Joseph Thomas Berbenich, founder of JB Carts and a longtime resident of Long Island, was all about action, his family said.
Berbenich, who died April 3 at 79, started his shopping cart collection and repair company from scratch and built it into a company that now returns 500 to 1,000 abandoned carts a week to over 300 stores.
"You didn't have to tell him you needed something done, he would just do it," his granddaughter, Beth Ann Mandeline, 30, of Levittown, said. "He would show by his actions how he expected us to act."
Berbenich, an only child, was born and raised in Brooklyn. He joined the Marine Corps before he turned 18 and fought in the Korean War for three years. After returning home, he remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1957, his family said.
During this time, Berbenich married his longtime sweetheart, Joan, whom he met in grammar school. The two remained married for 48 years and lived in Massapequa Park from 1955 to 1967. They then settled in Cold Spring Harbor where Berbenich lived until two years ago when he moved to Huntington. His wife died in 2000.
According to his family, Berbenich's special drive for solving problems led to the founding of JB Carts. In 1959, while making rounds as a delivery man in Massapequa, Berbenich noticed a number of abandoned shopping carts. Berbenich approached several grocery stores with an offer to reclaim their lost carts.
Within the month, Berbenich collected more than 200 carts from the streets of Massapequa. In time, nearly every supermarket chain in the metropolitan area clamored for his service, his family said.
"He taught me everything I know," Tim Berbenich, 47, said. "He said, 'Give people good service and be honest and be there 24 hours.' "
Apart from being a savvy entrepreneur, Berbenich was a devout Catholic who attended Mass at St. Patrick Church in Huntington every Sunday. His family also said Berbenich volunteered to read to first grade classes at St. Patrick School and on school days assisted in directing buses and students.
Berbenich collected carts off streets and returned them to stores that he visited, until a few months before his death from skin cancer, his daughter, Joan Berbenich said.
In an interview with Newsday in 2002 Berbenich described collecting carts. "It's good exercise," the then 72-year-old said. "I feel like I'm 33."
His other surviving children are Robert Berbenich, John Berbenich and Mary Ellen Berbenich, all of Huntington. Joseph Berbenich's funeral will be held Thursday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Huntington.