SIERRA VISTA — It was nearly 50 years ago that Peter and Hilda Bergsneider arrived in Sierra Vista. They came to the area for Peter’s engineering position on Fort Huachuca, where he worked for the Electronic Proving Grounds.
The couple made Sierra Vista their home and, working together, launched a family-owned business, The Sierra Vista Ballet. Hilda worked her magic as dance instructor and production choreographer, while Peter stepped behind the scenes as set designer. He created hand-painted images to help bring the productions to life and built detailed props. While ballet is Hilda’s life-long passion, Peter supported his wife’s love for dance and was an integral part of every production. He and the couple’s four sons built a state-of-the-art dance studio in their home where generations of aspiring young dancers became part of the Bergsneider family.
Though his genteel legacy will live on, the couple’s longtime playhouse partnership has come to an end, though, as Peter passed away on March 29 at the age of 92. He and Hilda had been married 67 years.
“Peter and I are from Colombia, and we were married in Bogotá in January 1952,” Hilda said during an interview on Wednesday. “We came to this country in 1954 and lived in Oklahoma while Peter studied math in college. He also trained as an engineer for the (U.S.) Army and we lived in different places. He was at Fort Huachuca two different times, but after we came here in 1973, this is where we stayed. Peter and our sons built the dance studio and we started the ballet.”
The Sierra Vista Ballet holds two productions a year, with “The Nutcracker” an annual Sierra Vista tradition every holiday season, in addition to a spring show in May. The performances are held at the Klein Center for the Performing Arts at Buena High School, and are always well attended.
“ ‘The Nutcracker’ is a production that we bring to the Sierra Vista community every year,” said Christina Iberra, who started dancing with the ballet as an 8-year-old and has performed major roles in several productions.
Now 33, Iberra works alongside Hilda as one of the dance instructors and continues to perform in “The Nutcracker” and spring ballet.
“It’s going to be so different at the studio without Peter,” Iberra lamented. “He and Hilda adopt all their dancers, so we’re like one big family. Hilda is an incredibly talented dance instructor and Peter created amazing props and backdrops for our productions. He must have built hundreds of them through the years, and always did it with a smile. He and Hilda made a wonderful team. She was on the frontline, and he worked hard in the background to help make each production a success.”
While Hilda’s ballet studio was a big part of Peter’s life, his unwavering smile and work ethic are traits that Hank Diaz, owner of Buena Health Fitness remembers.
“I’ve known Peter since 1982, when he first started coming to my club,” Diaz said. “He was amazing at solving electrical problems and helped me so much when I had electrical issues. He did all the electrical repairs that I needed. He actually had a key to my club and would come here and work out at all hours. He was a great friend to me, someone I’m really going to miss.”
Diaz also spoke of Peter’s math and science abilities, and his friend’s insatiable appetite for reading.
“He knew science and math like no one I have ever met before. He always had a book in front of him. Peter had a long career on Fort Huachuca and was a very respected engineer. But he always made time for Hilda and his family, and was very supportive and proud of Hilda’s ballet.”
Peter expected to live to be 100, Diaz said with a chuckle.
“He was in excellent health and had just gone through an annual physical about two weeks before he passed away. His doctor once told him he expected him to live to be 100, but I guess that was cut short by a few years.”
Hilda, also 92, said Peter often spoke about living to be 100.
“His doctor gave him a good bill of health, but I guess he just wore out,” she said. “He laid down to take a nap and never woke up.”
Hilda plans to continue running the ballet with help from her instructors.
“I have support from my students who also teach ballet, and I plan to continue our productions.”
Sabreen Barnett started dancing with the Sierra Vista Ballet as a 4-year-old.
“I’m now 21, and I have a long, wonderful history with Peter and Hilda,” she said. “I am Hilda’s assistant and work with her on the productions.”
Barnett also spoke about Peter’s community volunteerism, where he worked with middle and high school students on science projects and wanted all students to succeed in both subjects.
“Everyone associates Peter with the ballet, but he did so many other things in the community,” Barnett said. “In his later years, he would sit through our ballet rehearsals and observe how everything looked. If he saw something that needed improvements, he would run up to the stage and give us suggestions. So Peter doubled up on everything when it came to the production. He was always very involved.”
The Bergsneiders, she added, have played a key role in Sierra Vista’s art culture.
“We’ll all miss Peter’s smiling face when we come through the door,” she said. “The entire ballet family is deeply saddened by Peter’s passing. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a friend.”
Peter was preceded in death by his eldest son, Peter Bernard Bart. In addition to Hida, he is survived by sons Carl, Larry and Marvin, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial to celebrate Peter’s life will be held Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Hatfield Funeral Home, 830 State Highway 92 in Sierra Vista.