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Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies .. 19

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Kathryn Marie Berger (Boppy) Oct 7, 1918 - June 3, 1996, age 77
Buried at Pleasant View

Boppy was born in Strausstown at 1:30 pm on October 7, with her father home on leave from the Army. She was baptized on Nov 13, with her mother as her sponsor. Despite having what she later called, “the pretty nose in the family,” one of her favorite stories from childhood was about a teacher who had a pug nose—Bop was so enchanted by it she would sit in class with a finger propping up her own nose so it would become pug too. She was 8 when her sister Betty was born, which made her so excited that she forgot to brush her teeth that morning—and didn’t get a gold star at school. She was confirmed March 25, 1934. She spent many happy hours as a member of a Camp Fire Girls troop (with Nana’s good friend Marie Albright as leader).

She saved her certificates for perfect attendance in 1932, 33 and 35, and her reading circle certificates from 2nd grade through 12th! She had two especially good friends from high school, fellow art majors Joyce Eberly and Ted Dry. Joyce went to Kutztown with Bop and was her college roommate, too. When Joyce married George Wenrich he was in the service and they traveled a great deal, ending up in Boston and becoming good friends with Russ and Betty Mae. Ted was like a brother to her, an art teacher who moved to California but always looked her up when he came to town.

She graduated from high school in 1936 and was a speaker at graduation with “Leisure Through Art” as her topic. Grandpa Unger was president of the school board at that time, and gave her her diploma, which was an important event for both of them.

She attended Kutztown College, graduating May 28, 1940 with a Bachelor of Science in Public School Art. She had a minor in English. She had major letters in hockey, soccer, baseball, Leader’s Club, Scouts and was initiated in the Tau Kappa Sorority in 1940. She was a major manager in baseball. In 1938 she was an officer in the YWCA and was a proctor. Letters between Boppy and Poppop while she was at college are often about money; he was concerned that she continue to get financial aid or they couldn’t afford to keep her there. In 1937 he was fearful that the Post Office would reduce his wages, and she might not be able to continue. Occasionally he would send her a dollar spending money, often he reminded her of family events she was expected to attend. They sent her doughnuts; she sent them her laundry, which Nana washed and sent back. She had a radio at school, and once found a dead mouse in it…. She lived on the 4th floor of Old Main, right under the bell, and one riotous night she and her friends decided to see if the bell rope went through their closet somehow—they made so much noise, having such a good time, that the Dean came to find out what was going on. She was a good alumnus, never failing to sing the alma mater every time we passed by Kutztown (“Where stately trees are bending, where nature’s glories shine…”). During college she worked at the Post Office over Christmas break; at school she waited on tables in the dining room, and helped the school nurse by taking meals to patients and clearing them up.

Teaching positions were scarce when she graduated, but she found a job for the fall of 1940 as an art and English teacher in the Oley Valley School District, probably through the influence of Grandpa Unger (Mom: “It didn’t hurt!”). She made $1,170 her first year. Mr. Stauffer, the principal, wanted all his teachers to live in Oley, so Boppy boarded with a widow, Mrs. Hoppas, and had to walk from one end of the town to the other to reach the school. Every night, Mrs. Hoppas relived the details of her husband’s death, which was pretty horrible for a 21 year old teacher. She hated living there, and was very lonely. She went home every weekend. She decided that she would not board there again, and got Mr. Stauffer to agree that she could live in West Lawn if she drove several other teachers from Reading to Oley every day. (Apparently nobody wanted to live in Oley.) She taught in Oley for four years.

She took some grad courses at Kutztown in weaving, textiles, jewelry and painting. In July 1942, she took some graduate courses at Penn State, where according to Nana she was kept very busy painting, “not only pictures, but practically everything she owns, her dresses, stockings and pajamas…” Bop’s comment to Mom, who was vacationing at Aunt Carrie’s, was that there were only two men in her class, “one much older than Daddy, and the other a high school fellow that has hardly any chin—but he can paint.” Her friend Edna Snyder (“Eddie”—who also worked in the kitchen at Camp Hagan) attended at the same time—she and Betty visited Eddie at least once at Port Royal in the 1940s. By 1943 she earned enough credits to teach for another three years (art, English and social studies).

In 1944, Miss Kalbach, the art teacher Boppy had had at Wilson, retired to go into her own business, and Boppy got her position at Wilson at $1,600 a year. She was the only art teacher in Spring Township, and taught all 12 grades, driving to all the elementary schools. Boppy had a schedule she followed, doing the high school in-between. She had conferences with the teachers and helped them plan projects, but she conducted classes for the kids, too. (There was no junior high then, 7th grade and up were in the high school.) A fellow teacher at Spring Township was Sis Wenrich. Eventually Wilson hired an art teacher just for the elementary schools, and then they built the junior highs and hired teachers for them, so she ended up as senior high art teacher, which suited her just fine. She taught the art majors, helping them get their portfolios together. (Her art room was the former gym in the old building.) She taught at Wilson for 33 years, retiring in 1977 with a total of 37 years of teaching. She was a yearbook advisor, made bulletin boards, designed programs, calendars and posters for school events. She once had her photo in the paper for the rotating showcase displays she designed. She designed a wonderful set for the 1976 production of “As You Like It,” that looked like the Globe Theatre in London. An observation of her teaching style was that there was a “creative and productive atmosphere in her classroom” and that she was always moving around helping students. She also taught summer school for several years.

In 1953-54 she took a sabbatical and earned a Master of Education from Penn State on June 7, 1954; the professor of Art Education wrote her a wonderful letter saying what a great student she was. During her stay there, she shared an apartment with Uncle Dick, who was in his senior year. She could have earned her degree by taking various courses over a period of years, but she decided to get it all done at once. She had already earned her six credits to make her certificate permanent, so she had another 24 to earn to receive her masters (and get paid more to teach!) Her research project was a paper, “The Medieval Influence on the Architecture and Settlement of the Oley Valley in Berks County in Pennsylvania,” which is extremely interesting, illustrated with her drawings, and photos taken by Uncle Dick. They must have had fun traveling around Oley researching, with Poppop as navigator, Dick as photographer and Bop as reporter. When she left for Penn State, Mom gave her instructions to look around for a man, but the first communication back from Bop was: “There aren’t any.” They were all either married or uninterested in women. Meanwhile, Bop stayed a lifelong Penn State fan, enjoying the football games on TV and in person (one a year for about 10 years).

While she was a student at Kutztown, she was interviewed to be a counselor at a new Lutheran camp being constructed at Shawnee-on-Delaware in the Poconos, Camp Hagan. She was hired that first year, 1938, as an arts and crafts counselor, but it didn’t take too many years until she was assistant camp director under her friend Esther “Sis” Wenrich, camp director. At Camp Hagan she was known as Kit. She was there throughout the 40s, and received a letter of thanks in 1952 for being the “balance wheel” during a difficult year. Days off from camp were spent doing a variety of things—at least once a summer they spent the day in New York going to plays; other times she would spend a day in Stroudsberg in the Penn Stroud hotel room that was reserved for camp counselors soaking in a long bath, then “shopping and loafing.” Hagan demanded a lot of creativity in planning the daily program, as well as special events, such as a modified Olympics, a newspaper party (you had to create a costume out of newspaper), or a Mad Hatter Party (make your own hat out of whatever you can think of), a farmer party, Christmas and May Day. Sis: “the theme and execution of all the murals in Great was a special pride and joy to her, as was the awards program for the campers.” Later, these experiences came in very handy while planning family vacation activities.

Hagan also left her with a love of nature, be it pine cones in a crock or dried weeds in an arrangement. Here is a description from a letter to Mom in 1945: “If you’ve never sat under a tree, especially a tall pine tree—and looked up its trunk—way up to the tip top branches—try it sometime. I was lying here doing that. It’s fun to study all the formations and the play of sunlight and shadow on the branches.”

She and Sis took a break from Hagan in the summer of 1947 to travel to Mexico with two other teachers. They stopped frequently so the art teachers could sketch, and, according to Sis, “visited every jewelry store and stand to study mountings, stone and settings.”

She worked other jobs while at college, and during the summers. One memorable summer she worked at an asylum, and later turned her experiences there into a project at Penn State; a mural that detailed the various people she had encountered.

In 1959, Wilson was being renovated, and school would not be starting until the end of September. She and three teacher friends: Adele Bast, Jean Rollman and Agnes Altenderfer thought that would make an excellent summer to travel to Europe. The family had a Bon Voyage party for Bop. They took two weeks to come and go on a ship, and spent 9 weeks traveling, 3 of which were with Jean’s family in Germany, with whom Bop retained contact for the rest of her life. The trip was prepared by a travel agency just for them, and wherever they went, there was someone to meet them at the train or bus station. They left on June 4, and traveled across the Atlantic on the ship Ryndam. Included on their itinerary was Paris, Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Sevilla, Lisbon, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Genova, Naples, Serrato, Capri, Rome, Florence, Venice, Innsbruck, Karlsruhe, Brussels, Amsterdam and London. She always said the three highlights of the trip for her were seeing the Jungfrau in the Alps, Aida in Rome, and coming across peasant fishers in Navarre. Their return ship, the SS Maasdam left on August 21 and docked on August 29 at Montreal and the Bast family surprised them by picking them up; the Berger family met them at the Bast’s house, and then Nana and Poppop drove Boppy home, where they were met by Betty and Dorsen, Kathy Jo, Mary Alice and Peg who had hung up lots of signs and were playing percussion instruments.

Her niece Kerrie gave her her nickname, “Boppy,” by mispronouncing “Beppy,” itself a mispronunciation of Betty.

She was a member of the family Polar Bear Club, beginning in July of 1964, as noted by the co-chairs of the club, Kathy Jo and Mary Alice. When each of us was born, she bought us two stuffed animals and did portraits of them for us. She designed and made beautiful stitcheries for all of us when we got married. She took us all on a trip to Williamsburg—first the older girls, then Barbara and Alison, then Heidi (with Bep and Alison along). She always sat at the “children’s table” at big family meals.

We had a big 50th birthday party for her at Aunt Carrie’s in 1968; she was surprised! Mom made a three tier cake and hid it in a box, which Bop packed in the car, not realizing what it was. The Rowley Bergers came down for the occasion.

After her retirement she did some more traveling, to Disney World, Oberammaugau for the passion play, various trips with the Reading Historical Society, the Pacific Northwest with Betty and Dorsen, Alaska with Kathy Jo. She also welcomed Heidi’s cat, Seryozha into her home for a few years; she enjoyed having him very much.

Every kind of art and craft interested her; she tried nearly everything and became proficient at them too, including knitting, sewing and hatmaking. She made a beautiful cathedral window quilt, and built a grandmother clock. She did a lot of clothing construction, although she also loved shopping for good quality clothes at Donekers, particularly Pendeltons!

She also loved to read, everything from the books of Gene Stratton Porter to “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” She took me to my first play (“Little Mary Sunshine” at Wilson) and afterwards we went to many, many plays and musicals together. I often kidded her about her fondness for Ethel Merman, and how she would fall asleep at the most exciting (or most moving!) part of every play. She was a good enough sport to come to New York with me to see Sweeney Todd (not your average musical). She continued going to plays and concerts until the end of her life.

She was the main force behind the family vacations to Lake George, Trout Lake and Ocean City, finding the places and dealing with the owners. She was our program director, artist at large and concoctor of the awards ceremony on Friday of each vacation week. Some of the awards she gave herself over the years were for the “Reddest Nose,” “Fantastic Hairdo,” “Surviving the Tea Cups” (at Storytown USA), and “Achievements in Clean Blouses.” (Her self-imposed nickname was “Sloppy Boppy.”) One year coming home from Lake George, they drove smack into the crowds at the first Woodstock.

She was very active in Advent Lutheran Church all her life, serving on church council, as president of Lutheran Church Women, education chairperson, and as designer of many of the artworks in the church, including a beautiful set of banners and stoles for every season of the church year, filled with color and symbolism. She designed and made her own Christmas cards, every year was a different Christmas tree.

Her love of nature and growing things found its greatest fruition in the garden at 103, continuing her parent’s love of gardening. The vegetable gardens were huge and included tomatoes to can, asparagus, beets, onions, sugar peas and beans, and lettuce. There were grapes from the grape arbor (and then making grape juice), and profusions of flowers, including (at various times of the season) poppies, iris, pansies, red tulips from Holland, old roses and miniatures, jack in the pulpits and red hanging roses over the white fence. In summer, nothing was better than working outside, even if it was trimming the long hedge, mowing the grass, or turning the compost. I remember her sitting out on the lawn, weeding it. She always got a great tan!

She was the rock of the family, the oldest child of her generation, and one that you turned to for practical things. She was the executrix for Aunt Carrie and Uncle Norman, which was a long, frustrating job.

She always gave her cars somewhat of a personality too—a 1944 Pontiac was named Golly—short for Goliath. After Poppop’s death she bought his little gold 1962 Rambler for $75.

She stopped by to see us every day after school, a deal she had made with Mom when I was born. I always called on her for everything, from a poster for a play, to a logo for a women’s convention, to a poster for a quilt show. (All were beautiful, incidentally.) She designed note cards for Luther Crest after Aunt Carrie and Uncle Norman moved there, and designed and made a tapestry for the lobby. She wrote to me every week while I was in college.

She fought breast cancer beginning in 1967, although surgery gave her 25 cancer-free years. In the early 90s, more cancer was found in her abdomen, necessitating more surgery in 1993, and finally causing her death in 1996. Mom has a beautiful collection of notes sent when she died, including one from a former student who is now an art teacher (“she had gentle but firm expectations of her students,”) and one from a friend who summed it up well: “she contributed so much to this world, and I think everyone loved her.”

From Sis: “The one characteristic of hers I think is above all others was her loyalty—to her family, her friends, her church, her school and her way of living. She was a true Christian. Everyone loved Kit.”


Linked to  Alison D. (Berger) Boor
Kathryn Marie Berger 
Albums  Bergers
Tribute to Kathryn M. Berger 

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