a talk about his mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in Chicago through a pro bono speak­ers or­ga­ni­za­tion, FreeS­peak­ers.org. Bergnach is re­tir­ing from the or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter giv­ing some 250 free speeches over the past 14 years.

Bergnach reached some 13,000 lis­ten­ers and put 15,000 miles on his car.

“And he hasn’t made a penny,” Richard­son said.

While Bergnach found work­ing with­Free Speak­ers per­son­ally re­ward­ing, earn­ing brag­ging rights in the pro bono speaker cir­cuit was a re­sult of his ex­pe­ri­ence in the pri­vate sec­tor. Bergnach had been in­vited to speak to groups con­nected to his for­mer ca­reer as a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sales­per­son, he said.

Those speak­ing en­gage­ments fo­cused on re­duc­ing stress and adding hu­mor dur­ing the­work day.

The fo­cus of Bergnach’s speak­ing en­gage­ments for

the el­derly au­di­ences in­volved nos­tal­gia top­ics, sports and co­me­di­ans such as Jackie Glea­son. Bergnach said he reached into his early life grow­ing up on the South Side of Chicago to de­velop fod­der for au­di­ence af­ter au­di­ence.

As Bergnach hangs it up af­ter a long ten­ure, he has a les­son for the pro bono speak­ers who come af­ter him.

“Know your sub­ject,” he said. “Be­lieve it’s a con­ver­sa­tion, and al­ways ap­proach the speak­ing sit­u­a­tion with en­thu­si­asm.”

Bar­bara Dar­gis is a free­lance re­porter for the Daily Southtown.


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