This is not your normal obituary. This is the story of the coolest person you would ever meet. A person whose attitude and behaviors were the epitome of cool – uniquely and confidently his own. This is the story of Gerald Oliver Berna (also known as Jerry). He passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by family, on January 20, 2021 at the age of 78 after a courageous battle with lymphoma. His story begins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 26, 1942 when he was born to Edmund and Evelyn Berna (Pierce). From the moment he was born, he was made to be the center of attention. From tap dancing lessons with his sister to piano recitals, he was an entertainer at heart. With big ears and a big smile, he wowed the crowds and cracked jokes to everyone around him. In his early childhood is when his love for fashion and all things cool began. He was the sharpest dresser and was always impressing with his matching bow ties, Neru suits and bell-bottom pants. He went to Custer High School in Milwaukee, WI and then attended UW – Milwaukee and Moler Barber School in Chicago, IL and became a barber. He worked at Mel’s barbershop in Milwaukee, WI. He then served his country in the Army from 1968-1970 which included a year in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regimen, “Blackhorse”. After returning, he became an owner in 2 barbershops in Milwaukee; Windlake Barbershop and Kings Barbershop and he also bartended part time at The Investment Club and The Cat’s Meow. Imagine if your barber/bartender looked like a mix of James Dean and Bruno Mars; that was Jerry. He was always sporting the latest hair fashions including porkchop sideburns, handlebar mustaches and even a mullet.
All throughout his life he was incredibly active. In Wisconsin, he played softball for the Holy Redeemer team and the Hayloft Tavern in Milwaukee. He also bowled on many leagues over the years and was a basketball referee in his spare time for high school and college-aged kids. He was a certified scuba diver and enjoyed scuba diving on many trips to the Caribbean. In Arizona, he played for the Church of the Ascension softball team and in the senior softball league, winning a few championships along the way. He also took up pickleball, but his biggest love was golf. You could find him on the golf course multiple times a week, as well as running the Fountain Hills Businessmen’s Golf League. He also enjoyed boating and waterskiing, owning many boats over the years. His goal was to waterski when he reached age 70 and he did! Not only did he love to play sports, he enjoyed watching them. He was a season ticket holder of the Green Bay Packers and Marquette Golden Eagles and also loved watching the Bucks and Brewers. You could find him every Sunday cheering on the Packers and not feeling comfortable about the win until they were up by 20 with 2 minutes left.
Jerry met his wife Linda in 1981 and the two were married in 1983 and were married for 37 years. They lived in Hales Corners, WI for 15 years and then at the age of 55 retired to Fountain Hills, Arizona where he enjoyed 23 years of semi-retirement. He enjoyed traveling and he and his wife took many trips, including Italy, wine country in California and Oregon, and weekends in Palm Desert and Coronado island. They also enjoyed going out to dinner where he always ordered chicken. He loved a Brandy press and was a Pinot Noir connoisseur, giving every wine a letter grade. He also spent his retirement coaching his daughter’s sports teams, working part time at the Fountain Hills Barbershop and running the men’s golf league. He was a member of Church of the Ascension where he was a eucharistic minister and led an usher team. He was also an avid reader (also grading the books he read) and volunteered in the secondhand bookstore at the Fountain Hills Library and supported the Friends of the Library. To stay active in retirement, he golfed over 100 times a year, walked every day, worked out at the gym, swam in the pool 150+ days a year and tanned to make sure he always had a healthy glow.
Not only was he physically active, he also was a member of the Four Peaks Rotary where he served as the Sergeant at Arms and the in-house comedian. He was constantly telling jokes, doing impressions, dancing (known especially for his Mack the Knife performance), and anything else you can think of just to get a laugh. He was loved by many and was very involved in the Fountain Hills community. His picture appeared in the paper over 50 times; a few highlights include: 20 years of Rotary service award, multiple golf league championships, barbershop employee of the month, Rotarian of the year, Paul Harris Fellow Award, and many articles about the annual Rotary charity golf tournament he organized. Most importantly though, an article appeared highlighting when his daughter, who followed in his footsteps and became a master barber, came to Arizona and cut hair alongside him at the barbershop. He was incredibly proud of that moment.
Jerry had three daughters and five grandchildren and was very involved in their lives. He cheered them on in their sporting events, attended graduations, and always created special memories with them including bowling, swimming, boating, and spending weekends at their family lake cottage. After retiring to Arizona, he went back to Wisconsin every summer to spend time with family and made additional trips back to attend special events involving the grandkids. He was the coolest father and grandfather around. His love for fashion that started in his early days continued through his life and into his 70s. He was always the best dressed in the room. He had more clothes than his wife or his friends, always making sure that his shoes, socks, shirts and his hats matched and were the latest fashion. You could always find him sporting tie bars, French cuffs, matching pocket squares, and a tie for every occasion. He also drove the coolest cars over the years; to name a few: Pontiac Grand Prix T-top, a Chevrolet Corvette, a Ford Mustang and a Lexus convertible.
Even though he was the coolest guy around and had a lot of accomplishments and successes, his family was his proudest achievement. He savored every moment with them and lived his life to the fullest, inspiring many around him. Through his children and grandchildren, the Jerry Berna legacy lives on.
Jerry is survived by his wife Linda Berna and daughters Vicky St. George (Joe) of Hartland, WI; Dawn Berna-Donley (Matt) of Sturgeon Bay, WI and Carly Berna of Scottsdale, AZ; five grandchildren, Curtis, Collin, Chloe, Brandon, and Kaitlyn, and a sister, Patricia Berna of Clinton, NJ.
Jerry felt very supported by many friends and family during his battle with lymphoma as they offered their help and encouragement to him.
Due to the COVID pandemic, a memorial will be held at a future date. Jerry received incredible world-class care at Mayo Clinic and the family thanks all the staff and healthcare workers that supported them. Memorial contributions can be sent to the Mayo Clinic Lymphoma Research Fund (details below).
Mayo Clinic Lymphoma Research Fund
If you wish to give in honor of Jerry, please provide his full name in an attached note with your check, over the phone, or in the appropriate online fields. If you wish for the family to be notified, also provide the contact information for the family member you wish to be notified.---Giving Options Below
Please indicate when sending the gift that it is to be designated in support of Lymphoma Research. Checks can be made out directly to "Mayo Clinic" and sent to: Mayo Clinic, Department of Development, 200 First St SW, Rochester, MN 55905.
To make a gift by credit card or to speak to a Development Representative, please call 507-284-2264 or 855-852-8129 (toll-free) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday. Please indicate to the Development Representative that the gift is to be designated in support of Lymphoma Research.
Click under “Give Now.” A gift form will appear, and there is a designation drop down box in which you can enter your preferences. Select “Other” and then enter Lymphoma Research. Once submitted, you will receive an automatically-generated gift receipt by email. It will record that you have made a gift to “Other,” but don’t be alarmed by this. They will see on their end what you entered for this. The receipt mechanism just isn’t able to customize in that much detail.