When Santa Clarita resident Bernie Glass was told he would be a good standup comedian, he replied: “The toughest part of that would be to stand up.”
Glass, who turned 100 on July 31, was thrown a surprise party by the Anthro/History Club at the Bella Vida senior center, which he is a part of, during the group’s weekly meeting the day before.
“I have known (Bernie) since I began working at the senior center 15 years ago,” said Robin Clough, volunteers and recreation coordinator. “He really enjoys attending life-long learning activities.”
Clough said Glass has been active in the club since it began at the senior center.
“They’re very, very close,” Clough said, regarding the club. “What’s great is they work on whatever they’re going to speak about themselves.”
The meeting, which typically centers around a significant time period in history each week, instead focused on Glass’ history, complete with a Powerpoint presentation that illustrated the historical milestones at each decade of his life.
And the group brings people together in a way that only the Santa Clarita Valley community can sometimes.
Joanne Coller met Glass when she joined the club in June, and the pair quickly realized they have the same hometown of Philadelphia.
“He, my dad and I all worked at RCA (a major American electronics manufacturer for decades that went out of business in the late 1980s) — what a small world,” she said. “He thinks he knew my dad … I couldn’t believe it. I brought him RCA memorabilia of my dad’s and I gave it to him.”
Coller made special folders for each club member, with Glass’ decorated especially for him, and included birthday activities along with a list of puns for growing older.
“Today, we celebrate life through the ages with Bernie,” said Rene Valencia, who made the presentation.
The first three decades included the prohibition, the stock market crash of 1929 and Germany invading Poland, starting World War II.
“Bernie has been around for some important events,” Valencia commented.
As the decades continues, Valencia begins to include Glass, joking that he was there in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and then at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
“In 2019, Bernie is age 100,” Valencia continued. “Notre Dame Cathedral burnt down, and Bernie was there when it was first built,” she chided.
Glass spent the remainder of the meeting sharing stories from his 100 years of life, including some memorable moments from his childhood growing up in Philadelphia.
“I think the most memorable thing as a kid was the depths of the (Great) Depression,” he said, “what my family went through, what everybody went through. I was young, but it really impressed me.”
He also remembers when the horse and wagon would deliver the milk and bread every morning at 3 o’clock, and said that learning how to drive a car with a gear shift drove him crazy.
In fact, it also drove his father-in-law, who was very “un-mechanically inclined,” crazy, so his father-in-law wrote the shift pattern on a piece of paper and stuck it through the shifter to remember.
“We didn’t have traffic lights, we had traffic cops directing us, so we came to an intersection and the traffic cop stopped us,” Glass said. “Just as he was starting, a strong wind came in and the paper swung about — he almost destroyed the transmission. I’ll never forget that, it felt like just a couple years ago.”
Philadelphia is a very historic town, and the club enjoyed hearing about Glass’ experience visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
“It’s funny how each city has something special of its own,” he added. “In this case, it was cheesesteak.”
In the 40s, Glass worked for RCA Corp. in Camden, New Jersey.
“We worked on the first radar that was developed to be put on the coast of England to detect the incoming bombers over the channel,” he said. “Then, we worked on the radar that was used on the B-17s to be combined with the bombardiers to make dropping the bombs more accurate. It was rather interesting stuff.”
When Glass was drafted into the service during World War II, RCA stepped in and he was deferred three times so he could continue working with them.
Finally, Glass went into what is now considered the Air Force and began training to become a pilot, where he learned how to fly a Piper J-3 Cub, North American Aviation T-6 Texan and a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
In training, he had to learn how to parachute, so they sent him up a 50-foot tower with a parachute harness.
“I was hooked to a cable that came shooting down into a long trough of saw dust,” he said. “The idea being that you’re supposed to learn how to roll without putting your arms out because it would break your shoulders.”
“Coming down that thing really scared the hell out of me,” he said, laughing. “That was the most dangerous thing I did in the service.”
Once Glass had completed the training to become a pilot, the military realized he was a radar specialist.
“They took me out and put me straight into radar school,” he said. “I went to three colleges for radar, and I became a radar instructor for the rest of my years in the service.”
All of his friends were sent overseas and got caught in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I felt put out about it, frankly, because I wanted to stay with my group,” he added.
As an instructor, Glass had a lot of free time.
“I had my wife with me all the time I was in the service, so the two of us would get out on the road and I would be in uniform and we would hitchhike all over the United States.”
He even remembers once hitchhiking from El Paso to Colorado Springs.
After his time in the service, he went to work for a dutch import-export organization and ran their American office in Manhattan, on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street.
“From my office window on the fifth floor, I could look right down Wall Street — it was a very historic place,” Glass said. “When 9-11 took place and the buildings collapsed, it collapsed that building as well.”
Glass said his life was more or less uneventful, yet he’s very thankful for the experiences he’s had.
“I may be old,”he said, chuckling, “but I’m not wise.”