Cover photo for Bernie Kagan's Obituary
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1952 Bernie 2024

Bernie Kagan

December 20, 1952 — February 8, 2024

Bernard “Bernie” Kagan passed away on Thursday, February 8th, 2024 in Denver, CO. He is survived by his wife Deb Kagan, three children, Michael, Elizabeth and Benjamin, his son-in-law Craig, and his two grandchildren, Zack and Tyler. He was a mountain of a man and his memory will live on forever. 
 

If you had the pleasure of knowing Bernie, in any capacity, you can quickly confirm that he was one of the kindest, most loving, thoughtful and hilarious people you will ever meet. He made a lasting impression on every single person he encountered. He looked you in the eye when you spoke to him, and he always made you feel completely seen, heard and supported in whatever you were sharing with him. He was our hero; someone we admired and aspired to be like in every way we could. This is his story :) 


Bernie was born in Newark, New Jersey on December 20th, 1952 to parents Frieda and Harry. Bernie had two older brothers, Phil and Joe.
 

Before Deb, Bernie had a few loves in his life: baseball, music, and making money. He was a hard-worker from the start, whether it was running errands for a quick buck or delivering liquor, Bernie was motivated to earn at a young age. He finished high school at 17 and enrolled at Paterson College in Wayne, NJ, where he would last all of 30 days before dropping out so that he could work full time. Bernie developed a strong work ethic early in his career, making a name for himself as a relationship builder who valued his customers. He quickly developed a reputation as an executive on the rise, and it was that work ethic and commitment that paved the way for a successful 30-year run in the shoe business. 


While working for Pappagallo Shoes at B. Altman’s Dept Store in NYC, Bernie found himself on a monthly conference call with a lovely sounding woman from U.S. Shoe. Her name was Debbie Houston, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and happened to share Bernie’s love and enthusiasm for baseball, among many other things. What started as a casual business relationship blossomed into a friendship, which then turned into romantic feelings. After about a year of these phone calls, Bernie convinced Deb to come visit him in New York City, where he had a small apartment on 7th St. in the East Village. They spent the weekend together exploring NYC, eating at Bernie’s favorite restaurants, and doing what they did best together: laugh. They fell head over heels in love with each other and it was the beginning of a lifetime of love and happiness for the two of them. They were married on November 22, 1975.


As newlyweds, Bernie and Deb spent weekends down at the Jersey shore with friends, building lifelong relationships with their “decadence” crew, and enjoying the fun adventures life brought them. With their eyes set on starting a family, Bern & Deb spent a year scrounging up every last penny, eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, to save up and buy their first house in Maplewood, New Jersey. Michael was born on January 11th, 1982, Elizabeth a couple years later on November 6th, 1984, and lastly, Benji on October 14th, 1987. 
 

In 1993, after 20 great years in New Jersey, Bernie was presented with an opportunity to join Etienne Aigner Shoe Co. by one of his closest friends, Oscar Valencia, and relocate the family to Northern Virginia. After researching the area, he and Deb settled on Franklin Farm, a neighborhood in Herndon, Virginia, a suburb 30 minutes outside of Washington D.C. The kids went to good schools, started playing sports, and before too long, the Kagans were building a new life and countless friendships that would carry to this day. 


Bernie was always involved in the kids' sports and activities, whether it was coaching Michael and Benji’s baseball teams or attending Elizabeth’s dance recitals, he always put his kids and Deb first. His north star was to make life better for his family, and when a good friend, Danny Samson, came into Bernie’s life and presented him with an opportunity to join his new Real Estate company, Bernie jumped on it. If there was one thing everyone could agree on, it was that Bernie had good business instincts and he knew a good opportunity when he saw one. Bernie had no experience in Real Estate, so Danny had to make a bet on Bernie, believing that he could get his license, and start building his business within the first 1-2 years. Danny was right; after about a year and a half, Bernie and Danny were successful, growing from a small office in Chantilly, VA to a bigger space and with more agents. Bernie’s commitment to building trust and taking care of his clients earned him the same respect that he had earned during his career in the shoe business. Word got out, and Bernie’s phone number became the hottest number in town, making him the top grossing real estate agent at Samson Realty (later to be known as Samson Properties) for consecutive years. Bernie absolutely loved his time at Samson. What could be better than helping people find new homes, making money with your best friends and quoting Seinfeld every 5 minutes? For Bernie, not much. 
 

As a life-long baseball fan, it can only be seen as fate that in 2005 the Washington Nationals came to town. In what felt like minutes or even hours, Bernie pulled the trigger on season tickets and quite vocally declared the Kagans die-hard Nationals fans. Having season tickets for a hometown team was a dream of Bernie’s, and after some initial pushback from the kids (looking at you Benji), the family dove in and became regulars at RFK and later Nationals Park. After years of varying success, in 2019 the Nationals were contending for their first ever World Series. Given that this was potentially the most important thing that had ever happened to Bernie as a baseball fan and quite possibly as a person, the entire family rallied around the team and attended all three World Series games in D.C., supporting the Nats on their way to winning their first ever title. Those few weeks were some of the most fun and exciting times we’d ever had as a baseball family. 


In the spring of 2020, Bern and Deb decided they were going to say goodbye to their life in Northern Virginia, and join Elizabeth, Craig, their two children, and Benji in Denver, Colorado to begin their retirement. They bought a beautiful house in Golden, Colorado, big enough to host the entire family for Christmas every year. That house became a place for beautiful memories that the family will never forget; playing games around the table, laughing, and enjoying a new life in the mountains while still getting the gift of visiting Michael back in New York where it all began. 


For those who know the rock and roll side of Bernie can confirm that he was a rock star on the drums. Bernie was a drummer in a band in his early years, playing covers of his favorites which included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles and many more hits of the 60’s and 70’s. For Bernie’s 50th birthday, Deb bought him a drum set from Costco which was a beautiful thought, but Bernie had his eyes on something a little more official. He traded in the thoughtful drum set from Deb for an authentic drum kit that brought him right back to his band playing days. For the next 21 years, he would rock out in his basement, playing all of his favorite hits from back in the day. An all-time core memory of Bernie playing the drums was at Elizabeth and Craig’s wedding. We arranged for Bernie to get up and play one song with the wedding band, which turned into an all out rock concert with people chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”. He chose to play ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ by The Kinks. It was one of the coolest moments in Bernie’s life and one that we as a family will cherish forever. 
 

The final years of Bernie’s life in Colorado were some of, if not the happiest years of his life. He was surrounded by the people he loved the most, and discovered a youthful spirit that put a smile on his face every morning. He and Deb instantly made connections with the network of friends that Craig and Elizabeth had created and were hosting and attending parties while never missing one of Zack and Tyler’s practices or games. Bernie loved being a dad and becoming a grandfather (Papa) was a gift he truly cherished, filled with countless tickle sessions and baseball dates. Keeping busy was never an issue for Bernie, but without a professional commitment, he sought out new interests and hobbies. He found himself on the golf course one day, wondering if this would be his new hobby to try out. One good iron shot and that was it: he was hooked. For the next three years, if he wasn’t traveling with Deb, spending time with his family, enjoying his grandchildren or driving to a new deli to try, you could find him on the golf course. With Denver’s sunshine, Bernie got to golf almost year-round; finding 60+ degree days in the dead of winter where he could squeeze in 18 holes with Benji and Craig or some new friends he’d made playing. 
 

Because Bernie was such a worker bee his whole life, he still couldn’t help feeling like there was something missing: making money! He didn’t want to overextend himself or sign up for something that would occupy a big portion of his time, so he brainstormed on what he could do to create a revenue stream while doing something that brought him joy. This led to his final venture as a hardworking professional: Uber driving. 

 

We all chuckled when he said he wanted to try out Uber driving. Upon further reflection, it made perfect sense: Bernie loved being in the car, listening to music, exploring different parts of Colorado, and enjoying the beautiful mountain landscapes. He wasn’t just helping folks get from A to B, which felt good to him, but he was getting a chance to do something he’d been doing his whole life: connecting with people. He loved the idea of sharing brief but interesting moments with strangers every day. He took so much joy in telling us about the individuals he’d encountered that day: whether it was learning of a new restaurant or a new business or just simply getting to know someone for the short time they shared together: it brought such a sense of connection and purpose to the world that filled his heart up in a way that’s almost indescribable. 


Bernie’s final morning on this earth was spent being the loving, caring husband that he is. He and Deb had breakfast together, chatting about the days and weeks ahead, what trips were coming up and what they might want for dinner that night. Before leaving, he gave Deb a kiss, like he always did, and quoted an old song lyric “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Deb replied “I don’t know how much better it can get.” 
 

Bernie was a true shooting star - one that will burn bright forever. We love you Dad. You are in our hearts today and every day. 


A celebration of Bernie’s life will be held at International Country Club, 13200 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy, Fairfax, VA on Sat. March 23rd from 3-6pm. Please join us in honoring our beloved Bernie.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Bernie Kagan, please visit our flower store.

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Celebration of Life

Saturday, March 23, 2024

3:00 - 6:00 pm (Eastern (no DST) time)

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