Duluth trumpeter, used car salesman, dies at 87A Duluth man known for his trumpet playing, knowledge of used cars and loyal friendship died earlier this month. Erwin “Bernie” Bernstein, a longtime general manager at Krenzen Auto, was 87.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
A Duluth man known for his trumpet playing, knowledge of used cars and loyal friendship died earlier this month. Erwin “Bernie” Bernstein, a longtime general manager at Krenzen Auto, was 87.
“He was different. He was something else,” said Fran Bernstein, his wife of 37 years.
Bernstein’s colorful music career included playing on river boats between La Crosse, Wis., and St. Louis, touring with the Time Magazine Coca-Cola Navy band and botching a tryout in Chicago with famous band leader Ray Anthony —but still landing the job after convincing Anthony he could improvise.
He played every night when he was a student at the University of Minnesota, according to his wife.
“If you were in Minneapolis and went up and down Hennepin Avenue, he played at every one of the places,” his wife said. “He called them joints.”
Jack Krenzen can pinpoint the exact day he met Bernstein: Dec. 15, 1952. It was Krenzen’s first day on the job at a dealership in Hopkins, Minn.
“He came to me and said ‘I don’t like to sell new cars’ and I said ‘I don’t like to sell old cars,’” Krenzen recalled. “That’s how we became friends for 62 years.”
They were like brothers, Krenzen said, and never once fought.
Both moved to Duluth in September 1971, Krenzen running the dealership and Bernstein as the resident expert with used cars.
“Valuing them, appraising them, reconditioning them and such,” he said.
Krenzen called Bernstein a second father to his sons. Steve Krenzen, the oldest, remembered him as a force behind the scenes, quietly helping people.
“He was a very aware person and did a lot of nice things, not just for the customers, but for people in general,” Krenzen said.
It’s the longevity and loyalty of the Krenzen-Bernstein friendship that is most remarkable to Steve Krenzen.
“When I was born and my mom was at the hospital with me, Bernie and my dad were at the house setting up the crib,” he said.
Jack Krenzen recalled his friend as “good hearted,” delivering hamburgers and French fries to people in need or, after his own time in treatment, giving assistance to someone else who needed help fighting addiction.
This kindness extended to his home.
“He never got up from the table without thanking me for dinner,” Fran Bernstein said. “I don’t care if it was wieners and beans. I’d say, ‘It was just wieners and beans’ and he’d say ‘You did a good job on them.’”
Meanwhile, Bernstein was a go-to guy for touring musicians who needed a trumpet player for a Duluth gig. He ended up playing backup for Sonny and Cher, Patti Page, June Christy and more.
He approached these shows humbly, Fran Bernstein said.
One time he came home from a job and didn’t even know who he had played with, but that they had played “Pretty Woman.”
“It was Roy Orbison,” she said.
He also played with the Randy Lee Big Time Jazz Band, the North Shore Big Band and other local groups before he had a stroke in 2001. He didn’t like the way he played after that, his wife said.
Bernstein had recurring bouts of pneumonia and died June 4 at Bayshore Health Care Center.
There will be a celebration of life at 11 a.m. June 29 at Sunrise Funeral Home. There will be jazz played during the memorial.
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