Ask the Archivist


A Bear's Story

Q. I met you when I visited the law school with my son to see the Benny Bufano bear that was a memorial to my uncle, Martin Bordon, Class of 1948...

...I mentioned my visit to my aunt, and she sent me a letter she received in 1955 describing the day at Boalt Hall when the statue was dedicated. Would you like to have a copy for your archives? --MS, Huntington Beach

Bufano BearA. It is so rare to be able to have such a moving, personal view of a public piece of art. Your aunt’s letter brings to life that special day at the law school, and it mentions many people who were important figures in our history. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I will make sure that it is passed along. It will make your uncle’s bear mean so much more to all of us in the Boalt Hall community.

Martin Bordon received his BA from UCLA in 1942 and then, like so many of his classmates, he went directly into the Army. He rose to the rank of captain, but was captured and made a prisoner of war in Germany. After his release and his return home to California in 1945, he was diagnosed with polio. Deciding not to allow the diagnosis to place limits on his horizons, Bordon applied to law school at Boalt Hall, but shortly after beginning classes in the Fall of 1946 he discovered he was also suffering from nephritis, a potentially fatal kidney disease. Despite the multiple challenges to his health, he was graduated in the top ten percent of his class, in the process inspiring his classmates with his courage and his kindness. He was admitted to the California Bar and was able to practice for six months before his death.

Wed. Jan. 19 [1955]
Dear Rosie,

... [W]e arrived in the lobby of Boalt at 2:58 PM wet and bedraggled. The lobby was full of people — all the professors of Boalt, and many of the Class of ‘48 and there was aprox. an hour’s ceremony & all revolving about Martin. I was sorry you couldn’t be there. You would have been as thrilled as Mor [Morris, brother], B. [Betsy, sister] and I were. It was a wonderful tribute to Martin, and he would have been delighted and thrilled could he have been there.

First the Pres. of the Class of ‘48 [Max Wilcox] spoke — said the very fact that a group of new lawyers would endeavor a project as great as a marble sculptured bear by a great sculptor was indicative of the esteem in which Martin was held. He presented the bear to the Law School in memory of Martin — from the Class of ‘48. The Dean of the Law School Dean Prosser accepted it. He said he had not known Martin for he had not arrived until after the Class of ‘48 had graduated. But he had heard of the wonderful person he was and was pleased to accept the gift in this honor. Then the 3rd speaker was a young professor who had come to Boalt in ‘46. He described some qualities of Martin so vividly, it seemed impossible to realize he hadn’t seen him for 6 ½ yrs probably — since his graduation. He called Martin the “Optimum Student” — Said it was his own 1st teaching experience and he had ideas of grandeur about himself — over his students. But Martin refused to stand in awe of him — that their relationship became one of friendship and from Martin more than anyone else he learned that a prof. must have humility before his students. He spoke for a lengthy time — giving the relationship of a prof. to Martin.

Then the 4th speaker was Warren Taylor (remember — Martin had gone up to be best man at his wedding?) Warren spoke beautifully. He said Martin had been a brilliant student but it was not for this quality he was so beloved. But for others in addition.... Martin took terrific notes in class & wrote excellent briefs, both of which he made available to his class mates. He held seminars for ½ [illegible] fellows at a time before exams — helping them to understand the subject. He was most generous with his time in spite of the fact that his own time was limited; that he was under doctor’s orders to rest a great deal. So for these many qualities he was loved.

Shortly after Martin’s death the Northern Branch of the Class of ‘48 had a meeting & spontaneously the desire to do something for Martin was evidenced. And they heard that the fellows in So.Cal. also wanted to show their honor of Martin. So they consolidated their efforts. But what to do? They thought a painting for the new bldg — but felt that people were inclined to look at a painting without reading the plaque. That wasn’t satisfactory. So they thought of a mural — but there was no big space. And then they thought of a sculptural piece. What & by whom? Then Sophie Kagel felt they must have The Best of sculptors — Bufano. So Sam Kagel approached him in the office of a mutual lawyer friend. (Mor thinks it was the Dinkelspiel mentioned in the article on Bufano also enclosed.)....

Sophie Kagel did the unveiling. Mor, B & I were then introduced — as was Bufano who was also present for the unveiling. It’s a delightful laughing Bear — about 2 ½ ft long (rather small) placed on a 3 or 3 ½ ft. marble pedestal (money for that allocated by the Univ. of Cal itself.) On the pedestal is the plaque

“In Memory of Martin Bordon
1919-1948
A.B. 1941 LL.B. 1948
Presented by the Class of 48
Beniamino Bufano, sculptor”

Warren was absolutely wonderful. If B & I had tears — so often did the others.

After the ceremony — 4 PM Sam Kagel had a reception cocktail party at his home. It was a lovely affair. Everyone came up to us — and at least 3 fellows said “I am one of those Martin helped pull through law school.” One fellow came from near Stockton — 150 mi away just for this.... The whole afternoon was devoted to talk about Martin. He would have been amazed to find that after 5 ½ yrs he could be so vividly remembered by friends. People were quoting him. One prof — Barbara Armstrong whom he used to speak of said of him “I’ve had hundreds of students in 30 years, but none I’ve ever liked better. He had such endearing qualities — such a zest for living. I can’t understand why these things happen.” And she told us anecdotes about her relationship with him — quoting him....

Then Mor left shortly after 9 PM to catch the plane — & B & I went exhausted to the hotel. But you can imagine what a wonderful day it was....

love,
Sarah

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Have a question? Ask the Archivist: benemann@law.berkeley.edu

5/23/2013