By JANET HEIM
4:07 PM EDT, October 27, 2012
Bernard “Bernie” Bargiel had a heart for veterans, especially disabled veterans.
Having earned a Purple Heart while serving as a U.S. Army medic during World War II, he took great pride in maintaining the area around the two Maryland Veterans Memorial Highway markers on Interstate 81, one near his Maugansville home and the other one near Williamsport.
For about a decade, Bernie and Clear Spring resident Ernie Unger, who is a Vietnam vet, planted and watered flowers at the memorial, said Frances Bargiel, Bernie’s wife of 62 years. He also was instrumental in ensuring flagpoles were installed so the U.S., Maryland and POW flags could fly at both memorials.
“Disabled veterans were so important to him. Those memorials were so important to him,” Frances said as she described how the two men would fill empty gallon milk jugs with water to water the plants at least once a week.
They also fertilized, weeded, pruned, occasionally painted and picked up trash, whatever was needed to keep the memorials spruced up.
Frances said Bernie liked it when truckers would drive by while the two men were working and honk their horns.
“He was always so happy when someone acknowledged the work they did to honor veterans,” she said.
Bernie’s green thumb came from his mother, said daughter Annette Plitman of Olney, Md.
“His parents were very poor and saved plant seeds from year to year to beautify their yards in Poland,” Frances said.
Bernie, a charter member and the first president of the Washington County Rose Society, raised 350 varieties of roses in the backyard of their Maugansville home and exhibited them at shows in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Ohio.
Bernie and Frances also planted flowers around the Welcome to Maugansville sign.
“We raised our family here. We planted flowers — what a way to honor the community,” Frances said.
Bernie was born and raised in Wheeling, W.Va., the only child of Polish immigrants Joseph and Nellie Bargiel. When he began elementary school, he spoke only Polish, said son-in-law Ted Michel of Murrells Inlet, S.C.
His parents took great pride in Bernie being a 1943 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Wheeling since most students in Poland at that time attended school only through the sixth grade.
After high school, Bernie served in the Army’s 70th and 3rd Infantry Division Medical Detachment and the 39th Field Artillery Detachment.
“He stayed on after the war to help empty the concentration camps,” daughter Joan Michel said.
When Bernie returned to Wheeling, he couldn’t find a job and hitchhiked to Detroit because he wanted to build cars. He got a job at Chrysler and hated it.
Bernie then was hired by All American Airways, now US Airways. He transferred to Hagerstown in 1949.
After a variety of other jobs, Bernie worked for 12 years as an auditor for the state of Maryland during the years Louis Goldstein was comptroller.
The year he moved to Hagerstown, Bernie met Frances while attending a Polish wedding in Pennsylvania. She is from New Castle, Pa., and her parents also were Polish immigrants.
Both Bernie and his father were known for their dancing skills, especially the polka. Bernie’s father asked Frances to dance, and she said he had to escort her to her seat after all “the spinning.”
“He told me to ask his son to dance, which I did,” Frances said.
They dated for a year and a half before they got engaged, and married a few months later on Jan. 21, 1950, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hagerstown.
Joanie (Michel), their oldest of three daughters, was born in April 1953. A year later, the family moved to its Maugansville home, where they raised their family, building an addition in 2000 to accommodate family gatherings.
In the end, that addition allowed Bernie to stay at home during most of his medical decline from chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, emphysema, congestive heart and kidney failure. After 70 years of smoking, Bernie smoked his last cigarette Aug. 14.
Before that, Bernie was involved with Disabled American Veterans Chapter 14 and American Legion Post 42, and was a past president and past member of the Maugansville Ruritan.
“He was very civic-oriented — DAV, Ruritan, 4-H camp,” daughter Teresa Swain said.
Ted said Bernie also fixed up the sign at the Western Maryland 4-H Education Center in Garrett County.
“It was rusty. He didn’t like that,” said Annette, adding that she and her sisters and two of the four grandchildren went to camp there.
Bernie’s family said his community commitment was born of his appreciation for this country.
“He was so proud to be an American,” Frances said.
That pride included the right to vote.
Joanie said her father used to make his daughters hand out candidates’ flyers near polling places on election day. Annette remembers their father having the girls make phone calls to remind people to vote and ask if they needed a ride to the polls.
Besides the Bargiel’s three daughters, there were four grandchildren who called Bernie PopPop and three great-grandchildren. He looked forward to family vacations at Deep Creek Lake, a tradition for the past 16 years, always over Father’s Day weekend.
The family gathered to make pierogies, a Polish specialty, each with a job to do. It took 5 pounds of onions and 25 pounds of potatoes to make enough for the family.
Frances said Bernie always wanted to own a home at the lake, but that never happened. His final resting place, though, is in the lake view section of Rest Haven, which gave the family peace.
“He always wanted a house at the lake. He’s got one now,” Frances said.
Bernie never got a son. Instead, they named their male dog — half Labrador retriever and half Cocker spaniel — Jasiu, which is Polish for John, the name they had chosen had they had a son.
“Those two would go to Hardee’s for their hamburgers or Red’s Twin Kiss,” Frances said.
Both Bernie and Frances could speak, read and write in Polish. When the girls were growing up, the couple would “break out the Polish” when they didn’t want their children to know what they were saying, Ted said.
Bernie occasionally baked chocolate bundt cakes for the ladies who worked at the post office, CVS, the bank and Earl’s Market, and he always gave them Russell Stover chocolates at Christmas. He also loved feeding the animals that passed through his backyard.
“He was an original. There was only one Bernie. He did it his way,” Ted said.
As he was dying, Teresa sang “The Beer Barrel Polka” for her father. Polka music played softly in the background at Bernie’s viewing.
“We do have great memories,” Frances said.
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Bernard F. Bargiel, who died Oct. 16 at the age of 87. His obituary was published in the Oct. 17 edition of The Herald-Mail.
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