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Robert Frank Berner, 100, professor was role model for 'evening school' students

Nov. 30, 1917 — Oct. 20, 2018

Robert Frank Berner, Ph.D., was probably best known for the years he spent as University Dean of what was called "evening school" — the Division of Continuing Education of Millard Fillmore College at SUNY Buffalo. In that role, he encouraged many adult students to return to college and earn their degrees to help them succeed.

When he spoke to students, Dr. Berner spoke with the voice of experience: His own education was interrupted in 1942 by a summons from Uncle Sam.

After a distinguished military career highlighted by earning Bronze and Silver Star for Gallantry, Dr. Berner returned home, went back to college and earned his master's degree, followed later by a doctorate.

Dr. Berner died on Oct. 20, 2018, in Canterbury Woods in Williamsville, where he had lived since 1999. He was just over one month short of his 101st birthday.

Dr. Berner was born on Nov. 30, 1917, in Cleveland, to Marie (Gideon) and Frank Berner, brother of Charlotte and Richard. When he was a child, his family moved to Kenmore to follow his father's job as a cashier for the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, commonly known as the Nickel Plate Railroad.

He graduated from Kenmore High School  in 1935 and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Buffalo in 1939. While teaching commercial subjects in the high school in Palmyra, he met Ruth Levis, who would become his wife on Nov. 6, 1943, in Palmyra.

In 1942, Dr. Berner was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a captain in the 616th Field Artillery Battalion, U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He was stationed in Colorado Springs, then fought in the Italian theater. He was awarded both the Bronze and Silver Star for Gallantry in Action near Monzambani, Italy. After being honorably discharged in 1945, he began work as a teaching fellow in U.B.'s School of Business Administration.

Dr. Berner returned to school, earning a master's in Business Administration from UB in 1948.

When he moved to Chicago to study for a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, Mrs. Berner and their three oldest children, Robert Frank, John David, and Mary, accompanied him. In 1956, Mrs. Berner  told the Buffalo Courier-Express that the family lived in cramped, makeshift quarters in an Army barracks remodeled for students. The Berners had a fourth child, Jean, and Dr. Berner received his doctorate in 1961.

Returning to Western New York, Dr. Berner worked as a professor at the University of Buffalo's School of Management, then as dean of the Division of Continuing Education of Millard Fillmore College at SUNY Buffalo. His family said, "Many of those he assisted during his years as dean have gone on to achieve further success in business and industry."

He took two international assignments through the prestigious Fulbright organization, teaching at Robert College in Istanbul from 1968 to 1969 and in a university in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1975 to 1976.

"Oh, my goodness, he was a good teacher," said his daughter Mary Berner Griffin. "His students loved him."

He retired as a Professor Emeritus in the School of Management.

Dr. Berner enjoyed gardening, cultivating a beautiful rose garden when the family lived on East Royal Parkway in Amherst and harvesting many vegetables from a large plot near their home near Albion. They then moved to Monarch Drive in Amherst, where they lived for several decades.

His family said that Dr. Berner's "love of country was surpassed only by his passion and love of his family and his commitment to education."

He was active for years at Calvary Episcopal Church in Williamsville, serving as a warden.

Besides his daughter Mary, Dr. Berner is survived by two sons, Robert Frank Berner Jr. and John David Berner; eight grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

A service celebrating Dr. Berner's life will be held next summer in Calvary Episcopal Church, 20 Milton St., Williamsville.  Memorials may be made to the church or to the UB School of Management Robert Berner Fund, c/o UB Foundation, PO Box 900, Buffalo, 14226.

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