Millionaire Librarian Retires at 105
Bernie Nenner, at the venerable age of 105 years and eight months, recently stepped down as volunteer librarian at his Florida retirement community. A lifelong reader, he taught himself more than enough to compensate for his lack of formal education, and he retired a millionaire decades ago. “For a poor Jewish kid from the Lower East Side of New York,” he says, “I think I did pretty well for myself, thanks to books.”
Bernie was in charge of the library at Aston Gardens at Parkland Commons in Parkland, Florida. “I injured both hands putting books on and off the shelves,” he says; “I figured it was time to give it up.”
“He’s an amazing guy,” says Sue Butler, Aston Gardens executive director. “Every day, for 10 years, he’d be in our library like clockwork. Everybody knows him. We call him the Mayor of Aston Gardens.”
Five years ago, asked if he still bought green bananas, Bernie replied that not only did he buy green bananas, he started 1,000-page books. Since turning 105, he admits he starts only 500-page books.
His doctor just gave him the thumbs up after a recent physical exam, so we hope Bernie will be reading for some time to come. “I made myself a millionaire out of nothing. My own ‘Yiddishe kopf’ and reading. Books and reading gave me a comfortable life,” he proudly states.
Born in Manhatttan, Bernie spent several years in Montana when his father raised cattle for beef during World War I. By age 10, Bernie was in the saddle, herding cows. “I never really made friends and got settled, so I started to read and I’ve been reading all my life. Books have always been my friends,” he says.
Back in New York, “I never got past much of three or four months of junior high school,” he says. He began to work when he was 15, delivering groceries for an A&P store. By age 20, he was a manager and married, and by age 21 he was a father.
He tried night school, but that didn’t last long. “In those days you used to work from 8 a.m. until 6 at night, and on Saturday, we worked from 8 in the morning until 11 at night. Then on Sundays, I’d help my wife’s folks at their souvenir business in Coney Island.”
He built and sold several businesses (a dry cleaning chain, a waste paper collection service), then he read about mobile home parks in a Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. “They claimed it was a good business to get into because of the real estate. The parks are always situated out of cities, and as cities grow, the land becomes more valuable,” says Bernie. He developed three mobile home parks in Florida, sold them profitably, and retired in 1974.
Bernie says he can’t name just a few of his favorite books, because he has so many. “The first book I think I tackled was The Decameron [the medieval allegory by Boccaccio]. Then I went into the psychologists and philosophers — Freud, Carl Jung, Adler, and Schopenhauer.”
His advice to young people is to read. “And I don’t mean just trash,” he says, adding, “If you are going to read, make sure most of your books can teach you something, something important.” He now mainly reads biographies and autobiographies. “You learn an awful lot when they’re about well-known people who have done something worthwhile.”
His current book is a biography of Barack Obama. “I have a great respect for him, and for this country, where a black man can do what he’s done,” says Bernie.
He also enjoys reading Dave Barry, the former Miami Herald columnist. “He’s good, funny and ironic. I enjoy his sarcasm about what goes on here in Florida.” Another bit of Bernie advice: “Always have a sense of humor.”
He doesn’t read e-books and he doesn’t use a computer. He says he doesn’t have time for that “stuff,” because his wife, 94, is in poor health and he helps take care of her.
Bernie and his first wife, Sophie, were married for 65 years. A son, Ronald, was chief of police in Lakeland, Florida, and a daughter Elissa Silverberg lives in Queens.
When he was 101, he re-entered the business world as spokesman for a Pittsburgh company, LongLife Steel Buildings. In a video commercial comparing the strength of steel to his longevity, he quipped, “My LongLife steel building will still be here for my 131st birthday.”
In 2009, Bernie was interviewed for a book, “What I Know, Uncommon Wisdom and Universal Truths From 10-Year-Olds and 100-Year-Olds.” He told author Roger Fishman, “I keep working and learning new things. The reward is that I’m still here.”
For his 104th birthday last year, Bernie and his wife, Frances, donated a $100,000 ambulance to Israel’s national emergency service, Magen David Adom. Several years before, Bernie helped start an Aston Gardens chapter of American Friends of Magen David Adom. “In a short time we had 150 members, and we raised a lot of money; in all, the chapter has donated three ambulances to Israel.”
“For an old man, I’m doing really well,” he says, and he weighs about the same as he did 85 years ago. “I’ve always been careful of what I eat. I eat very little meat. I never smoked, and the rest is luck.”