Asheville original Jerry Sternberg has good reason to celebrate today. The longtime Mountain Xpress columnist and irrepressible political observer turns 90 years old — an occasion prompting Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer to proclaim Dec. 7 as Jerry V. Sternberg Day.
Reached Friday, Sternberg delighted in the good news. “I am totally honored and flattered that the mayor would see fit to do such a kind and generous thing,” Sternberg offered via email. “This is the most exciting news I have heard on Dec. 7 since Pearl Harbor in 1941.”
That day, in fact, was vividly recounted earlier this year in a May 6 column Sternberg wrote for Xpress reflecting on the sacrifices local residents made during World War II as compared to our current pandemic (“Rising to the Occasion: The Gospel According to Jerry”).
Loyal Xpress readers will find many of the proclamation’s details familiar, since the prolific writer has spun a wealth of colorful yarns via his column, “The Gospel According to Jerry.” (An online search of Mountain Xpress and Jerry Sternberg yields 100 results on the Xpress website, dating back to 2000, although his first Gospel appeared in the very first issue of Xpress, in August 1994.)
Sternberg was “born and bred in Asheville,” notes the proclamation, attended the city’s public schools and helped in his father’s hide and recycling businesses along the French Broad River as a child — a subject he brought to life with his characteristic humor in a 2005 column.
“My dad used to take me to work with him when I was no more than 5 years old. He had a small business in an old, dirty, rickety building at the corner of Depot and Lyman streets at the railroad crossing,” Sternberg recalled, describing his first job of helping to remove furs from boards where they had been stretched to dry.
“I am not sure whether the purpose of my employment was to take advantage of the economic rewards of child labor or to keep me out of my house so that I would not torment and harass my 3-year-old sister.”
Sternberg went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina and served in the Navy during the Korean conflict, the document continues.
After the Navy, he returned to Asheville to launch his first business of buying and selling surplus goods, and continued for the next 65 years to establish successful businesses in Asheville and throughout Buncombe County, the proclamation states. These days, he’s probably best known as a real estate developer.
Along with personal anecdotes, Sternberg has focused his gaze on the workings of local government — spanning such topics as policing the (lack of) attire (musing on the thong-clad City Council candidate Ukiah Morrison) to exasperation with North Asheville traffic calming measures and, most recently, what to do with the Vance Monument.
As noteworthy as Sternberg’s opinions are, his good works are recognized in the proclamation. In fact, he’s been recognized as a “leadership giver” by both United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and Helpmate. And he’s been lauded for both supporting and defining his Jewish heritage via the Duke Center for Jewish Studies’ Down Home online exhibit, where’s he’s quoted as saying: “I’m very much a Jewish Southerner. I love the South, and they’re my people.”
He also has a warm spot in his heart for the people of this particular corner of the South. When asked if he had any advice for fellow Asheville and Western North Carolina residents about what he’s learned about getting the most out of life, he offered:
“Asheville and WNC are populated with very special people. We are hardworking, concerned citizens who seek to achieve in all areas of life. Those who were raised here as neighborly ‘mountain folks’ celebrate diversity, and those who come here to live soon learn that, while we have great political differences and we are very competitive in all phases of life, when it comes to those in the community who need help, we take care of our own.
“If you don’t believe me, just look at the amazing number of charitable and religious organizations in the community whose members donate such an amazing amount of time and money.
“When governing ourselves, listen to both sides of the argument and take your stand, but remember, efficient government is like walking in a culvert. There is plenty of room on both sides, but the water flows the smoothest in the center.”
When all the confetti has been tossed, it sounds like a promising idea for the next Gospel, which may already be in the works.
Read the Jerry V. Sternberg Day Proclamation.