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