Obituary: Eugene Alfred Berg – Portland Press Herald

Eugene Alfred Berg

WESTBROOK – Eugene Alfred Berg, 77, of Westbrook, died on the morning of January 11, 2022. Gene (“Skip” to family) was born on August 22, 1944 at the Richardson House in Boston, the son of Eugene and “Gini” Virginia Alice (DeNormandie) Berg. He grew up in South Portland, Scarborough and then Westbrook, the oldest of Berg’s six siblings. As a young man and throughout his life, Gene felt that if you claimed to believe something, you had to back it up with your actions. After graduating from Cheverus High, he spent three years in seminary before choosing a different path to uphold his values. The qualities that make him so well remembered—kindness to all, cheerfulness and humor, thoughtful integrity, and a twinkle in his eye—led him to his life’s work as an educator. Along the way, his love for family and friends, his passion for music, art and literature, his curiosity about people and the world, and his desire to serve his community and those he loved ensured a rich and beautiful life. During one of his mother’s variety shows at St Mary’s Church in Westbrook, Gene met his future wife Claire Giguere of Gorham, backstage with a banjo, while she was performing with her folk trio “The Windbuyers”. The couple married in 1972, and their mutual adoration — so obvious to anyone who knew them — only grew over the course of their more than 50 years together. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, Gene was drafted into the army. He applied for, and was eventually granted conscientious objector status. During this turbulent period, he earned a BA in English from the University of Southern Maine and then an MA in Teaching from the University of Maine. In 1970, Gene became a founding member of the faculty at Skitikuk, an alternative pre-K to 12 school in Orono. The students recall how Gene taught using games and musical storytelling, which made math fun and understandable. He was the principal lyricist of the school’s unique annual musicals, in which he also appeared, and a frequent cartoonist for the school’s weekly magazine, The Intensement. Gene fondly recalled the camaraderie and “good old days” at Skitikuk, including the unique challenges of teaching at a “hippie” school — like the time Raymond the school goat ate the school’s quarterly financial papers. In 1976, Gene and Claire moved from Orono to Westbrook to be closer to their family, and Gene became principal of the George C. Soule School in Freeport. The Soule program and community would become Gene’s life’s work, and he remained with the Soule program until his retirement in 2005. At Soule, Gene championed a progressive approach that fostered personal choice and responsibility, creativity and curiosity. Under Gene’s wise leadership, the Soule experience was transformative for so many students. Soule School was a family and a happy place, where the teachers were just as enthusiastic as the children. The program changed over many years, but Gene’s dedication to children and their highest good never wavered. Gene will be remembered for his kind, friendly style, leading Big Meeting with his guitar and all the favorite Soule School songs “Jailhouse Window”, “The Battle of New Orleans”, “Leroy Brown”….After Retiring in 2005 Gene contributed to the community in many ways. For 13 years, he was a volunteer member of the Maine Medical Center Institutional Review Board, a government-mandated group to oversee biomedical research. He was a committed and conscientious member, committed to the board’s mission to protect people who volunteer for research studies. He also volunteered at Westbrook’s Food Supply and My Place Teen Center. He also worked for the US Census in 2009-2010. A love of music was a constant Gene shared with those in his life: singing perfect Everly Brothers harmonies with Claire, cranking up WBLM with daughters Emily and Bessie on the morning drive to school, rewriting lyrics to celebrate friends’ birthdays. to celebrate, and of course leads family hootenannies and school sing-alongs with his Martin guitar. He played in bands ranging from Psychedelic Syndrome to Tin Ceiling to Cool Water, idolized both the Beatles and Chopin. Even in his final years, as life with Alzheimer’s became increasingly difficult, music continued to connect him directly with love and joy and family and friends, providing many shared happy moments. In Gene’s own words (from a writing class he took in 2000): “The first things I learned from music – about love, comfort, connection – these remain. The happy, irreverent, heartfelt dining hall singing of summer camp stays with me and is a model for the spirit I want to support in my school. Through music, I have met addicts and college boys, priests and intellectuals, best men and brides and grooms, political organizers and the wealthy of Portland, the urban poor of Portland, the rural poor of Buxton, and the love of my life. Music somehow brought me into contact with all these people and has influenced my life immensely.” He was a voracious reader and could shed tears of joy reading James Joyce or Dr. seuss. Gene was a devoted, loving, considerate and FUN dad – the kind who made animal-shaped pancakes, invented (and illustrated) magical stories, mowed the lawn to a croquet court, initiated adventurous walks, made family mixtapes, had a lot of fun high school marching band competitions in frigid temperatures, and always renewed AAA membership from his daughters. In the words of his lifelong friend Bob Noonan, “He was a unique combination of a kid at heart and an unusually mature, compassionate, observant man.” Gene is survived by his loving wife Claire; his two adoring daughters Emily Berg and Bess (Berg) Jacques (and Tom); his beloved siblings Valerie Strehlke, Ray Berg (and Louise), Christine Berg, Pete Berg (and Pat), and Tom Berg (and Khanh); and many dear nieces and nephews. The family extends special sincere thanks to the staff at the Adult Day Program at the Barron Center and the staff at the Holbrook Center at Piper Shores. Gene’s remains have been cremated and in warm weather there will be a Celebration of Life with family and friends. He will be deeply missed.


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