Berkson a Hero in Every Sense of the Word
July 8, 2010
CHICAGO - The Fourth of July Weekend was an opportunity for all Americans to reflect on our liberties and freedoms while joining friends and families in backyard picnics, parades and fireworks.
The explosions in the night sky reminded everyone of the men and women that live with the sounds of bombs bursting as part of their daily lives.
It makes Americans take a moment to reflect in appreciation of those in the armed forces that currently serve and have served throughout history.
DePaul Athletics has had a number of men and women that have made sacrifices to ensure our freedoms. One of those heroes is Marshall Berkson of Miami Beach, Fla.
Berkson was the captain of Hyde Park High School's basketball team, attracting the interest of DePaul coach Ray Meyer. Berkson, in turn, was drawn to the new young head coach.
"I really wanted to play for Coach Meyer," said Berkson, who signed on with the Blue Demons. "There wasn't that big of an age difference between him and us players."
Berkson would quickly make friends with a teammate who would become one of the biggest names in Blue Demon athletics.
Discovering that Berkson had class downtown with George Mikan, Meyer asked Berkson to help with the big man's development.
"Ray asked me if I could play ping-pong," Berkson said. "After I said yes, he said I needed to work with George on his awkwardness by playing ping-pong between classes. So George and I played ping-pong between classes, and I guess the rest is history."
Asked if he felt that their ping-pong rivalry was the reason for Mikan's success, Berkson just laughed, adding that it was Mikan's competitive nature that made him special.
"Oh he was a fierce competitor," Berkson added. "He would fight you for marbles."
Berkson was poised to impact the Blue Demons on the court as well. A photo in the May 27, 1943 DePaulian shows Berkson working out with the starting five in an article titled "Meyer Works New Demons Every Friday."
Unfortunately, his time as a Blue Demon was cut short. In June of 1943, Berkson was inducted into the Army.
Initially, he was placed into the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and was sent to enroll at North Central College in Naperville, where he continued playing basketball.
With the pressure to amass troops, the ASTP program was discontinued and its participants assigned to the infantry. Berkson joined one of the most celebrated divisions of World War II---the 8th Armored Division of the Third Army headed by General George S. Patton.
As a part of the Eighth Armored Division, 58th Armored Infantry Battalion, Company C, Berkson was among the first troops to enter Holland and was involved in battles in Luxembourg, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The Chicago native fought in the historic Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge. After volunteering to go behind enemy lines, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.
Berkson said his crowning military achievement was his unit's liberation of Helberstadt Zweiberger, a satellite of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
He would later be recognized for his part in the liberation when the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center presented him with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
With the conclusion of the war, Berkson was transferred to Germany where he became part of the Army of Occupation.
Arriving home from the service, Berkson returned to DePaul and completed his degree in Business Administration in 1949. He continued his education with a Master's Degree from the University of Chicago.
In January of 1950, his life would change with his decision to move to Miami, Fla. Berkson had an eye on teaching at Lindsey Hopkins, a precursor to the present community college system.
Living in the heat of Miami, Berkson made a business move that would forever change his life when he and a friend founded the Miami Air Conditioning Company.
Despite early critics who said "the company would last a year at the most," Berkson thrived, eventually selling his "upstart" company and initially retiring at the age of 44.
In the heating and cooling industry, Berkson has been hailed as an air-conditioning pioneer in South Florida.
His business success provided an opportunity to get involved in real estate and allowed him to continue his passion for basketball.
"I have coached a number of teams over the years." Berkson said. "It was a lot of fun. One of my players was movie star Andy Garcia."
Berkson dedicated long hours to community service in the Miami area. For more than 20 years, he was the chairman and president of the South Shore Hospital and Medical Center.
As a supporter of local charities, Berkson has been presented with a number of civic recognitions, including a Key to the City of Miami Beach and the proclamation of Marshall Berkson Day on March 17, 1994 in Miami Beach.
The former Blue Demon continues to work as part of his real estate company M.H. Berkson Associates. A 2009 article on www.examiner.com, reported that Berkson still works 12-16 hours per day. (http://www.examiner.com/x-2987-Miami-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m11d10-WWII-veteran-and-successful-entrepreneur-of-Miami-Beach)
Despite his career of hard work, Berkson always found time to stay connected to DePaul through Coach Meyer and the legendary Mikan. Among his cherished possessions is a folder full of correspondence from Mikan and Meyer.
"Coach would always take time to send me letters," Berkson said. "He would give me the scoop on the upcoming recruits. They were always hand-written...that always impressed me."
One of his favorite letters, written on letterhead from Ray Meyer's Camp for Boys, proclaims the arrival of a new recruit named Dave Corzine. Part of the letter read: "Corzine is the best recruit since Berkson."
That letter foreshadowed DePaul's rise to national prominence.
"We are definitely on the way back," Meyer wrote. "We may be one year away, but things are looking up."
Equally fond of Mikan, Berkson's office has several framed pictures of the two Blue Demons at various stages of their lives together.
"George was a good man," Berkson said. "When he was the commissioner of the ABA, he tried to persuade me to become the owner of the league's Florida franchise. I wanted to do it so badly, but I just couldn't make the numbers work."
Berkson's love for basketball is evident from the basketball pictures on his wall and another wall full of the latest basketball books. His latest venture into basketball is watching Miami Heat games with his grandchildren and significant other Lynda Fromkin.
Once again his love for DePaul shown through with the opportunity to meet former DePaul star and Heat guard Quentin Richardson. Berkson shared his stories of DePaul with Richardson at an autograph session.
With temperatures rising into the 90s and a triple-digit heat index, it would be good time to celebrate basketball alum Marshall Berkson as a pioneer in the world of air conditioning.
But after the recent celebration of our nation's independence, it is more fitting to recognize a man that has faithfully served his community and his country.
For that, we salute a genuine military hero and a proud DePaul alum named Marshall Berkson.