Carson man remembered for strength |

Carson man remembered for strength

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

Born in Carson City with spinabifida, Jeffrey Berning wasn’t expected to live more than 72 hours, his mother said Friday. Twenty-eight years later, he’d defied the odds, and survived more than 20 surgeries until a bleeding ulcer claimed his life on Dec. 19.

“There was never a phone call or an e-mail or a card that he ended without saying ‘I love you.’ My last words to him were, ‘I love you son,'” said Berning’s mother, Mary Clark.

On Friday, five days after his body was discovered in his Fifth Street apartment, the NASCAR fan and indomitable flirt was quietly buried in a private ceremony.

Today, a memorial service is being held at Walton’s for Berning, an Applebee’s greeter who cruised through the crowded restaurant in his wheelchair, happily seating customers and sending roses to a different waitress every week.

An accomplished Special Olympiad, Berning didn’t define himself by his restrictions, said his father, Fred Berning.

“He was just really outgoing. He loved hunting and fishing. He had a very good sense of humor. His situation never bothered him. He never said, ‘I wish I had legs’ or anything. If we went someplace and he couldn’t get around in his wheelchair, he’d say, ‘That’s OK.'”

Mary Clark agreed her son never played up his shortcomings. Instead he focused on his strengths and his abilities.

He swam, bowled, threw shot-put, wheeled the 100-meter dash and lifted weights in the Special Olympic program. On his own, Mary Clark said, he learned to ski.

“Jeffrey never asked me, not one time, why he was born that way. He never complained. He never questioned,” she said.

A 1997 graduate of Dayton High School and a fifth-generation Nevadan, Berning got his first apartment on his own as soon as he turned 18, and he never looked back.

“He always earned his own way,” said his father.

Clark said her son always made friends with his easy-going demeanor. She recalled how in high school the wrestling team had made him their mascot.

“We’d drop Jeffrey off at the bus, one wrestler would grab him, and one would grab his chair, throw them on the bus, and off they’d go,” she said. “That’s the way he affected people. Everybody that met him was touched by him.”

He is survived by his mother and stepfather, Mary and Phil Clark; father and stepmother, Fred and Carol Berning; siblings Richard, Robert, and Kimberly Clark and Sam and Alana Berning; numerous, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandfather.

A celebration of Jeff’s life will be today at 1 p.m. at Walton’s Chapel of the Valley in Carson City.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Shriner’s Hospital in Sacramento, Calif.

“I did everything a mother could ever do for that child. My life was that child. I have no regrets other than I didn’t get to hold him one more time,” said Clark through her tears. “We raised him to be independent. We raised him to be such a fine young man.”

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.