The Berning family is a humble group, albeit an important one to the Albertville community. And now after over 65 years of running Don’s Auto, the matriarch and patriarch of the Bernings, Gordy and Theresa, are being recognized as the Friendly City Days Citizens of the Year.
Both Gordy and Theresa were blindsided by the award, but after talking to them for just a few minutes, it becomes incredibly clear how much they love Albertville … and each other.
“It’s a nice, friendly community, and everybody knows everybody,” said Theresa.
“Well, you can’t say that anymore!” Gordy chipped in. “But it still has that small town feel.”
The two never even considered leaving the STMA area, both having grown up in the community, with Theresa on her family farm and Gordy in his father’s shop.
“The shop’s been there for, oh man, since the 1920’s, maybe even before that,” he said. “It was an existing business, but he bought them out [in 1953] and that’s when he changed it to Don’s Auto.”
Gordy and his five brothers were constantly in the garage, and it was always destiny that one of them would eventually take over the operation.
“I always worked, I worked on other jobs, too, but I only worked for my dad’s garage, and when I got out of tech school, I started working closer with him, full time with him,” he said.
Gordy and Theresa got married in 1977, and after their four kiddos headed off to school, Theresa joined her hubby in the shop as a cashier, where she still works part-time.
“And eventually, when my dad decided to retire, we bought him out and we’ve been here ever since,” said Gordy.
“We’re slowly moving on, and retiring,” said Theresa, “We haven’t gotten there yet … but slowly.”
The workaholics do get to be beside their loved ones at the shop, though, with all of their children working for Don’s Auto at some point.
Retirement is calling their names, and with a backorder on their dream travel trailer and nine grandkids under the age of 12 running around, the Bernings will be plenty busy for the foreseeable future.
In addition to their business impact, Gordy and Theresa are also involved with their parish at The Church of St. Albert, which happens to be right next door to their beautiful, downtown home. Gordy also was a member of the Albertville Fire Department for 32 years, retiring back in the early 2000s.
Above all else, though, their love for each other and their children — Tom, John, Karen and Kevin — rings the loudest of their accolades.
“She’s very caring, that’s for sure,” said Gordy of his wife. “And she’s always worried about me, that’s for sure,” he jokes.
“She’s always making sure I got plenty to eat, plenty to sleep …” he added.
Theresa loves her husband’s equally-caring attitude, smiling as he tears up talking about her.
“I had knee surgeries and hip surgery and breast cancer, and he was right there,” she said. “He did the cleaning, he did the baking, he did the cooking … It was amazing.”
“He would go to work for half an hour, and already be back home in 15 minutes.”
Needless to say, this power couple is more than deserving of retirement and the Citizens of the Year award, regardless of their humility and continued disbelief now a month after finding out.
Some things have changed since Don’s Auto got its start back in the 1950s, but a lot has stayed the same, too. The park kiddy-corner to the Berning residence has grown and been updated, but they are still able to peek out their front window each summer to watch the Friendly City Days celebrations. Development may be popping up across the west side of town, but if you glance to the Berning backyard, you’ll see the same Main Street joints that have been there for years.
But most of all, the Berning legacy lives on, with Gordy and Theresa’s children carrying the entrepreneurial torch from here. (Well, once Theresa can get Gordy out of the shop for long enough, that is.)