OCEAN CITY — Ocean City lost a treasure last weekend with the passing of Albert Berger, a former downtown retailer whose vast public service efforts extended to nearly every corner of the resort community.
Berger, 97, passed away last Sunday at AGH, where he was a founding member of the hospital’s fundraising arm.
For decades, Berger and his first wife, Beatrice, owned and operated the popular Syl-Mar Shop on the corner of Baltimore Ave. and Talbot Street in downtown Ocean City and he was involved in many civic organizations including some he helped originate.
For example, Berger, a U.S. Navy World War II veteran, was a founding member and past-president of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. He also founded the original Downtown Improvement Association, now known simply as the Downtown Association. He was also a long-time member of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department as well as the Ocean City Lions Club and the Beth Israel Synagogue.
The Syl-Mar Shop was named for two of his sisters, the late Sylvia Weil and the late Martha Gudelsky, whose family developed much of the West Ocean City area including Martha’s Landing, the Ocean City Fishing Center, Sunset Marina and the associated Sunset Grille and other properties. Berger was also named Ocean City’s Citizen of the Year in 1983, a reward for his vast accomplishments on behalf of the resort community.
Berger was a volunteer fireman in Ocean City for decades and his first-person account of the famed 1962 storm on the Ocean City Lifesaving Museum website features tales of heroism including rescuing people by boat who were stranded in their homes and vehicles under as much as 15 feet of water and gathering food and supplies for those stranded at the town’s only fire station on Dorchester Street.
Berger later was among the civic leaders in Ocean City and Worcester County who helped lead the push for the new Atlantic General Hospital. He was also a founding member of the AGH Foundation and hospital officials this week fondly recalled his vast contributions to the facility.
“Our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends,” said AGH Vice President of Public Relations Toni Keiser this week. “We remain indebted to Mr. Berger for his leadership, vision and generosity in support of our community hospital. On behalf of Atlantic General Hospital, we thank him, will miss him and will always remember him.”
Berger was an accomplished business man and was a founding member of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel this week recalled Berger’s early contributions to the organization and his continued support in the latter part of his life.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and countless friends,” she said. “We adored him and have always cherished his wisdom and community mindedness. He is one of the main reasons that the Chamber is the organization it is today.”
At Monday’s Ocean City Council meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan addressed Berger’s passing and recalled his many contributions to the fledgling resort.
“Mr. Berger was a long-time Ocean City resident who owned a clothing store in downtown Ocean City and was one of the pioneers in that industry on Baltimore Avenue and Talbot Street,” he said. “He was one of the founding members of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, he was the founder and organizer of the Downtown Association when it was originally called the Downtown Improvement Association and he was also Citizen of the Year in Ocean City in 1983. Mr. Berger was certainly a well-respected gentleman and business person in Ocean City and he will certainly be missed.”
State Senator and former Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias also shared fond recollections of his encounters with Berger over the years from his early days as a clothing retailer to his many accomplishments on behalf of civic organizations.
“They owned the Syl-Mar Shop and when I first moved to Ocean City, I used to buy clothes there,” he said. “He was a terrific inspiration and advocate for Ocean City in general and specifically downtown Ocean City. He was always a dear friend to Kathy and I.”
Mathias said Ocean City and all communities thrive and prosper because of individuals such as Berger and his family.
“I just hope Ocean City and our entire community continues to be blessed with men and women like Al and Bea,” he said. “It takes people like Al to continue our strong growth and prosperity in the community and we were all truly blessed to have had him in ours.”
Downtown Association Board Member Lauren Taylor shared her own memories of the popular Berger.
“He was a founding member of the Downtown Association,” she said. “His store was the heart of downtown. Everybody knew him and he was just such an important part of downtown. He used to come into the old Captain’s Table with his wife Bea almost every Friday.”
Taylor recalled one of her last encounters with Berger last fall.
“He was at the chamber dinner this year and he was such a nice gentleman,” she said. “He always had such a great spirit and enthusiasm and he directed it in so many positive ways.”
A funeral service was held on Tuesday at the Holloway Funeral Home in Salisbury. Contributions may be made in Berger’s memory to Beth Israel, 600 Camden Ave. Salisbury, Md. 21801, or to the Atlantic General Hospital Foundation, 9733 Healthway Drive, Berlin, Md. 21811.