Have you Heard of Harold Bernstein?

Probably not. But we’ve probably heard of Amy Winehouse or Pacman Jones. What are we going to do about this? For my part….

I read about an inspirational man named Harold Bernstein a few weeks ago. I’m embarrassed to say that as I skimmed through the article [I mostly skim newspapers], I assumed it was an obituary. Upon second glance, I was happily surprised to see that it wasn’t and that Mr. Bernstein was alive and well. A little more about Mr Bernstein form the article by Kathleen Chapman:

Bernstein was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on May 28, 1912. After graduating from Cooper Union Institute of Art in New York City, he worked as a freelance letterer for advertising agencies.

He opened a calligraphy workshop in Hempstead, N.Y., and became one of the first calligraphy teachers in Long Island’s adult education program. But calligraphy was not his only job — he also owned an interior design firm for more than two decades.

In 1979, Bernstein and his wife moved to Florida. At 66, an age when most people would embrace retirement, he sent a letter to school district officials, asking if they would hire him to teach calligraphy.

He’s the type of person I like my kids to hear about and hopefully meet. This past Thursday I decided to try and get his book, Calligraphy for you, you and–you, for my daughter who has a talent for drawing. However, the book was out of print in Amazon. Then I did some googling and found a phone # for Mr Bernstein. Two minutes later, I’m chatting with him and he is as friendly and accessible as you can imagine. I tell him that I read about him in the paper and he chuckles and says he can’t believe how many people have called him since, ‘everybody’s been so nice.’ He then informs me that I don’t have to buy the book, the libraries in Palm Beach all carry it. Once assured that I really want the book, he asks me for my address to mail it and tells me to send him a payment–’whatever you can …, OK $11 bucks should do it’–when I get the book.

I have my first 2009 resolution, meet the amazing Mr. Bernstein.

Article referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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At 96, a Palm Beach county teacher is a calligraphy legend

By KATHLEEN CHAPMAN

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, November 29, 2008

LAKE WORTH — For his 90th birthday, calligraphy teacher Harold Bernstein got a letter from Palm Beach County schools Superintendent Art Johnson, congratulating him for being the oldest teacher in the county.

That was six years ago, and Bernstein has no plans to retire anytime soon. God willing, Bernstein says, he’ll be in the classroom for a long time to come.

The 96-year-old is a legend in Palm Beach County schools, where he has taught calligraphy through the adult education program for 28 years. He demonstrates his flawless technique with a steady hand and is patient with his students as they work through his book, Calligraphy for You, You, and You.

Anyone, he likes to say, can learn to write beautifully: “You just have to persevere.”

Faye O’Donnell of Lake Worth said her daughter took Bernstein’s course five years ago so she could make her own wedding invitations and place cards. They looked as if they had been done by a professional, says O’Donnell, who this year decided to try his six-session evening course at Lake Worth High School. She was amazed by Bernstein’s skill.

“He’s got sharp eyes and steady hands, and he’s very knowledgeable,” she said. “He’s been doing it for so long, there isn’t anything he doesn’t know. He’s just an awesome and amazing and wonderful teacher.”

O’Donnell says she looks forward to the weekly classes, which are always lively and fun.

“He keeps the class going and moving, which at 96 is even more amazing,” she said.

Bernstein loves to work a room and never stops his banter. When another student in his evening course mused that she remembers when subway tickets cost 50 cents, he shot back: “I remember a nickel.”

“Well, I can’t compete with you,” she said.

Bernstein was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on May 28, 1912. After graduating from Cooper Union Institute of Art in New York City, he worked as a freelance letterer for advertising agencies.

He opened a calligraphy workshop in Hempstead, N.Y., and became one of the first calligraphy teachers in Long Island’s adult education program. But calligraphy was not his only job — he also owned an interior design firm for more than two decades.

In 1979, Bernstein and his wife moved to Florida. At 66, an age when most people would embrace retirement, he sent a letter to school district officials, asking if they would hire him to teach calligraphy.

The district’s adult education program took him up on his offer. Over the years, he has taught at Lake Worth High, John I. Leonard High, Lantana Middle School and Palm Beach Community College, along with churches, YMCAs and condo communities.

Bernstein’s wife, Goldie, also was active in the community, teaching Hebrew and serving as past president of the Florida Atlantic region chapter of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc. She died in April 2007.

For generations, Bernstein has helped families mark the milestones in their lives with invitations to parties, bar mitzvahs and weddings.

He lives in Lake Worth but is well-known in Palm Beach, where he offers calligraphy house calls — addressing invitations at the homes of clients who don’t like to travel. He enjoys it, he says, and many clients serve him lunch while he works.

“I don’t charge as much as I should, maybe because I still remember the Great Depression,” he said.

Bernstein is eager to help his students sell their work. If you have any questions about what to charge, he says, “just tell the client you will get back to them and then call me.”

Or they can just send an e-mail. With a little help from one of his two sons, Bernstein now maintains both an e-mail account and a cellphone.

As to the secret for a long and productive life, he says it’s simple: “Just stay busy.”
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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