Springtime is a season for rebirth and new beginnings. For 107 year old Carl Berner you say that again and again and again. After a rough couple of years and a few falls that caused him to break first his left hip and then last year his right, the amazing Carl Berner is up and around the streets of Middle Village and Maspeth. Almost any day in May you could see Carl Berner taking his morning walk on Caldwell Avenue. Recently I stopped to talk with Mr. Berner.
I’ve known Carl Berner for over 40 years and we always called him “Mister Berner.” He deserves as much. Never one to complain, he explained in a clear voice that he was fine and determined to throw away his walker. “For some reason after breaking my other hip it was taking me longer to recover, but I’m back,” he said. He pointed to a weed strewed area behind him and said he would like to begin cleaning the Caldwell Avenue bridge, the area he had adopted for over a decade. Before breaking his hip Mr. Berner also helped maintain several Greenstreet areas in the community – all this up to the age of 105! Now at the age of 107, he is back from a long winter of healing. taking one step at a time. Mr. Berner is the oldest person in Queens County and may very well be the oldest person in New York City. He’s certainly not far behind the oldest person in the world, who is 115 years old.
“My goals are to get rid of this walker and to start attending civic meetings again,” he said. His walker now has only two legs. He removed two of the legs to make him less dependent on it. And it’s working. Each day Mr. Berner gets a little stronger. I asked him if he could attend our June 25th meeting and he said he hopes to be there. As an original member of Juniper Park Civic Association, Carl Berner is always the highlight of the evening for the membership.
Seven years ago when Mr. Berner turned 100, beloved JPCA secretary, the late Margaret Magnus, wrote a tribute to Carl Berner in the Juniper Berry. Here’s some excerpts from the article that we updated, slightly…
Carl Berner was born in Stuttgart, Germany on January 27, 1902. His parents died when he was a toddler, and shortly thereafter his French maternal Grandmother took him to live with her in France, where he remained until he was about ten years old. In 1912, he returned to Germany to live with his paternal Grandmother, Inger, whom he remembers with special fondness. His education in the public/”burger” schools was relatively uneventful. It did however provide him with a strong foundation in mechanical manufacturing, which later became his life’s work. He also learned to speak English, for which he was very grateful, when he immigrated to the United States in 1928. He vividly remembers catching a first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, as he arrived in New York Harbor on the Bremen oceanliner. His sister, Marie (Dreves), who was one year younger, preceded him to America. In 1936, he met and married the “love of his life” Margaret (deceased), a Scandinavian beauty. Emily, their only child, was born on September 23, 1943.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Mr. Berner went to work as the Night Building Superintendent at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. For five years, he worked nights, ten hours a day, six days a week. He loved his job, and he even had his picture taken atop the gargoyle on the Chrysler Building, 405 Lexington Avenue. In 1933, because of his fluency in French and German, the U.S. Government invited him to become a foreign agent, but he declined. After leaving his Chrysler job, in the height of the Depression, Carl became an entrepreneur and opened a toy-making business, initially metal toys, and later plush animals, teddy bears, and dolls. He labored sixteen hours a day to design his own toy collection. His dolls became collector’s items. His toy-making expertise was in demand by larger business concerns, and he was invited to train younger workers in the industry, until his retirement.
In 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Berner bought their first home in Middle Village for the grand sum of $5,190.00. They loved their new home and worked together to secure monthly mortgage payments of approximately $40.00. They immediately became members of the Eliot Avenue Civic Association, which is the precursor of the Juniper Park Civic Association. For 62 years, this stately, gracious 107-year-old gentleman has participated in civic activities in our community. He knows more about the history and landscape of Middle Village than most of us can even imagine.
“Retirement can be boring,” but not for Mr. Berner. He stated that he considers himself a “humanitarian.” It is not unusual to meet Carl walking to Juniper Valley Park or on Caldwell Avenue. He walks an average of two miles a day. He attributes his good health and longevity to his daily walks and to “helping people, especially the elderly.”Wow!
The year 1902
The Juniper Park Civic Association’s #1 member, Mr. Carl Berner, was born in 1902. Here is a look at the world in 1902 when he entered it on January 27th. The Juniper Berry thought it would be interesting to revisit 1902 to see what it was like…
• The average life expectancy in the US was forty-seven.
•Only 14 Percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.
• Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
• There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
• The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
• Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union.
• The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
• The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour.
• The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
• A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
• More than 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.
• Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard.”
• Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
• Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
• Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason.
• The five leading causes of death in the US were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
4. Heart disease
• The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska hadn’t been admitted to the Union yet.
• The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.
•Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented.
• There were no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
•One in ten US adults couldn’t read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
• Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
• Eighteen percent of households in the US had at least one full- time servant or domestic.
• There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire US.
• And in Stuttgart, Germany a little boy was born to the Berners… they named him Carl… and the rest is history.
January 1: first Rose Bowl college American football game.
January 8 – A train collision in the New York Central Railroad‘s Park Avenue Tunnel kills 17, injures 38, and leads to increased demand for electric trains.
March 10 – A Circuit Court prevents Thomas Edison from having a monopoly on motion picture technology.
April 2 – Electric Theatre, the first movie theater in the United States, opens in Los Angeles, California.
April 13 – A new car speed record of 74 mph is set in Nice, France, by Leon Serpollet.
May 8 – In Martinique, Mount Pelée erupts, destroying the town of Saint-Pierre and killing over 30,000.
May 20 – Cuba gains independence from the United States.
May 31 – The Treaty of Vereeniging ends the Second Boer War.
June 15 – The New York Central railroad inaugurates the 20th Century Limited passenger train between Chicago and New York City, New York.
August 22 – Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first American President to ride in an automobile when he rides in a Columbia Electric Victoria through Hartford, Connecticut.
August 30 – In Martinique, Mount Pelée erupts again, destroying the town of Morne-Rouge causing 1000 deaths.
November 30 – American Old West: The second-in-command of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang, Kid Curry Logan, is sentenced to 20 years hard labor.
December 31 –
Scott, Shackleton and Wilson reach the furthest southern point thus far by man at 82°17’S.
January 12 –
King Saud of Saudi Arabia (d. 1969)
January 27 –
Toymaker, Dedicated super volunteer. Original member Juniper Park Civic Association.
January 31 –
Tallulah Bankhead, American actress
February 4 –
Charles Lindbergh, American aviator
February 19 –
Eddie Peabody, American musician
February 20 –
Ansel Adams, American photographer (d. 1984)
February 26 –
Albert Anastasia, American gangster
February 27 –
John Steinbeck, American writer, Nobel Prize laureate
March 4 –
Red Reeder, American soldier and author (d. 1998)
March 9 –
Will Geer, American actor (d. 1978)
March 17 –
Bobby Jones, American golfer
March 24 –
Thomas Dewey, American politician
March 30 –
Brooke Astor, American socialite and philanthropist (d. 2007)
May 10 –
David O. Selznick, American film producer (d. 1965)
May 15 –
Richard J. Daley, American politician
May 22 –
Al Simmons, American baseball player (d. 1956)
Jun 19th –
Guy Lombardo, Canadian bandleader (d. 1977)
June 28 –
Richard Rodgers, American composer (d. 1979)
July 4 –
Meyer Lansky, Russian-born mobster (d. 1983)
July 5 –
Henry Cabot Lodge, (Sen-R)/ ambassador (VP candidate 1960)
Jul 26 –
Gracie Allen, SF Calif, Mrs George Burns/comedian (Burns & Allen) (d.1964)
Aug 6 –
Dutch Schultz, American bootlegger (d. 1935)
Aug 10 –
Norma Shearer, Canadian actress (d. 1983)
Aug 11 –
Lloyd Nolan, SF Calif, actor (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Peyton Place) (d. 1985)
August 19 –
Ogden Nash, American poet
August 22 –
Leni Riefenstahl, German film director (d. 2003)
August 24 –
Carlo Gambino, American gangster
Sept 5 –
Darryl F Zanuck, film magnate/president (20th Century Fox) (d.1979)
Sept 11 –
Alice Tully, Corning, NY, singer/patroness (Carnegie Hall) (d.1993)
Sept 12 –
Margaret Hamilton, Ohio, wicked witch of the west (Wizard of Oz) (d. 1985)
Sept 24th –
Ayatollah Khomeini, Iranian politician, religious figure, and political leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution
October 5 –
Larry Fine, American actor and comedian (The Three Stooges) (d. 1975)
October 5 –
Ray Kroc, American fast food entrepreneur (McDonald’s) (d. 1984)
December 5 –
Strom Thurmond, American politician
December 9 – Margaret Hamilton, American actress
December 23 – Norman Maclean, American author