Bernhardt’s roots lie deep in Caldwell County

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 02:08 PM

John Christian Bernhardt’s love of learning was surpassed only by his love for people, said his son.

“No one worked for him. They worked with him,” Alex Bernhardt Sr. said. “He loved the people. He loved the customers. He treated everybody as equals.”

The younger son of John Matthias Bernhardt, who founded Bernhardt Furniture Co., John Christian Bernhardt was born in a house known as “Hollywood” due to the surrounding holly trees. During his years attending Lenoir Graded School and Lenoir High School, Bernhardt developed a passion for the people of Caldwell County, as well as for the furniture business that his father started.

Alex Bernhardt Sr. said about the family business, “It was a family tradition. His father had been in it. His older brother had been in it. He loved Lenoir and Caldwell County. He made many friends in school. It was part of his attachment.”

John Christian Bernhardt was part of Lenoir High’s first graduating class. He went on to study at Davidson College, graduating in 1927. Then, he moved to Lake Fontana in Western North Carolina to work for his father.

“Just days after graduation, they set him out to run the lumber camp with

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no prior experience,” Alex Bernhardt Sr. said. “It was up to him to figure out how to run it.”

In 1946, he took over the business after his older brother’s death.

John Christian Bernhardt married Jean Alexander of Morganton. They raised three children at their Lenoir home, Homewood on Woodside Place. He and his wife were avid readers, and he even helped Alexander write a novel, “Murder at the Royal Oak.”

“They were both great students, appreciators of the written word and literature. It was a mystery novel about England. It was set in a place in England that my parents visited frequently. In later years, they went annually. They loved the local people there.”

Both John Christian Bernhardt and his wife were hospice volunteers and helped found the Caldwell County Hospice. During their final years, they became hospice patients and had volunteers attend to them. John Christian Bernhardt died in May 2003 at the age of 96. His grandson, Alex Bernhardt Jr., is now CEO of Bernhardt Furniture.