Berkman lived life to the fullest

STEUBENVILLE – Louis Berkman, a philanthropist and industrialist who donated money to various colleges and universities and community projects, is being remembered as a man who lived life to the fullest.

“He was an astute businessman and very personable. He was a no-nonsense person. He admired people who worked hard and didn’t want any slackers around him,” said the Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, vice president of community relations at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, of Berkman, who died Monday at the age of 104. He lived “such a full life,” Davis remembered.

Berkman incorporated the Louis Berkman Co. in Steubenville in 1931. It consisted of many diversified companies, including Meyer Products, Swenson Spreader , Follansbee Steel, Dover Parkersburg and Industrial Supplies.

He was involved in the fundraising for St. John Medical Center, which has grown into Trinity Medical Center West, and St. John Arena, which has been transformed into the YMCA Wellness Center. He made personal contributions to secure the Toronto site for TIMET. Berkman presented a deed for the underlying coal rights on 28.4 acres of land in Toronto so a new school could be built on the site. Berkman also was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Steubenville Country Club after it was destroyed by fire in the early 1960s, and donated the land on Lovers Lane for Temple Beth Israel.

Berkman was married to Sandra Berkman for 48 years, prior to her death in 1983. The couple had two children Marshall, who died in the crash of USAir Flight 427 in Pittsburgh in 1994, and Donna, who is married to Robert A. Paul, chairman and CEO of Ampco-Pittsburgh Corp. in Pittsburgh,

Davis said he remembers how the death of his son in the plane crash affected Berkman. Davis said he went to the funeral in Pittsburgh and Berkman was forever grateful.

“He was so grateful that I had established that relationship with him,” he said

Davis said Berkman spent time on refocusing after his son’s death. He said Berkman always assumed his son would take over the business but he “was lost in an instant.”

“He was a believer of living life to the fullest,” Davis said.

Through the Louis and Sandra Berkman Foundation, he established the H.L. Berkman Faculty and Staff Dining Room and the Sandra Weiss Berkman Studio for Ceramic Arts at Bethany College. The foundation also was responsible for the Learning Resource Center, the Louis Berkman Fireside Lounge in the J.C. Williams Center and the Science and Technology Building at the university.

Davis said Berkman just didn’t “dole out money. He wanted a specific program or scholarship.”

The foundation also contributed to Catholic Central High School for the creation of the Berkman Theater at Lanman Hall, which was completed in the spring and dedicated last fall. In 1986, Berkman, through the foundation, established the Louis Berkman Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and in 1998, the foundation established the Louis Berkman Scholarship fund at Franciscan University and Bethany College. In the same year, the Louis Berkman Scholarship was established at Cornell University.

Davis said he would visit Berkman at his Steubenville office and Berkman would joke that Davis was like his “Catholic rabbi.”

“He was very personable with me. We could sit and talk, but I knew not to take too much of his time. He always wanted to know about the university.”

Davis said Berkman admired the Rev. Dan Egan, TOR, the university’s first president in the 1940s.

“He respected what the university had done, especially Father Dan (Egan), and how hard he worked to get the college up and running. It was a project of vision that he wanted to support,” Davis said.

Scott Campbell, co-owner of M&M Hardware on Sunset Boulevard, said he remembers being a Destination Imagination coach for Steubenville City Schools around 1990 and Berkman would always pay the expenses for the team to travel to the national competition. After the team returned, Campbell said he would make arrangements for the children to meet Berkman at his office.

“He would take them into the conference room and talk to each of them about their name and grades. He would talk to them about setting goals, being proud of the community and giving back. You couldn’t write a better script for kids about being a supporter of the area. He was so real with the kids and they were so real with him. He touched a lot of lives in the community and people never knew it,” Campbell said.

Sanford Berman, president of Temple Beth Israel, said many people never realized what Berkman did for the community behind the scenes.

“He did it very quietly. He was a great mentor. The community lost a great guy,” Berman said.

The foundation also made possible the construction of the Louis and Sandra Berkman Amphitheater at the Old Fort Steuben Project, which was dedicated in October 2006.

Jerry Barilla, president of the Old Fort Steuben Project, was a classmate of Berkman’s daughter, Donna, at the former McKinley Elementary School from kindergarten through sixth grade. Barilla said the Berkmans lived on Pleasant Heights. He remembers giving Berkman a sixth-grade class picture from the school during the dedication ceremony for the amphitheater which bears the Berkman name.

Barilla said the fort project is very appreciative for the amphitheater, a place where people from the Tri-State Area can gather in the summer for weekly concerts.

“Through his contribution, it was possible,” Barilla said.

The Berkman Foundation also supports annual maintenance at the amphitheater.

Barilla said Berkman is an example of what can be achieved through hard work.

“You don’t find too many men of that caliber in society today,” Barilla said.

That’s a sentiment shared by Davis, who said that L’Chaim, the Jewish expression recognizing that life is precious and should always be celebrated and savored, sums up Berkman’s personal philosophy.

“He was a man who had the spirit of life and lived it to the fullest. He was a very fine gentleman and the epitome of being a gentleman.”