Michael Patrick Berry obituary

For people who have been asking, we wanted to make my dad’s obituary information available now. We will also be running newspaper obituaries.

Michael “Mike” Patrick Berry

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Michael Patrick Berry, 69, died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on March 10, 2016, in Columbia, South Carolina, where he had moved to be near two of his daughters. Cremation has taken place, and a family memorial gathering will be scheduled at a later date in Minnesota. Memorial contributions may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or the SOO Line Historical and Technical Society, 2124 N. Locust Street, Appleton, WI 54914.

Mike was born July 5, 1946, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Frederick and Viola Berry. He graduated from DeLaSalle High School and the University of Minnesota. His work for Unocal sent him to Texas and also Illinois, where he would live the majority of his life.

Having grown up a few blocks from the Minneapolis Northtown and Shoreham rail yards, Mike became a lifelong railfan and model railroader. His basement was occupied by a SOO Line model rail layout, and family vacations typically included a railyard detour for photos. Other than the milestones his kids achieved, a highlight of Mike’s life was a profile of an operating session on his rail layout appearing in a magazine.

Mike was preceded in death by his parents and brother Jeff. Survivors include siblings Greg and Fran Berry of Minnesota and Susanne Davis of South Dakota; children Katie (Jeff) Bradshaw of Nebraska, Judi Berry (Patrick Ashburn) of South Carolina, Dan Berry (Ashley Leary) of Illinois, and Beth Berry (Michael Foster) of South Carolina; grandson Logan Michael Berry; and former spouse Sue Fehn.


Mike’s earthly remains were laid to rest June 11, 2016, in the St. Anthony Cemetery in Minneapolis, adjacent to the Shoreham rail yard. When his marker is placed, his epitaph will read: “Now he slept soundly through the nights, and often he dreamed of trains.”

Below is my portion of my dad’s eulogy. My brother and one of my sisters also spoke. As my dad’s ashes were being lowered into the earth, we signaled his crossing with wooden railroad whistles, per the General Code of Operating Rules (a set of operating rules for railroads that states that when a train approaches a public crossing, the whistle blast should be: two long, one short, one long.) The luncheon after his inurnment included a photo slide show, a bowl of peanut M&Ms and a tray of Peeps.


. . .

It’s interesting how some words can resonate across time, pick up an emotional context outside of their literal meaning. For me, once such word is “appreciate.” I associate the word “appreciate” with sand, and with my dad. I’ll explain.

One of my earlier memories is of our backyard in Beaumont, Texas. I was probably 4 or 5 at the time. My dad was sitting in a lawn chair near the house. I had gotten sand from the sandbox all over his arm, either deliberately or accidentally – I can’t remember which. What I do remember is offering to clean him up, using my hand to brush the sand away from where it was trapped among his arm hairs. He said, “I appreciate that.”

Appreciate. I remember that word so well. Maybe it was the first time I heard that word and connected it to a meaning. I think I remember it so clearly because I had been a little ashamed at what I had done, and I felt redemption and pride in being able to do something to help my dad. He appreciated me.

And I appreciate him.

Some of the best parts of who I am I can trace from the best parts of who he was.

My dad was a good teacher and manager. Some of the memorial comments from his model railroad group attest to this:

Mike would always catch us doing something wrong. He would then stay in our area of the railaroad and watch us. What a great manager Mike was.

He knew when to step in & show you out of trouble.

My dad had the patience and steely nerve to teach me how to drive, and I have him to thank for my confidence in my ability to use power tools to fix and create things.

I never got the attitude from my dad that there were things I couldn’t do because I was a girl.

Female, male, Asian, African, quadriplegic – whatever form or color a human came in, if they could get a job done and done well, my dad respected their abilities.

I remember him speaking of a co-worker with multiple sclerosis. He explained to me that she had given him a gift because she appreciated the fact that he treated her as a person, not as a disabled person.

I can only imagine his frustration when Parkinson’s disease began to affect his ability to move and some people around him failed to see past his deteriorating body, failed to tap into the wisdom and skills he had acquired in his years of working his way up from a salesperson to a self-taught computer systems manager.

Another of his qualities I came to appreciate, and which surely helped him to cope with the effects of Parkinson’s disease, was his practical, pragmatic approach to life.

I can recall a tearful conversation with him when I was a high school senior. I was agonizing over What I Was Going To Do With My Life. My dad said his life goal was simple: to have a job that enabled him to support his train habit. At the time I thought this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. But over time, I’ve come to see the wisdom in his words. We do not have to be defined by the work we do for pay.

And my dad certainly wasn’t defined by his paid work. Anyone who had more than a passing acquaintance with Mike Berry knew he was all about trains. He grew up watching trains in his neighborhood. His basement or garage was always occupied by model railroad layouts. Family vacations usually included a detour through a rail yard for a photo expedition. His pièce de résistance was the Minnesota Southern layout in the basement of our Schaumburg home that he endlessly worked on over the course of 30 years.

My sister-in-law wrote in a condolence card:

Whenever I see something that has to do with trains, I always think of your dad. What a unique and fun way to be remembered!

I’d have to agree. Many people remember lost loved ones when they find a penny on the ground – “pennies from heaven.” Me, I remember my dad whenever I get stopped at a train crossing.

My dad’s affiliation with trains also provides a rich opportunity for metaphor. I will share some excerpts I have found that link trains and life philosophy.

This was written by Joseph Fort Newton:

Every person has a train of thought on which they travel when they are alone. The dignity and nobility of their life, as well as their happiness depend upon the direction in which that train is going, the baggage it carries and the scenery through which it travels.

And here’s a piece from Jeff Zentner:

So when I watch trains, it makes me think about how much movement there is in the world. How every train has dozens of cars and every car has hundreds of parts, and all those parts and cars work day after day. And then there are all these other motions. People are born and die. Seasons change. Rivers flow to the sea. Earth circles the sun and the moon circles Earth. Everything whirring and spinning toward something. And I get to be part of it for a little while, the way I get to watch a train for a minute or two, and then it’s gone.

And one more: a blog post I found from Neil Gadihoke, a small business owner in India:

Life is like a journey on a train… with its stations… with its changes of routes…and with its accidents!

We board this train when we are born and our parents are the ones who get our ticket.

We believe they will always travel on this train with us.

However, at some station our parents will get off the train, leaving us alone on this journey.

As time goes by, other passengers will board the train, many of whom will be significant – our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of our life.

Many will get off during the journey and leave a permanent vacuum in our lives.

Many will go so unnoticed that we won’t even know when they vacated their seats and got off the train!

This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, good-byes, and farewells.

A good journey is helping, loving, having a good relationship with all co passengers… and making sure that we give our best to make their journey comfortable.

Bottomline The mystery of this fabulous journey is ; We do not know at which station we ourselves are going to get off.

So, we must live in the best way – adjust, forget, forgive, and offer the best of what we have. It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to leave our seat… we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.

Have a very pleasant journey, on this train of life………! And do enjoy each moment and each day, for without you knowing it, the next station may be the one you have to get off.

Today, we pause in our journeys to mourn the fact that Mike Berry has gotten off the train – but he’ll remain in our trains of thought. He’d appreciate that pun.



What am I doing?

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Ever since I left my museum job, people have been asking me, “So, what are you doing now?”

I’ve found it difficult to answer succinctly.

“I’m working on a writing project that I hope will turn into a book.”
(The writing project is currently housed here: http://thelifeworkblog.com/ )

“Oh! What are you writing about?”

The short answer is, “An oral history project about women’s life paths.”

The long answer, and the backstory, is this:

About two years ago, I met a friend for lunch and learned the interesting path of her career, of which I had been completely ignorant.

I began thinking about the stories behind the lives and careers of other people I know, and about how we tend to see each other only as we are today. Our previous lives and experiences become erased. The pathways that led us to where we are now, when revealed, are often a surprise.

With encouragement from my sister, I decided to begin a project to document and describe and share unique stories of career paths. I narrowed the scope of the project to focus on women’s stories, since I think women have much different societal pressures affecting their life paths as compared to men, and I believe women’s stories are less often told. I think these pathway stories can be incredibly useful as learning tools for other women as they chart their own life paths.

I found a few models for the project, including Studs Terkel’s 1974 book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” and the 2001 editor-curated “Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs.”

I set up a new blog, The Life Work Blog, with the idea that it would grow a readership and a fan base and enable me to get a book contract. Over the course of a year, I proceeded down a few dead ends, learned a few things and further sharpened the focus of my project.

Which all leads me to where I am today: needing to make the ask.

So, friends, here it is:

I need your help.

I need your encouragement that this project I’m undertaking is worthwhile.

I need your readership, comments and ideas for “food for thought” posts on The Life Work Blog.

I need accountability and a push to add content to the blog regularly (perhaps one new interview and two “food for thought” posts a week).

I need constructive criticism and resources, so I can improve as I go and make this book thing happen.

But most of all, I need a cadre of women willing to allow me to record them in an interview and share their stories.

I am looking for a diverse range of women to interview, of various professions, age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and regions of the country. Sure, I will need a few “famous” people to interview, but the bulk of the interviews will be with “regular” women. One of the difficulties I’ve run into so far is women saying “my story is boring – it’s not important.” Pardon, but, BALONEY! Each and every one of you has a story to tell, and it may be your unique, ordinary story that is just exactly the story that someone else out there needs to hear.

Would you or someone you know be willing to share an hour or two of your time and be a part of The Life Work Blog project? If so, please contact me via email (kt AT ktbradshaw DOT com). I can send you more details about the interview process

Onward and upward!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw



Permission from a fairy godmother

I continue to struggle with this idea of “being a writer,” to the point that I very nearly didn’t sign up for the Story Catcher Summer Writing Workshop.

I’ve attended writing workshops in the past that made me feel like a poser. Rather than energizing me, those workshops left me feeling small and discouraged. (This probably says more about my personal journey then the workshops themselves. Also, I now have a project I’m actively working on, which makes a huge difference.)

Thanks to some encouragement to find a writing community (thank you, Sue Kelsey!), I decided to attend Story Catcher, since the price was right, and it was only 100 miles from my home.

Right out of the gate, writer-in-residence Anna Keesey’s craft lecture delivered some things I really needed to hear.

“Your writing self is fragile,” she said. “It needs attention to further its cause.”

Anna fashioned herself into a fairy godmother of sorts, bearing a “bouquet of permissions.” Among them:

Permission to go inward, to find the times and places where distraction is minimized.

Permission to write imperfectly, to tolerate uncertainty, to wander around feeling lost because that wandering journey may be the only way to understand the destination.

Permission to be irreverent, wrong, rude. “You do not have to toe the party line on anything.”

Permission to waste time.

Permission to use “up time” for writing, or not-writing.

Permission to put your uncertainty ahead of someone else’s certainty, your future ahead of someone else’s now.

Permission to work on small projects – give someone a gift of your words, write a letter to someone who is not yet born, keep a dialogue with yourself.

This all sounded so familiar. These past months I’ve been giving myself stern talks along these same lines, but I’ve struggled to believe me.

Sometimes all we need is a little bit of ordinary magic, like permission from a fairy godmother.


The wonder of living on an alien planet

I just love the sound of rain falling on canopies – leaf or shingle. It puts me in a contemplative mood.

Maybe because I recently watched Interstellar, maybe because I caught a clip of NOVA’s Alien Planets Revealed this week . . .

When I looked out the open window last night around bedtime, out into the darkness scented by the gentle rain that had just begun to fall with a pattering sound on the broad leaves of the plants in the flowerbed, I was suddenly transported with wonder.

Such a strange place, this, where life depends on a liquid that falls from the sky at irregular intervals.

I’m a corporatespeak snob

I really wanted to like this Huff Post Business profile of Catherine Courage at Citrix. Alas, I couldn’t get past this sentence without going all Judgy McJudgerton:

Her determination and passion to grow design as a core differentiator led to the competency becoming a company-wide initiative and to the elevation of her role to senior vice president of customer experience.

What the heck does that even mean? It sounds like it was created with a keyword generator.

(See also: “Their mission is to partner with functions across the company to deliver an outstanding experience for both customers and employees.” Huh?? How does one “partner” with a “function”?)

I loathe whatever forces of evil compel people to compete at bastardizing English into an alien landscape of jargon.

. . . says the person who happily adopts Twitterisms . . .

Ahem. Yeah, well . . .

Maybe my frustration has to do with the fact that I don’t tend to use LOLspeak in a professional context, but corporatespeak is supposed to be the epitome of professionalism.

Or maybe because I read in the use of these self-important-sounding words a neediness on the part of the writer to make themselves sound important. Nobody likes a braggart.

Or perhaps I distrust the coinage of grandiose words that I suspect could be an attempt to veil true meaning.

Or I could just be a style snob who prefers plainer language.

How might I rewrite that stumbling-block sentence above (using context from the article)?

Her determination and passion to make her company stand out through its focus on consumer-oriented design led to company-wide adoption of her strategy and to her promotion to senior vice president of customer experience.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but not all of those ways are equally elegant, and some are downright grotesque.

Such is the challenge of wordsmithing.


Simple pleasures, experienced June 1

An “I enjoy your work” comment on a blog post, from a faraway stranger.

The successful mend of a tear in a favorite shirt. (With thread! Not duct tape!)

A two-hour lunch with a Friend Who Understands.

Laughing out loud at a precious, goofy text message.

A storm with enough oopmh to water the garden and scare the cat, but not the energy to produce hail larger than a generous pea.

A piece of mail that was neither an advertisement nor a bill.

The wonder of seeing hints of my brother’s face in a photo of my nephew.

The effervescent fizz of a freshly-opened jar of kimchi.

Good beer, a cool breeze, and a box of colored pencils.