June 4, 1936 - June 25, 2024

U.S. Veteran

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Eugene (Gene) Kenneth Bjerning, of Merritt Island, a retired business and community leader in Brevard County, passed away peacefully on June 25, 2024. He was 88.

Gene was predeceased by his beloved wife of 51 years, Patricia (Pat) Bjerning and his parents, Kenneth and Ruth Bjerning.

A loving father, grandfather, brother and uncle, Gene is survived by his son, Bradley Bjerning (spouse, Susan) of Glen Ellyn, IL, and his daughter, Wendy Knippel (husband, Robert) of Merritt Island, FL; grandchildren, Erik Knippel of Madison, WI, Heidi Knippel of Pompano Beach, FL, Travis Bjerning and Jackson Bjerning of Glen Ellyn, IL; sisters, Janice (Bjerning) Monfeli of Racine, WI, and Mary (Bjerning) Salverson of Whitewater, WI; and many nieces and nephews.

Gene grew up in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin until attending and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While in college, Gene met Patricia Krause and they were married in 1959. Gene’s service in the Air Force after college led them to Brevard County, Florida, their lifelong home thereafter. After leaving the Air Force, he then worked on the Minuteman and Apollo programs during the next decade. It was during this time, Gene decided to pursue his dream of becoming an accountant. While continuing to work in the space program, he earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from University of Central Florida and his MBA from Stetson University.

In 1973, Gene made his debut into accounting and joined a local firm with one office location and six employees. Shortly thereafter, Gene became a partner in this fledgling accounting firm which later developed into Dobson, Jones, Bjerning & Hoyman. Over the years, it became the county’s largest accounting firm later to be known as Hoyman Dobson and Company, P.A.

His entrepreneurial spirit led him to branch out into new businesses. In 1975, Gene and his CPA partner, Roger Dobson, teamed with businesswoman Fran Risley in what became a decades-long partnership in the Cocoa Beach hospitality business. From their purchase of the original 48-room Econo Lodge, part of the current Days Inn, they would later transform the Polaris Motel into a Best Western with a new eight-story oceanfront tower, then would add a Perkins Restaurant and convert the historic The Mousetrap into Durango Steakhouse.

Gene and Roger went on to partner with Bjornar Hermansen to build the Cocoa Beach Hampton Inn and Marriott Courtyard. With an eye on Port Canaveral’s growing cruise business, the trio then built the Cape Canaveral Residence Inn. In total, the hotel businesses had grown to over 750 rooms in the beach areas of central Brevard and employed approximately 250 residents.

Gene’s community contributions have included: past chairman of the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber’s 2001 “Distinguished Service Award”; 1998 inductee into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame; Trustee, Cape Canaveral Hospital Foundation; Brevard County Civilian- Military Council (CivMil); and Director, Astronauts’ Memorial Foundation and the Air Force Space and Missile Museum Foundation.

In their occasional free time, Gene and Pat’s love of traveling led to their purchase in 1984 of Palm Bay Travel Agency and translated into planning trips with friends and family to Europe and other foreign countries. Gene and Pat traveled with their ski group not only to various European countries but to Japan, China, and South America. In addition, in the mid-1980’s, Pat and Gene started the Ole Ski Club and each December traveled with family and many friends to Snowmass, Colorado enjoying the winter slopes, dining, and fun times with all. It was through these annual ski trips to Snowmass, Gene was able to pass along his love of skiing to his grandkids.