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Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies .. 6
Alison D. (Berger) Boor

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Samuel Berger (Poppop) April 1, 1895 - August 18, 1980, age 85
Buried at Pleasant View

Sam BergerSam Berger was born on the family farm outside of Strausstown. He was baptized on June 2, 1895 by Pr. Thomas Leinbach, with his parents as sponsors. Although he only lived there until he was about 8, he had many fond memories about farm life, and had many stories to tell. A favorite was walking to the outhouse in bare feet through the chicken manure; another was plowing at age 8. He was confirmed September 17, 1910 in the Reformed tradition. He attended school in Strausstown finishing with 8th grade. He was then tutored in math and other subjects by Grandpa Unger in preparation for attending Kutztown Normal School. He could have had a scholarship to Ursinus College if he would have studied to be a minister; since the woman of his choice, Helen Unger, knew she did not want to be a minister’s wife, he prepared to teach school.

He attended Kutztown from 1913-1915, graduating on March 29, 1915 with an average grade of 93.1. His diploma qualified him to teach Agriculture, Algebra, Arithmetic, Bookkeeping, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Government, Drawing, English Grammar, English History, General History, Geography, History of Education, Literature, Manual Training, Methods of Teaching, Nature Study, Penmanship, Physical Geography, Physical Training, Physics, Physiology and School Sanitation, Plan Geometry, Psychology, Public Speaking, Reading, Rhetoric, School Management and School Law, Spelling, Vocal Music, US History, and Zoology, with special note of Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, German, Solid Geometry and Trigonometry. Quite a list!

While at college he was catcher on the Kutztown baseball team, and was elected team captain. (He had also played baseball in Strausstown.) His roommate, Irwin Reitz, was the team pitcher. He used to tell of sitting in a classroom when he heard “the call of the field” and climbed out the window to get to the ballfield. Mary Alice remembers a plaque noting him as hitting the “longest homerun” that was still hanging when Boppy went to Kutztown. His love of baseball stayed with him his whole life, although after he started having heart problems he could no longer watch the games, because they were too upsetting.

A typical college bill from this time was for $90—which covered 16 weeks of tuition and board. Books cost an additional $5. Grandpa Unger wrote him a wonderful letter of recommendation on February 20, 1915, calling him a “young man of excellent attainments…ably fitted physically, morally and intellectually for any position to which he may aspire.”

His love of recitations stayed with him all his life, two favorites being “Abou Ben Adhem,” by Leigh Hunt and “Excelsior,” By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

He married Helen on July 3, 1917 and they lived in Womelsdorf while he taught grammar school in Wernersville. He “enlisted” (really drafted) into the army of WWI on August 14, 1918 when he was “23 and 4/12,” and is described in his papers as being a teacher with blue eyes, brown hair, and height of 5’11. In his order of induction into military service, he was directed to report to Wyomissing. He received a War Department Army Training School Certificate from the University of Pittsburgh for a course in auto mechanics, begun Aug 15, 1918 and finishing Oct 15, 1918. He served his time as a private in Motor Transport Corps 785 in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville (Florida) and Washington D.C. before his honorable discharge on June 13, 1919. He was described in his discharge as being “not qualified for marksmanship, served in no battles, had no wounds,” his character was “excellent,” and under “remarks” it reports his “services (were) honest and faithful.” He did not enjoy his time in the service, most of which seems to have been spent waiting for mail and endlessly drilling. (Once he got KP for swatting a fly that landed on his face while he was standing at attention.) He did manage to get home on leave for Kathryn’s birth in Strausstown in October of 1918, just before the camp was quarantined for influenza; the story is that there was a Jewish holiday, and because his name was Berger his commanding officer was able to sneak him out.

After the war, the family of three moved to West Lawn, where he worked at the Narrow Fabric factory (producer of “a fine grade of novelty braid”) in Wyomissing for a time, and then taught at West Lawn Elementary School. At first they lived with Grandma and Grandpa Unger; later they bought 103 Perkasie.

On March 30, 1921 he took his civil service test, using a “claim of preference” for a job as a Post Office Clerk because he was an honorably discharged soldier, and received job preference under an act passed in 1919. Probably, his choice of the Post Office was influenced by his brother Dan, who worked in management there. He continued at the Post Office until his retirement in 1958, after 37 years. He was active in the Post Office union, serving for a time as president of the local chapter of the National Federation of Post Office Clerks; he also served as president of the Postal Union of Pennsylvania, where he conducted meetings for the entire state. Somehow he and Uncle Dan always seemed to get along, despite one of them being management and the other Union! He worked strange hours for many years, starting at 11 am until about 8 or 9, so he didn’t see too much of his children when they were small—he had better hours when they were older. He was made head of the carriers at some point, and then he let one of the men have off because of a problem, and he was immediately demoted. He did have Sundays off. He and Nana also belonged to the “Fleas” an organization of postal Union members; they had a picnic every summer.

He would have preferred to teach, but couldn’t afford four children on a teacher’s salary; things were always tight anyway. He didn’t own a car until Grandpa Berger died and Poppop bought his father’s car.

What he did do, was tithe. That he did this during the Depression, when there were so many things they needed is amazing. When he brought home his paycheck, 10% was immediately taken off the top for charity and church.

The only “vacations” he ever got were when he and Nana attended Postal Union events around the state, in Altoona, or Meadville for example. (At those times, the two younger children went to stay with Grandma Unger; by 1937, Russ was staying home by himself.) By 1947, vacation time consisted of a week off to visit: Betty at camp, Russ and his family at Penn State, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Norman, Watkins Glen and some quality time in the garden. Once, when the children were little, they went to Barnegat Bay for a brief shore vacation.

In his letters to Kathryn during her college years, we find that he went fishing with “the Grandpas.” Another time they were going to Maryland for fresh fish.

Raised in the Reform church in Strausstown, he joined Advent Lutheran Church after moving to West Lawn (he was not a charter member, however) and was very active there, serving on committees and church council. He was chair of the pulpit committee that elected Rev. Malcolm Albright in 1955. For 35 years, he got up early on Sunday to teach Sunday School for the residents at the county TB sanitorium (now where Blue Marsh is, near the jail); he had a class of about 25-30 people who would attend in their wheelchairs and bathrobes. They kept it very cool there. Occasionally my mother would go along to play piano. He would return to Advent after teaching at the Sanitorium and teach Sunday School to about 20-25 teenage boys (Dad and Uncle Paul were two of them), and then he sang in the choir during church. He and Nana napped on Sunday afternoons, unless they were heading to Strausstown for a visit.

He was active in Boy Scouts, helping to found Cub pack and Troop 473 in West Lawn and serving 8 years as committee chairman. He served as leader when Dick was in Cubs; later he was Cub chairman, Cub course instructor, commissioner, member of the review board/court of citizenship for Eagle Scouts, and on the scout committee. He was on the executive board of Daniel Boone Council, and in 1945 was the District Chairman. He later received Scouting’s two highest honors for adults: the Silver Beaver in April 30, 1955 for “distinguished service to boys,” and the Lamb Award on May 5, 1962 for “service to boyhood in the Lutheran church” by the National Association of United Lutheran Church Men. He received a letter on March 4, 1964 in commendation of 25 years in Scouting. Over the years he received all sorts of Boy Scout certificates for the completion of various courses.

He was active in community service, including serving as health officer for West Lawn, which meant he had to quarantine houses with illness, such as whooping cough in 1936, and measles in 1937. The job involved other duties; once he tested the sewer system at the Bergers semi-detached house on Intervilla Avenue by putting dye into the water; the neighbors were causing the problem. He received a certificate for service to the community during World War II (perhaps he was an air raid warden?). He was a dedicated Democrat. He was also a member of an amazing number of fraternal organizations, including the Lehigh Valley Joshua Association; The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Lodge 1175, Shillington (in 1972 he received a pin for being a 55 year member); Williamson Lodge 307 F&AM, Womelsdorf (Masons); DeMolay Command 9 Knights Templar; Creigh Council 16, Royal and Select Masters; and the Reading Chapter 152, Royal Arch Masons. He sang in the Reading Masonic Chorus under Willy Richter, a well-known composer of liturgical music, who wrote his most famous work, “The Creation,” for the Masonic Chorus while Poppop was a member. Another piece sung by the chorus was American Indian, called “The Guessing Song,” which Poppop used to sing to us as children.

All these activities led to a very busy life; as Betty commented in an essay in 1943, “sometimes Dad has three meetings in one night.”

Of all the awards he received during his life, he probably was equally as proud of the ones he won during the family vacations, where he received awards for, among others: “Adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order;” “Almost Defeating the Raccoons,” and “Chewing Gum Tycoon.” He was proud of his family and his family name, telling Betty in a 1940 letter to her at camp, “a Berger or an Unger never is a backslider and makes the best of everything.”

He was never at a loss for words and could give a speech at the drop of a hat. Ask for directions or travel instructions and you would get a very lengthy, detailed reply. He had a wonderful sense of humor, with a hearty laugh. In a letter to his daughter Betty, on vacation at Aunt Carrie’s in 1939, he states that he had no letter from her, “so I went home without it; of course I cried a bit, but now it is all over again.” He smoked Arabian Nights tobacco in his pipe and always used good-smelling aftershave.

In 1963 there was a storm, a branch fell off the apple tree, and he was chopping up the branch when he felt a problem. He walked down to the doctor on Penn Avenue, who told him to go to the hospital; he was having a heart attack. Betty took him to the Reading Hospital, and he stayed there for about a month because his blood was “as thick as molasses,” and he needed the time there on medication to get his blood thinned down. After the heart attack he was never quite as robust as before and was helped through his “spells” with nitroglycerin tablets, but he lived until age 85, when he died of a cardiac arrest due to “acute myocardial infarction due to coronary artery atherosclerosis” after eleven days in the hospital.

He was completely devoted to his wife Helen; it is a love story unlike many. One year they won the “Cutest Couple After 59 years” award at Ocean City. After 61 years of marriage, they still held hands. In their younger days, as soon as he came home from work, he found her to give her a kiss. Their romance was of the practical sort; on their anniversary in 1959 he wrote, “As usual, we worked all day, but we had a good time at Betty’s”—they had a steak dinner. My mother doesn’t ever remember them fighting—unless it counts when they got older and couldn’t understand each other! My favorite story from this time is when Boppy asked Nana if she took her water pill, and Poppop answered, “I DID pay the water bill!!!” When she spent quite some time at a rehabilitation center in 1975, he drove to see her daily, although she really could no longer speak much. He held her hand. He missed her terribly after her death, and was well prepared to join her.

Linked to  Alison D. (Berger) Boor
Samuel Berger (40038) 
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