A half-century of faithful service
To every decision there are good and bad aspects and this is no different for Alexandria's Bernie Boesen who is retiring after 53 years of owning and operating Bernie's Gas and Oil in Millerville.
"Leaving is sweet and sour. I'm going to miss all these great people and I really love where I work and what I do, but I owe it to my family to retire," Bernie noted. "I have missed so many things over the years that I need to make up for."
Bernie's Gas and Oil was sold on July 2, 2012 to the Millerville Coop Creamery.
"I'm so thankful for their foresight to buy this station. I was going to lock it up in the fall anyway, but they saw that the people around Millerville really need gas," he said. "I really appreciate it a lot."
FROM PRODUCE TO SERVICE STATION
After graduating from high school and spending three years in the Army, Bernie bought Farmers Produce and Supply from Phillip Miller in 1959 - the same store he had previously worked at throughout high school.
"When I bought out the produce shop, there was another grocery shop in the town and I didn't want to have to compete," he recalled. "What the town really needed at that time was a good gas station to clean windows and fix cars."
So, after liquidating the seed and feed inventory, which he sold to Millerville Milling, he opened Bernie's Gas and Oil, a full-service gas station.
Though it has continued to maintain its friendly and convenient service, many things have changed over the years. Aside from revamping the name from Bernie's Gulf and gas prices rising from 19 cents a gallon, Bernie also started selling cold sodas, and, after the Millerville Grocery Store closed, candy, snacks, ice cream and breakfast/lunch sandwiches.
Currently, Bernie's Gas and Oil is one of the last stations to still offer full service.
Rain or shine, for more than 16,589 days, Bernie has filled every vehicle that rolled into the station, washed every windshield, and, if requested, checked oil and the air in tires.
A UNIQUE BUSINESS
At Bernie's, it's not unusual to see someone driving away from the pump with a full tank or walking out of the office with food in their arms without paying.
This is because the majority of Bernie's business is based on trust.
"I just write down everything that someone buys and at the end of the month I send them a bill," he explained. "I know all my customers and I trust them."
Along with the credit system of payment, he is also known for his huge collection of motor belts.
He noted that people would need a belt for something and they would call into the supplier who wouldn't have what they needed - but Bernie would.
"People would travel in from Morris and Wheaton because I had the belt they needed," he explained. "If someone has a motor, I have a belt for it."
Aside from belts, Bernie's store is also jammed full with tires, spare parts, tools, gas, cleaning supplies, cigarettes, candy bars and soda.
MORE THAN A BUSINESS
With the rise in technology and gas prices, most people don't have to buy gas nearly as often as they used to, but they visit Bernie's anyway.
"They don't have to stop in, but they do," he noted. "Most people just come to chat."
For years now, people from as far out as Leaf Valley and Alexandria would stop in to fill up their car, hear a joke or just listen to Bernie's contagious laugh.
"Vacationers from Florida and Illinois would come back every summer, and every time they saw me they would say 'Oh, good thing that you are still here, you know everything about cars'," he recalled. "It's nice to be appreciated."
Though he has had some trouble over the years - from a German family complaining about gas prices to a group of boys trying to steal gas, he loved his job and has put his heart and soul into the business and the community around him.
NEVER MISSING A DAY
Bernie's Gas and Oil was open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Bernie usually didn't leave for a few hours after closing.
"People driving by would honk and wave because they knew that I was always around," he noted.
Because Bernie and his family moved to Alexandria in 1986, he has driven a half hour commute to work every day for the last 26 years.
"It seems like a short trip to me because I do it every day," he said. "Usually I am driving before the plows come out in the morning during the winter, so I plow open the road, and then plow it again on my way home."
Through rain, sleet, fog and sunshine, he always drives to the station, no matter what.
"I have never missed a day," he added proudly.
MAKING UP WHAT WAS MISSED
"Over the years my friends have built new houses and they have always said I should come over - and now finally I'll have time to!" he joked.
With an abundance of free time now on his hands, he has time to work on many of his hobbies, such as collecting old cars, working on antique parts and restoring a 1950s Mercury.
"I've got so many projects going on, plus a boat that hasn't been in the water for three years," Bernie said. "I also have a feeling that I have a long list of things I need to do with my honey [his wife, Maureen] that I've missed out on over the years."