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Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies .. 14

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Helen May Unger Berger (Nana) Oct 2, 1897-Nov 5, 1978, age 81
Buried at Pleasant View

She was baptized October 31, 1897 by Rev. Eli Heister, with her parents as sponsors, and confirmed October 18, 1913 at Zion Blue Mountain by Rev. L.R. Miller. She was a quiet, studious child and woman with hair that was described as “carrot-red,” but shows in old slides as auburn. She and her siblings were raised in four different homes in Strausstown. She seems to have caught the eye of Samuel Berger quite early, since as a teenager/young woman she is described in one of Aunt Carrie’s photo albums as “Sammy’s darling.” One of her best friends in Strausstown was Esther Anthony.

After graduating from grammar school in Strausstown, she attended school in Bethel through 1913; then she attended Stoner’s Business School (or the Inter-State Commercial College) in Reading, living with Anna Miller, a sister to Grandma Berger and aunt to Samuel Berger. (They kept in touch with Anna and her daughter Myrl--or Merle—after moving to West Lawn.) She completed a course in Business Training and Shorthand, where, among other things, she learned beautiful Palmer Method handwriting (she later taught Samuel how to improve his!) She graduated on October 29, 1915, with averages of 94.6 and 100 words.

After graduation in 1915, she worked as a secretary in Reading (probably still living with Samuel’s aunt) until she married Samuel Berger on July 3, 1917 in a ceremony at her parent’s house, presided over by the Lutheran pastor, Rev. Ira Klick. To the tune of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March they walked together into the parlor decorated by her sister Carrie and Sam’s sister Maud who had gathered flowers from the fields and crows foot from the mountain to decorate for the wedding. They stood beneath a “floral bell,” and other decorations, including pink and white crepe paper streamers. She wore a dress of white voile trimmed with duchess lace and carried a bouquet of white roses. Only the immediate family were there. A luncheon was served. According to the newspaper, “numerous and beautiful gifts were received.” She and Sam and her parents went on a wedding trip to visit Uncle Jake and Aunt Kate in Vineland, to Atlantic City, and “other places.”

She worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for May’s Seed Company and George C. Hix, proprietor of the Womelsdorf Motor Car Co. while she and Sam lived in Womelsdorf. When he was drafted into the service during WWI, she moved back to her parent’s home in Strausstown, where Kathryn was born in October 1918. The Ungers, Helen and Sam all moved to West Lawn in 1919; while their house was being built, they lived on Penn Avenue with Grandma and Grandpa Unger. Russell was born in the new house on Perkasie Avenue in 1920; Betty in 1927 and Richard in 1932.

Helen’s life was devoted to her family and her church. She was a very reserved woman who kept whatever upset her tightly within her. At some point after Russell was born, she needed to take a break and visited her sister Carrie, while her mother looked after Kathryn and Russell. (Boppy said that she and Russell didn’t fight—“but we fooled.” Apparently this got on Nana’s nerves.) Money was always tight, and she learned to make do. There was always a garden, and vegetables to be canned during the summer. The garden usually produced an abundance which was distributed to friends and relatives, with some harvests sending vegetables to the Home for Friendless Children in Reading (now called the Children’s Home in Reading). She was a wonderful cook, getting quite a reputation for her corn chowder, apple dumplings (and “apple soup”), among many other dishes.

She kept meticulous accounts of family finances, recording what was spent down to the penny. She sewed and knitted clothes for the children (including remaking one of Russell’s suits into a suit for Betty), frequently coming down Christmas morning with a freshly wrapped package of something she had just finished—or hadn’t quite finished making yet. Sometimes the knitting needles were still in the project. She was a tireless worker, housecleaning two rooms in one day, which included beating the rugs, washing the woodwork, and dusting the ceilings. Her housekeeping was on a strict schedule; once both Poppop and Betty were ill on a Monday and she was tired from taking care of them--and still having to get the laundry done. Tuesday was for ironing, Saturdays they usually went into Reading to market, Sunday evenings the laundry was put to soak. In a letter Poppop wrote to Betty and Dick (visiting in Union) from Camp Hopewell (Scout camp) in 1942, he joked: “I suppose you heard from Mother. I imagine she is making things hum at home, ordering everyone around and then doing it herself…” At night she would sit down to read the newspaper and inevitably fall asleep.

She rarely got any time off from her family duties, but she did go along to Post Office conventions, enjoying the time with friends, sightseeing and shopping. She also belonged to a card club that met for many years; “500” was their game.

She was active at Advent Lutheran Church (where she was a charter member), singing with a lovely alto voice in the church choir for 35 years. She taught Sunday School, and was a Den Mother for Cub Scouts. She was a member of the women’s organization at Advent, and always helped make doughnuts to sell several times a year; this involved getting up at midnight so they would be ready to sell by 6:00 am. On Fasnacht day they would make about 300 dozen doughnuts, beginning at 8 pm on Monday night working through until 7:00 pm Tuesday. As treasurer, she was responsible for taking all the orders over the phone for doughnuts and also green peanuts; the phone would ring night and day. The West Lawn Knitting Mill on Spring Street was a big doughnut customer. She also helped make dinners for the church to sell at the Reading Fair each September; the women would pack up all the dishes, pots, chairs and tables and the men would cart everything to the Fairgrounds, where Advent had its own building to cook and serve meals. (Since the Fair was in September, the kids always got Friday off from school for “County School Day” at the Fair.)

She did some kind of service during World War II, for she received two certificates in 1944 and 1945 from the US Treasury Dept for patriotic cooperation in behalf of the War Finance Program. She was also the executrix of Grandma Unger’s estate, where after a long struggle she got an inheritance tax refund—of $18.06.
She had a good sense of humor, even if she wasn’t the person cracking the jokes, and had a wonderful laugh. Some of the awards she received at the family vacations were: For Sleeping Until Almost 9 AM, Most Called On Volunteer for the Kitchen, For Nite Time Serenades (she snored; Poppop “blew”).

In 1967 there was a large open house/yard party for their 50th anniversary. All the family attended, and the anniversary couple later took the family to church for a catered dinner. In 1977, they celebrated their 60th anniversary with a quieter celebration.

She was a devoted watcher of “As the World Turns.” From Mary Alice,” Bet they never missed an episode. Nana would take this ‘rest period’ to darn socks or sew on buttons. I don’t think I ever saw her sit idle.”

She continued to work hard around her home, cooking for Samuel and Kathryn, hanging out the laundry, and so on, until her stroke in June of 1975. After brain surgery her health improved, but her speech did not. She remained a quiet, loving presence in her home until her death in 1978 (where the official diagnosis was a “1975 subdural hematoma, 1978 death cerebral vascular ischemia due to cerebral atherosclerosis”).

Her children thought the world of her and Poppop. Mom can find no fault with the way they were raised, and often mentions how lucky they were to have had such parents. This from Uncle Russ, 10/3/45, Marakina, Phillipines: “I hope I’ve surprised you and Dad by writing a letter oftener than you expected me to. I’ve always appreciated my parents, and all of us children think that you and Dad are the finest parents in the world. You and Dad have given up a lot to bring us up right and have us get a good education. I hope that we will all be able to make you quite proud of us.” I think they were very proud of their four, college-educated, loving children.

From Mary Alice: “The last time I saw Nana alive was shortly after Jessica was born. We were packing up the truck and getting ready to head back to Massachusetts. I laid Jessica on the couch so I could help with the packing. She was fussing (grexing) at being put down. Nana sat beside her and managed to lift her onto her lap. She cuddled her until Jessica fell asleep. I can still see that beautiful smile of contentment on Nana’s face. Even with her strength and stamina destroyed by the strokes, she could still fulfill that one task that made us all love her so much.”

Linked to  Alison D. (Berger) Boor
Helen May Unger (40094) 
Albums  Ungers 

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