Keeping up with Koko |

Keeping up with Koko

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

When Koko walks through the door, it’s hugs and kisses all around — real ones — not the Hollywood air kisses and perfunctory pats on the back.

Arriving bright and early at Fast and Fit Women’s Gym in Grass Valley three times a week, Koko wastes no time. She might head for the stability ball, where she’s mastered intricate moves. She could opt for her usual hula-hoop session, using three at a time.

If her friend Bea is there, they might throw up to four weighted balls back and forth simultaneously. Or she might want to challenge her two-and-a-half-minute record of holding her body “plank-style,” parallel to the floor, using only her arms and toes.

What’s so unusual about Koko?

“When she walks in, she’s the belle of the ball. My gosh, I look at her and think, ‘I want to be like Koko when I grow up.’ I mean, wouldn’t we all?”
Judi Banniser, owner/operator of Fast and Fit

A lot, but what impresses her gym buddies the most is Koko’s 90th birthday is just a few short months away.

Born in the Canadian providence of Saskatchewan, Koko Berman — born Marie Kokotailo — moved to the United States with her husband in 1947. After spending decades working as a nurse in Ventura, Koko retired and moved to Grass Valley, where she continued to work as a private nurse.

“Sadly, most of my longtime clients are gone,” said Koko. “And only two of my oldest friends are left.”

But that hasn’t kept Koko from doing what she does naturally — caring for people, said Judi Bannister, owner/operator of Fast and Fit.

“Koko will always have a caregiving attitude,” she said. “She’s always leaving the gym to go off to take care of elderly people — she has a very generous heart.”

Koko’s days are filled with driving a friend to a doctor’s appointment, cleaning a sick friend’s bathroom, delivering a meal, taking someone to church or volunteering at a nonprofit thrift store in Auburn. Still able to drive and live on her own, Koko says she pitches in to help those who can’t. At “5-foot-1 and slippin’,” little holds her back when it comes to pitching in when there’s a need.

“I enjoy helping friends,” she said. “It’s good for them and it’s good for me. Helping people has always been automatic for me — young or old — you don’t think. You just reach out and help.”

Other women at the close-knit community within Fast and Fit look to Koko for inspiration, said Bannister.

“Koko’s our little pistol — her philosophy is if she doesn’t stay active, she can’t help other people,” she said. “When she walks in, she’s the belle of the ball. My gosh, I look at her and think, ‘I want to be like Koko when I grow up.’ I mean, wouldn’t we all?”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at or call 530-477-4203.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User