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Bernard S. Karpers, 85, clothing manufacturer


Bernard Stanislaus Karpers was conceived in Lithuania, born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Baltimore to make a pile of money, lose it and make it back again.

Bernard Karpers Jr., a physician, remembers his father saying: "We had it good, now we got it bad, and we'll get it good again."

Before his death Tuesday at age 85, the old tailor known as "Ben" worked hard and had it good nearly all his life. He was buried yesterday after a funeral Mass at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church. Until disabled recently by several strokes, his deep bass could regularly be heard with local Lithuanian choirs.

As the owner of Monarch Tailors and Bernard S. Karpers Clothing Manufacturers, Mr. Karpers employed hundreds of people who made uniforms and other clothes in Baltimore from 1935 through the mid-1970s.

Family legend has it that during World War II, he could look at an Eisenhower jacket in a newsreel and tell whether it had been made in one of Monarch's shops along the East Baltimore Street garment district.

"His company would assemble garments for manufacturers who would sell them to the department stores on Howard Street," said Dr. Karpers of Towson. "At one time, he had over 700 employees."

Born in Shenandoah, Pa., in 1909, Mr. Karpers moved to Baltimore in 1921 when his stepfather had back surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The family settled at 624 Washington Blvd. in Pigtown, where all the Karpers were handy with a needle and thread.

By age 13, young Ben dropped out of school to work. After years in sweatshops, he started Monarch Tailors in 1935 over a bur- lesque house on The Block.

When World War II hit, he landed a government contract to make Army uniforms. Business boomed. The family moved to Cedarcroft, he bought a beachside amusement park on Bodkin Creek in Anne Arundel County, and life was sweet.

But as soon as the war ended, the Army canceled the contract and instead of laying his employees off, Mr. Karpers switched to making civilian clothes before the soldiers had come home to buy them. With that decision, he lost his shirt.

"We moved back to Pigtown and started all over again," said Dr. Karpers. "But by 1957, we were living in a big house across from the Menckens on Union Square. Dad lived there until my mother died." [At the time of her death in 1992, the former Frances Laplanche had been married to Bernard Karpers for 57 years.]

Mr. Karpers worked in other people's clothes factories for a few years before starting Bernard S. Karpers Clothing Manufacturers various spots on the western edge of downtown. The company made specialty uniforms for people who like to dress up and re-enact historical battles and custom uniforms for military officers.

After retiring, he helped get the Lithuanian Hall Association back on its feet, serving as president through the mid-1980s. He was also an accomplished artist, winning local awards for oil paintings.

His last home was with his daughter Elizabeth Fallon in Ellicott City.

Mr. Karpers also is survived by a sister, Constance Waesche of Towson; two sons, Michael F. Karpers of Catonsville and Paul A. Karpers of Reisterstown; and a daughter Mary C. Burk of Baltimore.

Memorial donations may be made to the Lithuanian Hall Association or the Diana Choral Society, both at 851 Hollins St., Baltimore 21201, and St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, 114 W. Saratoga St., Baltimore 21201.

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