Bernard F. Breighner, 59, owner of Hampden's New System Bakery

January 15, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Bernard F. Breighner grew up eating the delicious, old-fashioned baked goods of the New System Bakery in his native Hampden and owned the legendary establishment as an adult.

Mr. Breighner, called the "Unofficial Mayor of Hampden" by residents and area business owners for his civic endeavors, died of cancer Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 59 and had lived in Cockeysville for 20 years.

He had owned the bakery -- on West 36th Street, known as The Avenue -- from 1972 to 1995, when he sold it, along with Keller's Liquor Store and the split-level shopping mall that was the former 600-seat Hampden Theater.

But for all his entrepreneurial success, the bakery with its art-deco, cream-and-green facade and 1930s stainless steel cake holders in the window was nearest and dearest to his heart. It has been in the heart of Hampden since 1921.

Mr. Breighner and his wife -- the former Grace Hammert, whom he married in 1961 -- were the third owners of the bakery.

Using founder John Ruthke's original recipes, Mr. Breighner boasted in a 1992 Evening Sun article, "We survive today because we make everything from scratch. No commercial mixes are used here."

A trim man with neatly combed hair who favored blue, open-collar shirts, he often helped the bakers when the store was busy.

"He'd be back there rolling out pie shells and cookies and having a great time," said Ellen R. Collier of Brooklyn, who retired as the bakery's bookkeeper.

"He always stressed quality and, if a product wasn't quite right, it didn't go out the front door. It went out the back door and straight into the trash."

Although he was surrounded by high-calorie baked goods covered with thick icing, or filled with cream, Mr. Breighner succumbed only to the butter cream stick doughnuts.

"He couldn't walk by that counter without picking up one of those doughnuts," said Mrs. Breighner, laughing.

"I'd see powdered sugar all over his shirt and he'd say, 'Oh no, I'm not eating again. Must have brushed up against a counter,' " she said.

"He was always tasting things in the bakery because he was proud of what we baked and sold," said Willie Forston, a baker at the store since 1962.

Mr. Breighner was remembered for his sense of humor, and generosity and kindness to employees and Hampdenites.

"If someone was in trouble or needed a loan, he opened his wallet. If someone came to the back door and asked for help, Mr. Bernie always gave it," Mrs. Collier said.

He sent a car to bring employees to work and take them home when it snowed; he and his wife cooked a buffet dinner for them at holiday time, and he had a pool party for them at his Cockeysville home in the summer.

If a Hampden family suffered a death or other tragedy, Mr. Breighner was among the first to offer assistance, according to Lynn Henss, a longtime friend and owner of the Burgee-Henss Funeral Home on Falls Road. "We could always count on Bernie," she said.

Friends say it was impossible for the unofficial mayor to walk a block in Hampden without being stopped by someone who wanted to chat or bring something to his attention.

He was a member of the Convertible Car Club of Maryland, Hampden Businessman's Association, Kiwanis Club, Jaycees and Optimist Club. He helped plan the annual Mayor's Christmas Parade in which he drove his vintage 1976 sable convertible Cadillac.

"Even though he was raised in Hampden but moved to Cockeysville, he was still the same hometown boy," Mrs. Collier said.

Born and raised on Wood Heights Avenue, Mr. Breighner attended the Polytechnic Institute and the Johns Hopkins University.He sold mixes and other bakery supplies worldwide for the American Doughnut Corp. from 1969 to 1980 when he left to work full time at the bakery.

He was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane in Cockeysville, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Other survivors include a son, Bernard F. Breighner III of Rockville; a daughter, Michele Orie of South Riding, Va.; and a granddaughter, Nicole Orie of South Riding.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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