Elm Grove Native Reflects on Life in the Fast Lane

WHEELING – A special surprise trip organized by his wife brought Jim Bernardin back to Wheeling on his 70th birthday.

While in Wheeling, Bernardin walked old familiar paths with his four sons and showed them everything he told them about as children. He showed them Wheeling and Oglebay parks, the Elm Grove neighborhood where he grew up, ate with them at Figaretti’s Restaurant and shared with them the story of his long journey from working odd jobs in high school to help pay family bills to serving 35 years with Campbell-Ewald advertising agency.

At the agency he went on to become executive vice president and director of creative services working on automotive advertisements for Chevrolet in what was then known throughout the world as “Motor City”- Detroit, Mich.

“At the time it was considered the largest account in the business,” Bernardin said in an interview at the Triadelphia home of his friend Lee Kelvington.”I have always been very satisfied with my accomplishments and often reflect on the magnitude of it.”

As part of Campbell-Ewald’s first “think tank” of advertising and art specialists, Bernardin’s career took him from Elm Grove to Detroit, New York City, Hollywood, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Frankfort, Istanbul, and countless other places. On his journeys he met with a wide collection of the times’ most “remarkable” people, from John DeLorean, founder of DeLorean Motor Company, to Norman Rockwell the artist, President Gerald Ford, football star O.J. Simpson, musician Ed Lubunski and a multitude of others.

Along the way Bernardin said he could remember watching the entire advertising industry evolve.

“My career in the business began when ad layouts were made with pastels and pencils and finished by artists from New York and San Francisco as well as Detroit,” Bernardin said.

“Next came Magic Markers and photography followed by story boards and television. And then on to computers and the Internet. It was quite a trip.”

But along the way as he collected both hundreds of memories and hundreds of ads, Bernardin said he could still remember growing up in Wheeling and all the lessons he learned. Born in Elm Grove in 1929, he said his first job was at an A&P store in Wheeling where his father worked as head butcher.

“I was 15 and between my sophomore and junior year in high school,” Bernardin said. “I became the guy that cleaned the fish in the fresh fish department.”

Though he had to lie about his age to work and most of his money went to helping pay the bills, Bernardin said the job taught him valuable lessons about working.

“I felt really good about earning some money by working at a real job,” Bernardin said. “In the past most of the money I earned was from cutting grass for people.”

At age 16 Bernardin got his first taste of work with cars at the local Hudson Dealership where he parked cars, changed oil, greased cars down and drove the company wreck truck.

“I learned a lot working there,” Bernardin said. “I was 16 and knew I could do anything.” His last job in Wheeling before the family moved to Michigan was at Hoge Davis Drugstore in Elm Grove where he worked the soda fountain and drove deliveries.

Moving from Wheeling right after graduation was difficult, Bernardin said. Having served as left guard and captain of the Triadelphia High School football team and having special friends in town, he saw it as one of the hardest things he ever had to do. But looking back Bernardin said it was the right thing to do.

“You just never know over the long haul, distasteful things that happen to you may be a big turning point in your life that turn out to be very beneficial,” Bernardin said.

Of all his accomplishments in life and all the partners he worked with Bernardin said marriage to his late wife Ruth Andre trumped the rest and he looks with pride on his four sons who he said managed to find success in their own lives. His son Tom Bernardin, following in his footsteps, now serves as CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide, an advertising agency working with Buick and GMC car brands.