HOMER TOWNSHIP – Larry Berg, formerly of Joliet and Homer Township, did not do well in grade school and his father did not believe in education past the eighth grade.
But Larry, determined to attend Joliet Township High School, persuaded his father otherwise and worked hard to get good grades, with his parents giving him 25 cents a week for his lunch and bus, said Larry’s wife, Helen Berg of Oregon.
His determination paid off. Larry earned degrees from Joliet Junior College (pre-engineering), the former College of St. Francis in Joliet (bachelor’s in business) and Lewis University in Romeoville (master’s in business). He worked 40 years at Caterpillar Tractor as a hydraulics engineer.
That was after being drafted by the United States Army to serve during the Korean War, which also worked in Larry’s favor.
“They gave him a lot of schooling in mechanics, repairing cars and tanks,” Helen said. “When he came back, he signed up for Caterpillar’s two-year training and came up through the ranks. He was quite the man, he really was.”
Helen said Larry’s job took him through all 50 United States, as well as Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Asia. He wrote several small books on calculating the strength of materials, received more than 100 patents on equipment he designed, and served on the national committees of the National Fluid Power Society and the Society of Automotive Engineers, Helen said.
“When he retired, he was a consultant for other people,” Helen said.
During this time, Larry had moved to Homer Township and became involved in the community, especially when it concerned education. He served on the local school board for 21 years, 14 as its president.
“While he was on the school board, they built four new schools in the district,” Helen said. “He was really proud of that.”
When the Homer Township Lions Club was formed in the early 1970s, Larry became a charter member and helped the school district obtain equipment and supplies for children with special needs, Helen said.
Larry was devoted to the Lions because he believed in its mission of helping others, Helen said. But that was typical Larry, who also served as a Boy Scout leader for seven years. He had no pretense about him, she added.
“He was the kindest man I ever knew,” Helen said.
Helen married Larry in 1999, after his high school sweetheart Carol – whom he had married in 1954 – died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. It was Helen that taught Larry to play, and Larry played as hard as he had worked.
At 62, Larry learned to downhill ski on Oregon’s slopes. He and Helen went whitewater rafting in places such as the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho and Hell’s Canyon Wilderness in Oregon.
They picked up four grandchildren in various places in the United States and drove them to Walt Disney World in Florida. Larry even applied his engineering knowledge to the model ships he built.
However, Larry never retired from community service until ill health intervened in 2008. Larry was 80 when he died Jan. 31.
In Oregon, Larry was president of the La Grande Lions Club from 2003 to 2004 and then oversaw 38 clubs as district governor for the Lions in Eastern Oregon in 2007 and 2008, Helen said.
Because his Lutheran faith was important to him, Larry also became an active member of Zion Lutheran Church in La Grande, Helen said.
And when Helen had initially balked at remarrying, Larry changed her mind with the same determination he once used for his education.
“He came home from the store one day in August and said, ‘Honey, I’ve got a surprise for you. We’re getting married Sept. 4,’ ” Helen said. “He got the minister, he had arranged the place and he had ordered the cake and flowers.”
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