Have a Seat: The History of Professor Howard Berger’s Bench

It can be seen from just about any spot near Morrison Quadrangle on The College of Idaho campus. Faded purple paint curls off weathered wood slats. The bench could use a good sanding and a fresh coat 

“I’d like it to look decent,” Professor Howard Berger says. “You know, the old redwood stuff I like. This looks too corny.”

Faded paint or otherwise, Berger has been sitting at his bench as long as he can remember—virtually since he began teaching history at The College of Idaho in 1982. It just “became a way of life.”

The bench is one of three places you can find Berger. The other two are Simplot Dining Hall and the McCain Student Center.

“You’ll always know a lying kid if they say, ‘I looked everywhere for you and couldn’t find you,’” Berger said.

The bench offers Berger the best view of the campus. He can see his students milling around—even the ones that skip class.

But when did the bench in the quad start being referred to as Berger’s Bench?

“I think it started with some scavenger hunt in the early 90s,” he said. “Do something with ‘Berger’s Bench’ … I forget.”

The look of the bench has changed since Berger first warmed it with his derriere. There used to be dirt and grass around the benches before the College put cement down.

And there weren’t always two benches at their current spot near Hendren Hall. About 10 years ago, Berger had six or seven students bring over another bench that had been stationed near McCain.

“Not in an interesting place, it was useless,” he said. “Now, it is used.”

And used it is. Any day of the week, a passerby can spot Berger in his outdoor office, usually with a student or two near, talking about everything under the sun.

And meaningful communication is something this generation struggles with, Berger said—as headphones plug their ears and cellphones are glued to faces.

From his bench, Berger can catch the mood of each student passing by. He’ll call out to students walking alone or with their heads down and make a joke to brighten their day.

“On a smaller campus, it is easier to know students on a personal level,” Berger said. “You see them all the time.”

For now, there are no plans to add a third bench.

“No, I’d like to have a small, little Moxie Java over here,” he says, but ponders on the question more.

“No, I think a reflecting pool,” he decides.

After he is dead, Berger said he wants to see the benches redone in wrought iron with his initials done in scripted gold—H. B. Perhaps a bronze cast of the iconic history professor could work even better, so he could sit on his bench forever as students pass by.

Today, Berger—namesake of the Howard Berger-Ray Neilsen Chair in Judaic Studies—parks himself on the bench in a red hat that says ‘Jerusalem’ in repeating white letters. A student on a longboard pulls up and says, “Hey.”

“How are you?” Berger asks.

The student replies, “I’ve got a question…”