Former Nevada prison warden dies at 95
November 29, 2005
Art Bernard, who was credited with cleaning up the Nevada prison system as warden in the 1950s, died Sunday, following his wife of 70 years, Naomi, who died in April.
Bernard was 95.
Bernard had a varied career ranging from a boxer to a miner and a state mining inspector. But it was his tenure as warden of the Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street for which he is best remembered.
He was named to the post by Gov. Charles Russell in 1951. In an interview three years ago, he said the prison was in chaos at the time, with alcohol and drug use rampant. Before Russell’s election, prisoners were allowed some drugs because officials thought they would die without them. Bernard, however, wasn’t buying it, and cut them off.
He also made numerous changes to strengthen security and clean up the operation of what was then Nevada’s only prison.
But he wasn’t the hard warden who believed every inmate should stay there forever. After reading the records of every prisoner, he said, he found some who shouldn’t be there.
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“You’d be surprised how many innocent people were in prison,” he said. “They were often habitual violators, but not guilty of the charge that put them there.”
Born April 27, 1910, Bernard was the son of Italian immigrants who moved west from Illinois in about 1915. They divorced and his mother remarried. He said his stepfather was a miner and mechanic and the family moved from mining camp to mining camp, finally landing in Nevada.
He spent some time as a boxer in San Francisco before moving back to Nevada. He married Edith Naomi Bremenkampf in 1935.
They moved to Ely in 1942, where he served as a deputy inspector of mines in Ely. There, he met Russell, who later became governor. When he did, Russell asked him to take over the prison.
Since then, he was also a contractor and businessman, as well as a past president of the Carson rotary club.
His wife died April 21. He is survived by his son, two daughters and five grandchildren as well as several great-grandchildren.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.