Obituary: Regis J. Zern / Operated tiny news shop in Wilkinsburg

Feb. 2, 1931 - Aug. 25, 2014

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Regis J. Zern, a Korean War veteran from West View whose former namesake news shop was a fixture in Wilkinsburg for 20 years, died Monday. He was 83.

Mr. Zern was less than two months shy of celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary in October with his wife, Clara, when he died at Overlook Green Senior Living in Whitehall from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, his son, James A. Zern, said Wednesday.

Mr. Zern served aboard a Navy destroyer in the boiler room during the Korean War. He did not see combat but was on maneuvers in the Pacific, his son said.

With only a ninth-grade education, Mr. Zern left the military and returned to Pittsburgh. He went to work as a delivery driver for the former Triangle News Co., which distributed publications to hundreds of stores and newsstands in Western Pennsylvania.

What Mr. Zern lacked in formal education he made up for with his work ethic, his son said. During two decades of his 45-year career working for Triangle, Mr. Zern also owned and operated Zern’s News in Wilkinsburg.

“The fact that he had a full-time job and owned a news store on the side, I think, speaks for itself. Not many people can do that and do it well,” James Zern said.

James Zern said his father’s former boss at Triangle actually told him about the news shop, which was a struggling business at that time. The boss gave him a small sum of money — about $100 — and Mr. Zern made an investment that led to a lifetime of satisfaction.

“He really built that store up,” James Zern said. “It was his pride and joy in life.”

The small shop’s heyday was in the 1970s. It closed around 1986.

“It was a hole in the wall. It was no wider than a garage,” recalled Richard McClain of Monroeville, a retired middle and high school teacher in Wilkinsburg who occasionally patronized the store.

“He sold the Sun-Telegraph, the Press, the Post-Gazette, along with every magazine you could ever think of,” longtime Wilkinsburg resident James B. Richard said. “It was a nice shop, but it was small.”

Mrs. Zern worked in the store, as did one of Mr. Zern’s four children, the late Thomas J. Zern. They sold books and lottery tickets as well as newspapers and magazines. After 20 years, the decision to sell was difficult. Mr. Zern kept working at Triangle for a while longer before retiring about 20 years ago.

However great Mr. Zern’s know-how was in running his own small business, it was eclipsed by his expertise at being a husband thanks to nearly six decades of experience.

“As a man, the true testament to who he was was his love and devotion to his wife, Clara,” James Zern said. “They were inseparable in life. They would do everything together.”

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Zern is survived by two other sons, David J. Zern of Johnstown, Pa., and Kenneth P. Zern of Robinson, and five grandchildren.

John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood is handling arrangements.

A Mass is scheduled for 9:15 this morning at St. Wendelin Church, Carrick. Burial will follow at St. Adalbert Cemetery, Carrick.


Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.


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