Alumni Spotlight: Daniel Berger
It’s difficult to know how to qualify who Daniel W. Berger is in terms of a title. He’s that rare person who is energetically entrenched in so many parts of the town, and with so many groups, that it’s hard to say what takes precedence for Dan. He’s an alumnus of the West Seneca West Class of ’73, who heads the West High Alumni Association, is a recent past Boy Scout leader, sometime foster parent, de facto historian, collector and builder of a WSCSD yearbook section in our local public library, and parent to Molly, a shining star of a West Seneca High student, who passed away in 2011.
Only 14 at the time and an only child, Molly was diagnosed with Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare blood disorder that took her almost as quickly as it was discovered. This sudden loss was devastating to her parents, Daniel and Gail Radtke Berger, along with our schools, and an entire community.
“Molly,” says her father, “used to come to alumni meetings with me when she was little, bringing her coloring books.” Her father thinks she must have been paying attention to the meetings even at a very young age because she had big plans that included West High, specifically their music department.
“Molly had three goals, all involving the arts,” says Dan. “She wanted to be in the Bel Canto Choir, the wind ensemble, and a school musical.” She hit all three goals
including taking the role of Little Ti Moune in the musical, Once on This Island, in her freshman year. It was the perfect role for a talented, fearless, and petite young woman.
The girl who memorialized the phrase, “Music is the air you breathe,” now has a scholarship set up in her name at West Senior - The Molly Berger Memorial Scholarship. Those words are displayed in backstage mural now, painted by another student, and there as a reminder of how music is an intrinsic part of people like Molly. With her voice and her instrument, she deftly made air into music. West Senior music teacher Keith Ersing tells his incoming freshmen about Molly every year. The remembrance of this sweet, talented girl who wanted to be a part of the music department so badly--and met all of her goals freshman year--provides pure inspiration and possibly a new sense of determination to Molly’s like-minded younger successors.
The purpose in the telling of Molly’s story also helps to understand Dan better; he was always entrenched in the community, always went to music performances, always made sure he was surrounded by young people and looking to ensure that students had every grand opportunity that was a match for their potential. Dan says, “So many don’t know how to bring a tragic subject up, or simply choose to refrain from it, but it is immensely therapeutic for one to get it out of his or her system every once in a while.”
And so, it only makes sense that Dan would help West Seneca Public Library’s Director, Robert Alessi, curate a section of yearbooks from every year he could find as a record of history, a trip down memory lane, and in some circumstances, he says with a chuckle, a chance for old friends “to come around and settle a beer bet.” The books are microchipped and for reference only, due to the precious memories they hold.
The Keeper of Memories. That’s what you might say Dan’s main title is these days. He would love to see someone younger step up to the task of leading the alumni association because, like he says, “It’s everybody’s project.” Still, it’s hard for him to get out of the cycle. Yearbooks, as well as the missing years, for all of West Seneca’s high and junior high schools can be found in the library database – West Seneca 2009; West Seneca East 1971, 1981, 1987, 2000, etc. Dan needs help to keep these memories alive. Click the link above to see a spreadsheet.
In terms of book bound memories, Dan says he and Gail found a journal Molly kept shortly after her death. “It seems she was always planning for life four years down the road,” he says. One of the things 14-year-old Molly wrote in her journal was: “Being angry is a waste of time.” This is good advice from a girl who was taken from us just 4 days short of her 15th birthday. Molly’s friends stop by now and then to visit the Berger household. Dan and Gail are happy to see them and happy for them. Their children will likely be the Berger’s honorary grandchildren.
Knowing Dan and what he’s lived through, it only makes sense that he would want everyone to be able to look through yearbooks and stir up or keep alive their own memories. If you have a yearbook to donate, or you’d like to help Dan with this task, let us know on the alumni page of West Senior. Dan would love to show you how to sustain the keeping of memories.