William F. “Bill” Berry was born on Jan. 24, 1933, in Versailles, Missouri. Bill entered the world under exceptional circumstances, and he lived an exceptional life. He died peacefully on July 25, 2019.
The son of William F. “Will” and Melva “Dink” Berry, Bill was born several months prematurely in his parents’ home because his mother, Dink, tripped and fell on her way down the basement steps for a load of laundry. Five years later he was joined in the family by a sister, Diane. Growing up in Versailles — with his extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — Bill was a natural learner. His interests at that time included music, baseball, quail hunting and reading everything he could find. Before graduating high school, Bill won the state American Legion oratory contest, attended Boys State, and was elected as one of two Missouri delegates to Boys Nation in Washington, DC. He graduated valedictorian from Versailles High School.
In 1951, Bill enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he discovered a talent for, among other things, acting. He won recognition as “best actor” in the 1953 campus Savitar Frolics (playing the role of President Truman in a parody on politics of the day).
Before finishing his studies at MU, Bill enlisted in the Army. The Army discovered that Bill had natural ability to learn languages and assigned him to the Army Language School in Monterey, California. There he became fluent in Russian. That earned Bill an intelligence assignment in Bavaria near the Czech border, where Bill monitored Soviet telephone and radio communications during the first years of the Cold War. He mastered German, which helped him meet his future wife, Erika Rauch, of Passau, Germany.
Bill received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1962 at the rank of sergeant. Bill, Erika and son Michael moved to Columbia, where a daughter Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” Berry was born to Bill and Erika in 1964. Bill finished his degree in history at MU and began a career in governmental relations for nursing home and construction interests. For over 20 years Bill served as a counselor at Missouri Boys State, where he taught legislative process.
Bill was a life-long Democrat, as was his father, and his father’s father. Bill served many years on the Boone County Democratic Committee. In 1976, Bill was elected as a delegate from Missouri to the national convention of the Democratic Party.
In 1989, Bill remarried to Rose Marie “Rosie” Douglass Long, with whom he lived happily in a home always open to family, guests and pets.
A devoted member of Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, Bill first attended services there during his college years. Over the decades Bill served Calvary in many ways, including as a Eucharistic minister and warden of the vestry. He and Rosie gave freely to Calvary their talents and energy. For over 25 years Bill headed the kitchen crew which served brunch for the annual Christmas Bazaar. During those same years Bill pursued his interest in horses by starting Calvary’s annual charity Horse Show. Over the years Calvary’s horse show raised $225,000, all of which went to needs in Columbia and Boone County outside of the Church.
In retirement Bill’s interests turned to documenting Missouri’s role in the American Civil War. He brought Civil War history to life with stories and artifacts for school children and other groups who invited him to lecture and lead programs. Bill gave tours of the Columbia Cemetery, where he will soon rest. Perhaps Bill’s most lasting accomplishment was in an effort that led to a land donation to preserve the field where the Battle of Centralia was fought between Confederate guerrillas and Union troops. It is just east of Centralia, where generations to come may visit, learn and reflect.
Bill is survived by his wife, Rosie, his sister and brother-in-law, Diane H. O’Hagan and her husband, David O’Hagan, and the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and many friends, all of whom Bill and Rosie both called their own. Children: Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” Berry; Michael Berry and his wife, Jane Berry; Deborah Long Alongia and her husband, Peter Alongia; Mimi Long Abbet; Winnie Long Crowder and her husband, Jim. Grandchildren: Lt. James Berry and his wife, Resa Berry; Anna Berry; John “Sam” Schlueter; Peter Alongia; John Alongia; Douglass Alongia and his wife, Rachel Alongia; Katie Abbet Choi and her husband, Ben Choi. Great grandchildren: Arthur, Charlotte, Dougie, Finn, Rivers, and Maggie. Friends: too many to name.
A memorial service will be held at Calvary Episcopal Church on 9th Street in Columbia, on Thursday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m., with visitation and lunch to follow. A private internment service, with full military honors, will be held for family at the Columbia Cemetery before the memorial service. Bill’s family requests that contributions in lieu of flowers be made to the Calvary Episcopal Church memorial fund (a wish Bill himself once expressed), to the Veteran’s Home in Mexico, Missouri, or to the Boone County Historical Society.
Arrangements are under the direction of Parker-Millard Funeral Service and Crematory; 12 East Ash St., Columbia, Missouri, 65203; (573) 449-4153. Condolences may be left online for the family at www.ParkerMillard.com.