Carl Berner was someone Middle Village residents affectionately remember as a civic leader, a Mr. Fix-It, and someone who put his community before himself.
Berner died Monday, January 7 at 110 years old. He was born on January 27, 1902, and just missed his 111th birthday.
“If you needed something, anything, with plumbing or even your sink, he knew how to solve it,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, on his longtime friend.
In 1938, Berner helped to establish a neighborhood civic group, which later grew into the Juniper Park Civic Association.
The supercentenarian was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1928. He found himself in New York looking for work.
He learned English, but was still slightly discriminated against because of his German accent. After a grueling search, he found work and became the first night manager at the Chrysler Building. Years passed and he held other odd jobs, but when the Depression hit, he opened his own toy company. The company thrived, and some of his products became collectors’ items.
Holden said that Berner was good with his hands, and this helped not only his business, but also his neighbors. In 1938, he and his wife moved to Middle Village.
“[Berner] said to me, ‘I take pride in my neighborhood,’” said Holden.
Decades passed, and Berner grew older, but it seemed that something as trivial as age could not stop him from doing his day-to-day activities.
“I would see this elderly man, climbing a ladder and getting onto the roof,” said Holden. Berner would frequently walk around the neighborhood, and Holden said that even at 105 years old, he was up on step ladders fixing things. He also used his walks to pick up trash that he found along the roads.
“I just said, ‘Wow, this guy is amazing,’” said Holden.
Vincent Arcuri, chair of Community Board 5, said Berner was “a leader in community activism; a model for children and adults.”
He received several awards for his volunteer work in the community, including the “Partner in a Cleaner New York Certificate of Appreciation” from the mayor and the Department of Sanitation.
In his home, Berner lived “a simple life,” with oatmeal every morning and very minimal technology.
Holden said that he only had a television, a rotary phone, and “shunned all of the modern stuff.”
“He lived like a 19th century person,” laughed Holden. “He never wanted to go to the doctor, he never took medication. When he was 105 he would walk two miles a day.”
However, Holden said that during the last year of his life, Berner started to “slow down,” and an attendant moved into his home. After his passing, there was no ceremony and he was instead cremated, according to his wishes.
Carl Berner on top of the Chrysler Building when was younger.