In the mid 90s, the Juniper Park Civic Association organized a Saturday morning cleanup of the Eliot Avenue Bridge. The volunteers arrived early that morning, only to find the area nearly immaculate. It was cleaned by one man, a man in his mid 90s, Carl Berner.
And since that day approximately 15 years ago the now 110 year old has hardly slowed down.
Carl Berner was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 27, 1902. After his parents died of tuberculosis, he split time between France and Germany. In 1928, he immigrated to the United States where he found work as the night building superintendent at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan for five years before opening his own toy-making business.
Berner moved to Middle Village with his wife Margaret in 1938; they purchased their home for $5,190 — which carried monthly mortgage payments of approximately $40. Upon arriving in Queens, the couple joined the Eliot Avenue Civic Association, which in 1942 merged with the Residents of Juniper Park Homes to become the Juniper Park Civic Association.
“[Berner] was a link to our past,” said Robert Holden, president of Juniper Park Civic. “He would tell me about past clashes the civic would have and battles we fought.”
Berner is among the oldest residents of New York City, and believed to be among the oldest in the country. The supercentenarian still lives in the home he bought 74 years ago with his daughter Emily.
Following cleaning up the Eliot Avenue Bridge, Berner adopted several locations in the area that he would visit with a shopping cart, some bags and a shovel to beautify.
These efforts, along with a lifetime of service in the community, earned him a Partner in a Cleaner New York Certificate of Appreciation from the Department of Sanitation and a Presidential Service Award from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
After breaking his hip for the first time when he was around 103, many in the area thought this would force Berner to slow down. So when Holden drove down Calwell Avenue six months later and saw a man standing atop a four-foot ladder cutting down poison ivy, he pulled over. That man of course was Berner.
“I asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘I have to get this poison ivy, before it gets someone else. It already got me,’” Holden remembered.
Only after breaking his other hip a few years later did Berner decide — or more accurately was convinced — he should take it easy.
Taking it easy is of course a relative term.
“He’s stopped cleaning now,” Holden said. “But he is always a fighter.”
Berner still walks two miles a day and will help out and do whatever he can in the neighborhood.
Berner once said when asked why he still volunteers at such an advanced age, “I like to help people — especially the elderly.”
“This guy is an inspiration. How can you sit home and not volunteer after seeing this guy,” Holden asked. “He’s an inspiration to the Juniper Park Civic and to the city. He makes you believe anything is possible.”