Who was Otto Berg?

About Otto Berg

By Pat Bantli, former longtime Clerk of Stillwater Township



Edna Berg has recently donated a bench to the Township park that bears the name of her deceased husband and our past friend. She placed the bench near the children’s play equipment because Otto Berg loved children, and she can visualize him sitting there watching them at play. Since there are so many new residents in the Township who may not have known Otto, I am using this acknowledgement of Edna’s thoughtful gesture as an opportunity to tell you about Otto as I have known him.


Otto (sometimes referred to as Ott, Otto-E or Joe) lived in the St. Croix Valley all his life. His granddaddy moved the entire Berg family from Germany around 1870. He settled in the city of Stillwater, or Deutsch Town (pronounced dutch town) to be exact, and worked in the lumber industry. Deutsch Town is that area west of Hwy. 95 and south of Hwy. 96 where many German people settled. Lil and Louise, two of Otto’s sisters, still live in the same house that granddaddy Berg built and where Otto Berg was born on June 28, 1900, and raised.


Evidently Otto was a rather mischievous kid. He was always the one to take a dare and sometimes came home a bit bloody as a result. If something was broken or went wrong in the Berg household, there was a good chance Otto was involved. He was always popular with people and loved to tell jokes and laugh. It was obvious listening to the way Lil and Louise talked about Otto that their brother was someone very special to them.


Otto was enterprising. As a kid he loved to buy all kinds of things from catalogs. One time he sent for pictures to sell. The pictures turned out to be of a different religious persuasion than his, which was a serious matter at the time. To get rid of them, his sisters ended up doing the selling and mother put her foot down. No more selling! Later on, when he got hold of a “movie machine,” he turned the woodshed into a movie theater! Then for a time he capitalized on his love for fishing and sold bait. One summer he spent playing semi-professional baseball in Spring Grove, MN. He did a stint with Bliss Plumbing in the city of Stillwater and from there went on to work for Connolly Shoe Company, also in Stillwater. He retired from there 51 years later. It was during those years that Otto fought for having the union at Connolly Shoe Company. He could be a very serious, no-nonsense person, not afraid to speak his mind.


In 1930 Otto and Edna were married and moved across the border to a small farm in Stillwater Township where they spent their entire married life. Life was hard during those depression years. Not content with one job, Otto opened up a small shoe repair shop on his property and also sold farm products to his neighbors. Edna said that Otto could fix anything and was always helping the other farmers, but he would never ask for help for himself.


Evidently there was a great succession of animals that went through the farm. Edna mentioned that Otto appeared home from a sale one day with a pregnant pig. So they readied themselves for the great birth event the best they knew. Edna sterilized the scissors and string (you have to cut the cord, don’t you?!) and placed a clean container near mama pig, who watched Edna and Otto curiously as each piglet was dealt with and placed inside the container. As soon as Edna and Otto finished being midwives, mother pig removed her litter to the nearest mud puddle, which they enjoyed immensely.


Otto and Edna didn’t have any children of their own, but any child needing a place to live found their way to the Berg farm. Otto loved to talk to young people. For years, he dressed up at Christmas as Santa Claus and went from house to house to visit the kids. He always told them to drink their milk and do their homework.


After Otto retired from the shoe company, he worked as a local mail carrier for awhile. Then he took a job driving the Township road grader. Many a night he’d be out plowing snow so that the next morning residents could get to work on time. It was a strenuous job and at that point Otto was in his 70s. We knew he might need to quit at any time because of physical problems that plagued him. So we planned an appreciation dinner for him. Although he enjoyed it, he worried that we were pushing him toward retirement. Absolutely, that was not the case. Several years later, he did retire from driving the grader, on his own volition. One day, before he retired, he was cutting the field that is now Otto Berg Memorial Park. A pheasant was disturbed from her nest, leaving her eggs behind. Otto was distressed that the bird had abandoned the nest so he took the eggs home where Edna, more familiar with pheasants than pigs, was able to care for them until 10 eggs hatched. The pheasants stayed around the Berg farm for quite awhile.


After he left the Township job, Otto suffered severe burns in a tractor accident. I visited him in the hospital and had the shock of my life when this modest man hiked his nightshirt up a bit to show me his burned legs. He was a bit amused at my embarrassment! He talked for hours that day. He delighted me with tales of Stillwater in olden times. Otto enjoyed “spinning a yarn” according to Lil and Louise. I shall always treasure the memory of our talk that day. When I look out over our property, I still see Otto working out there. Many years ago, he taught my husband the secrets of building a solid fence. That particular day he and his adopted son John were digging holes for the fence posts when John cut his hand on the auger. After bandaging the hand, Otto made John finish the job despite the fact that John looked green and was obviously in some pain. As gentle and kind as Otto was, he was also tough, hard-working and demanded a lot.


On April 24, 1982, Otto died on his way to bed. A year later the Township supervisors re-dedicated the Township park to him. Otto was dedicated to his town and was a large part of what life here is all about. For those of you who never met Otto, you missed something. Everyone liked him. He was special and we surely miss him.