OCEAN CITY — More than 400 people celebrated last Saturday the life, accomplishments and contributions of Dr. Leonard Berger, who was bestowed with the 2012 Hal Glick Distinguished Service Award during a gala event.
Berger was presented his award by award and gala namesake Glick to cap off an evening of tributes, personal recollections and at times emotional stories. Glick was the first honoree of the award in 2010. Last year, Seacrets owner Leighton Moore earned the recognition.
“It’s absolutely an honor and a privilege to follow Hal Glick and Leighton Moore with this award. It’s wonderful to have so many friends here tonight,” Berger said. “We all share this wonderful dream, this wonderful community of Ocean City. It’s all about tourism and having guests from all over the country and having them return year after year. I’m thrilled to be here and I thank you all.”
Berger came to Ocean City in 1983, purchasing the then-Sheraton (and now Clarion) and launched a tremendous hospitality career that includes dozens of state and local awards for his business acumen and his philanthropic soul.
Berger matriculated in the Baltimore City public school system before obtaining his undergraduate degree at Franklin & Marshall College. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. After college, he served in the military and was a medical officer at the Fort Gordon Army Hospital in Augusta, Ga.
From 1962-1983, Berger practiced family medicine in Baltimore and was a leading member of the industry until his retirement.
Upon his retirement, his business career truly blossomed and along with the Clarion he also locally became owner and president of Marigot Beach Limited Partnership in Ocean City as well as the Gateway Resort Hotel/Ocean Club and LPB Condo Management. He also owns several car dealerships elsewhere in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as an athletic club and nursing homes.
While his proprietary interests are impressive, throughout the evening many friends and colleagues recalled how he had the foresight to found Caltec Cablevision, which eventually became Comcast. He is the chair of the Comcast Cablevision of Maryland Limited Partnership.
“Who would have ever thought you would have to pay for cable television?” long-time friend and college roommate Mort Rapoport said. “Well, Lenny did and now we know it, and he had the foresight to start Caltec, which later turned into the Comcast that we all know.”
Although his professional accomplishments are tremendous, it was Berger’s humanitarian side that received the most praise during Saturday’s gala. Berger’s generosity extends far and wide and he is a frequent donor to Temple Bat Yam, Peninsula Regional Medical Center and Atlantic General Hospital, beneficiaries of the event, as well as numerous others, including Worcester Preparatory School, where he recently donated the money to build a science and technology center, which has been named after him and his wife, Kari.
The most emotional moment of the gala celebration of Berger came from Moore, who has enjoyed a long relationship with Berger that he treasures.
“While we have heard about the generosity of Dr. Berger, and it’s immense and we all know it, but it extends like tentacles of an octopus,” said Moore.
Moore documented how he and Berger first met when Moore owned the Gateway Motel on the ocean at 49th Street in the late 1980s. Moore said the Gateway held a significant importance in Berger’s life since his family had stayed there often growing up, and Berger approached Moore about buying it. The transaction took place on a “handshake deal and because of that the deal was done,” according to Moore, who said he will never forget Berger’s integrity throughout that process.
“I had something that Dr. Berger wanted. It all came down to price. It was quick. I set a price and he said ‘okay.’ He said I could take anything out of it that had intrinsic value to my family because we started it. I really appreciated and instantly fell in love with Dr. Berger at that point,” Moore said.
At the settlement table, Moore said there was a hiccup in the form of a non-compete clause. Moore said it was initially five years but Berger acquiesced and it was settled at one year.
“He had agreed to cut it from five to one and he knew I was going to compete against him across the street. I opened up the first year and because of overspending I ran out of money. … The bank was going to take Seacrets, no questions, no doubt. I had been underneath buildings all winter, putting foundations under buildings in Montego Bay to try and get enough money together. Well, I came up short. I had worked hard and somebody was watching. Somebody who paid too much at the time to me because of his love of the Ocean Club and Gateway. So I came to Dr. Berger and he said, ‘I know.’ He didn’t even make me ask. He said, ‘you are short $60,000, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘yes’ and he offered the check. Without Dr. Berger, I would have never given anything because I would be broke. That’s why I won last year’s award and that’s what he is. Dr. Berger is more like a dad than my dad and I love him. Thank you, Lenny.”
Glick Gala Co-Chair Jeff Thaler, who called Berger a “mentor”, specifically recognized Berger’s contribution to Temple Bat Yam, including donating the funds for the sanctuary in memory of his late parents.
“Lenny has been a quiet, essential supporter of our congregation. On behalf of the entire congregation, we thank you for your contributions,” Thaler said.
Worcester Preparatory School Headmaster Dr. Barry Tull said Berger stepped in at a time that the school needed more instructional space. He said a short conversation took place between himself, Berger and Board of Trustees Chair Buddy Jenkins that eventually led to ground being broken and the school’s technology capability exceeding any of his expectations.
“The Berger academic and technology center is a dream come true for us. It was simply made possible by Dr. Berger reaching out to meet a need in our community,” said Tull, who also shared a story how Berger provided the turkey for a staff holiday appreciation celebration and was on hand to carve the bird himself. “Dr. Berger has been hands-on at our school and a positive force for education throughout our region, and we are thrilled and delighted to call him a friend of Worcester Prep.”
There were more than a dozen other speakers at the event honoring Berger with proclamations and commendations, including Mayor Rick Meehan, Worcester County Commissioner Louise Gulyas, Congressman Andy Harris, State Delegates Norm Conway and Mike McDermott, a representative from Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger’s office, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, his former college roommate, Dr. Mort Rapaport and Emcee Richard Sher.
Meehan presented Berger a key to the city as well as a proclamation and called him a driving force behind the town’s convention center.
“What I can tell you is Dr. Berger is a great member of the Ocean City community. Lenny is a go-to guy. He is one of those individuals who if you have something you need that will benefit Ocean City he’s one of the first you think of,” Meehan said. “He is a true leader and people follow him. Because of him, we are a better community. One of the best examples was the convention center. … Dr. Berger helped us gain the support we needed from the state and others, and I can tell you we would not have the convention center we have today and we wouldn’t be expanding it again today if it hadn’t been for Dr. Berger.”
Before issuing a citation to the honoree, McDermott said Berger represents what is best about this country.
“Tonight we celebrate prosperity. Because if you don’t have prosperity, you cannot be philanthropic. You cannot give if you do not have. This room is full of people who give because they have. That’s what makes this city great, it’s what makes this state great,” McDermott said. “What makes this man great is his ability to reflect on the needs of the community and to address those needs through prosperity. It’s something we should all be proud of and something we should celebrate and something we need to adhere to as a country so that we can have people, like this man, who are philanthropic in their lives. We have this man, Dr. Berger, as an example of what is right about America. I thank you sir for a lifetime of a job well done.”
Prior to the evening’s speakers, Co-chair Warren Rosenfeld began the evening explaining how the Glick award gala came about.
“What we wanted to do was reward generous philanthropy as outstanding community servants. We really wanted to honor those individuals who have showed a lifetime of generous philanthropy and outstanding community service,” said Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld said the event raised approximately $103,000 this year, the most in its three-year history. The benefiting organizations, Atlantic General Hospital, Peninsula Regional Medical Center and Temple Bat Yam, will be receiving a combined total of more than $70,000. Over its three-year history, Rosenfeld reported the event has generated about $160,000 for charity.