Obituary of MelCena Bernard
Cena was born January. 4, 1956 in Yankton, SD to Richard and Barbara (Shelburg) Merrigan. She attended Yankton schools, and learned entrepreneurship and real estate while growing up around the family salvage yard in east Yankton. She was always making plans for another project. She marketed her grandmother’s secret cleaning solvent in the 1980s, worked in the restaurant business and later traveled to Indonesia to import jewelry, lace and other products for a store she started in Yankton. That was the beginning of her love affair with downtown Yankton.
Cena married Curt Bernard on February 20, 1998, and together they worked tirelessly to revitalize the downtown area. They pioneered the development of lofts, restored historic buildings, operated an events center and encouraged other entrepreneurs, especially young women who were getting a start in business.
Always betting on the future, she embarked on many projects that left Curt wondering “how does this ever pay for itself.” She bought Milo Preheim’s children’s train and recruited Curt as the engineer for special events. She loved to decorate her downtown properties in the holiday season, and for many years she and Curt designed a New Year’s Eve ball drop from their tall Riverfront building. She always opened her space for Easter egg hunts, Octoberfest events, political rallies, fundraisers and countless other occasions that never earned a dime.
Though she grew up in the modest neighborhood of east Yankton, blocks from the bright lights of Third Street, she loved all of the city and believed in its potential. “If we can just get our act together ….,” she would say, as a preface to her next project to restore a building, start a business or help someone else’s big idea. Few Yanktonians have dedicated more resources, time and energy to the development of the city.
The Bernard’s employed dozens of people in the past two decades, and the employees left with an assortment of skills they might never have imagined — many learned to cook, paint, sheetrock, assemble furniture and decorate. Sometimes they did them all in the same day.
Curt said she never questioned whether a project was worth the cost. If she thought it was important to downtown Yankton, she marched forward believing that it would be worthwhile to others.
Cena is survived by her beloved husband, Curt; her stepson, Cyrus (Marjie) Bernard; a brother, Ricky (Lisa) Merrigan; a sister, Sandy Merrigan; sisters-in-law, Joanie (Terry) Mulvey and Barb (Mike) Uhl; nieces, Tiffany, Kylie, Heather, Sherry, Abby and Tanya; and nephew, Jess and grandchildren, Cameron and Caden Bernard. She will also be missed by many co-workers and friends, especially those who shared her love and vision for our hometown.
Cena was preceded in death by her parents and by her step-daughter, Christa Bernard.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society or a Yankton charity of the donor's choice.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of MelCena Bernard, please visit Tribute Store