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Haber honored for engineering achievements

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There are things you would never guess about Bernard Haber, longtime chairman of northeast Queens’ Community Board 11.

For one, the now 72-year-old Haber was once known as “The Long Island Cowboy” for the spurred boots he wore while serving as an Air Force intelligence officer when stationed in South Dakota during the Korean war. He later spent 24 years in the Air Force Reserve and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Few are aware that Haber, who has lived in Douglas Manor since 1990, first moved to Queens in 1938 when he and his family fled the burgeoning Nazi persecution swallowing their native Berlin in 1937.

And just last month Bernard Haber — a professional engineer since 1953 with the oldest civil engineering firm in the country — was honored as the 2001 Engineer of the Year by the New York Association of Consulting Engineers, a group representing more than 300 engineering firms from around the state.

“It’s a pretty big award,” Haber said in an interview last week.

The award was given to Haber six months after he retired from the prestigious Hardesty & Hanover firm.

He started his nearly 50-year career by happenstance.

“Quite truthfully it was purely by chance,” he said with a smile. “When I got out of the service, I was looking for a job — I took it because it was offered to me.”

Haber took the position and never looked back, helping to design bridges throughout the country and the world, including the Cross Bronx Expressway, the new Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in Brooklyn, the Benjamin Harris Lift Bridge in Virginia and the Navecelli Canal Sing Bridge in Pisa, Italy.

Of all his engineering work, Haber said the project he valued most was a bridge he designed to replace the collapsed Schoharie Creek Bridge in 1987.

“I think I’m most proud of that,” he said. “Ten people were killed in that collapse. We designed and built a new bridge within eight months.”

Before embarking on his life’s work building structures that connect people to each other, Haber started out as a young boy fleeing to America with his family .

“My father was in the fur business, but things were getting pretty bad by the mid-1930s,” he said.

He can still remember yellow benches in the park designated for Jews, having to wear the six-pointed star marking him as a Jew, and Nazi demonstrations in his Berlin neighborhood.

“We left New Year’s Eve 1937,” he said. “If we hadn’t, I might not have been here.”

The Haber family settled in Jackson Heights, where the 8-year-old Bernard quickly learned English and attended public schools while his father re-established himself in business. Haber went on to earn a degree in engineering from City College, and after he served in the Air Force, he lived with his wife and family in Fresh Meadows for nine years before moving to Bayside in 1963.

But Haber’s story would not be complete without an acknowledgment of the 30 years of community service that has helped shape the life and development of northeast Queens.

“My wife actually was very active in politics,” Haber said of Sheila.

As Sheila Haber became involved in her children’s schools during the family’s years in Bayside, Bernie Haber got his own chance in 1969 to give back to his community when the city formed community boards.

Haber remembers haphazard early years when community board members had no budget, staff or resources and did most of the work themselves. A 1975 charter revision later gave the boards budgets and greater city support.

Community Board 11 includes Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens, Auburndale and Hollis Hills.

As only the second CB 11 chairman in the board’s history, Haber took over the post in 1972 from Claire Shulman, now the Queens borough president.

Haber “is an extraordinary public servant. He has used considerable expertise pro bono to benefit the entire borough,” Shulman said. “He is to be applauded.

Since then there have been several noteworthy accomplishments by CB 11, including the redesign and widening of Northern Boulevard in 1974, convincing the city to provide more bus service to Queensborough Community College in Bayside, and preventing the overdevelopment of Bayside, Douglaston and Little Neck.

Haber, who will be forced out of the chairman’s position in March 2002 because of term limits adopted by CB 11, said he has no intention of retiring from the board altogether. He is chairman of the Queens County Traffic Safety Board and co-chair of the borough president’s zoning task force.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy the community board and I think it makes a difference. Before, the common citizen had nowhere to go if they had a problem with the city. Now he has the community board.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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