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
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.