AUSTIN – William E. “Bill” Berger, whose career as a newspaperman spanned parts of nine decades, died Wednesday, April 11. At age 99, he was less than two months shy of his 100th birthday.
A native of Ferris, Ill., as a young boy he delivered newspapers to neighbors for a few cents a week. His career in the newspaper business began as a teenager in western Illinois, selling subscriptions, writing stories, delivering papers and doing anything he could to earn a modest living during the Great Depression. He attended Carthage (Illinois) College and worked at several newspapers in the Midwest as a circulation manager and as an editor.
In July 1942, Berger entered the U.S. Army and was sent to Camp Swift near Bastrop, where he met UT student Jerry Barnes of Waelder. They were married on Feb. 26, 1943, in the chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
After spending four years in the U.S. Army, they returned to Texas and purchased the Hondo Anvil Herald in 1946. Working many long hours together, they published the Anvil Herald and raised three children.
From the 1950s through the ‘70s, he owned as many as eight weekly newspapers around South Texas. All were eventually sold, except for Hondo.
He served as business manager for The Texas Star, a Sunday feature magazine supplement in many of the state’s daily papers in the early 1970s.
He founded Radio Medina, Inc., which went on the air as Hondo radio station KRME in February 1970.
In 1979, alongside publishers from Uvalde and Pleasanton, Berger founded South Texas Press, Inc., a newspaper printing plant based in Hondo, which has recently moved its operations to larger facilities in San Antonio.
Berger was always intrigued by politics. In 1962, he was part of the John Connally for Governor campaign in Austin, and he went to Austin again in 1964 to work at the state headquarters of the Lyndon Johnson presidential campaign. He was appointed to the initial board of the Texas Tourist Development Board in 1963.
In 1965, Gov. Connally offered Berger an appointment to the Texas Water Commission. Accepting the offer meant relocating the family from Hondo to Austin, which became home for the remainder of his life. He continued to own the Anvil Herald, hiring outside publishers for the day-to-day operations until his son Jeff Berger returned to Hondo to continue the family newspaper tradition.
After his term as water commissioner expired, Berger worked for other state agencies for 15 years.
After retiring from the state, he brokered newspaper businesses and continued to write a weekly column for the Anvil Herald until February of this year when he finally decided to “retire.”
The Bergers were active in the First United Methodist Church Austin. He was a longtime member of Lions Club International, including the Founders Club in Austin; Sons of the American Revolution; American Legion; Veterans of Foreign Wars; and the Headliners Club of Austin.
He was elected president of the South Texas Press Association (1954-55) and as president of the Texas Press Association (1963-64). He received lifetime achievement awards from both STPA (1993) and the West Texas Press Association (2000), and in 2011, was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
He was preceded in death by Jerry, his wife of almost 75 years.
He is survived by three children, six grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Following a private family burial service at the Texas State Cemetery, a memorial was held on April 16 at First United Methodist Church in Austin. Memorial contributions may be made to First United Methodist Church (fumcaustin.org), Samaritan’s Purse (samaritanspurse.org), or the charity of one’s choice.