KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Donald Lavern Berg, a resident of Key Biscayne, Fla. for 61 years and summer resident of Traverse City, passed away peacefully at his Florida home on February 25, 2013 after a long illness. He lived a full and exciting life.
Don was born on June 3, 1925 on the family farm in Bingham Township, Mich. He was the 11th of 12 children of Leonard and Charlotte Berg, both German immigrants. The 115 acre farm was located on West Traverse Bay, where M 22 and E. Shady Lane join. His early years were strongly influenced by the Great Depression, when hard work at a young age was a given. His early education was in a one room school house. In order to attend high school, he boarded with a Traverse City family, the Robinsons, who eventually took him in as a surrogate son. He graduated from Traverse City High in 1943, where he played second base on the undefeated Trojan baseball team of that year.
In the Summer of ‘43ʼ he joined the Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater, participating in the Pacific combat campaigns of 1944 and 45, culminating in the occupation of Japan in September of 1945. He was later commissioned a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he served in the reserves until 1956.
Don graduated from Michigan State University in 1951 after he took a year hiatus in 1949 to teach school to Native American Eskimos. Working with the Alaska Native services, he organized and established the first school on Barter Island, a remote outpost on the North Slope, 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle populated by a tribe of 40 families. Over half the village enrolled in the school, students ranged in age from 5 to 50. They relied on a traditional hunting lifestyle for much of their food. After one of the hunts, twin, orphaned polar bear cubs were rescued and nursed back to health in the schoolhouse. Don negotiated with a number of prominent zoos for the twins adoption and with much fanfare, escorted them back to the States to become the star attraction of the Detroit Zoo.