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Marshall Berkson (COM '49)

  

A decorated teenage combat infantryman who fought in many battles across Europe; including the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. After the war he volunteered for the Army Reserves and was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant in Military Intelligence.

The Fourth of July weekend is 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 remind us of the soldiers who live with the sounds of bombs bursting as part of their daily lives. On this weekend especially, Americans take a moment to reflect in appreciation of the men and women of our armed forces who currently serve and have served throughout history.

DePaul Athletics has had a number of players who have sacrificed so Americans can enjoy our freedoms. One such athletic alumnus is Marshall Berkson (COM' 49) of Miami Beach, Fla.

At age 17, Berkson was captain of Hyde Park High School's team in Chicago, attracting the interest of DePaul Coach Ray Meyer. Berkson, for his part, was drawn to the new young head coach.

"I really wanted to play for Coach Meyer," Berkson says, "There wasn't that big of an age difference between him and us players."

Berkson quickly made friends with a teammate who would become one of the biggest names in Blue Demon athletics history. Discovering that Berkson had classes downtown with George Mikan, Meyer asked Berkson to help with Mikan's development.

"Ray asked me if I could play ping-pong," says Berkson, "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 laughs, adding that it was Mikan's competitive nature that made him special. "He was a fierce competitor," Berkson notes. "He would fight you for marbles."

 

 

GEORGE MIKAN and MARSHALL H. BERKSON were friends long after their playing days.

Here they are in Minneapolis in 1992 to attend Super Bowl XXXVI.

Berkson was poised to impact the Blue Demons on the court as well. A picture 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 short-lived. In June 1943, Berkson was inducted into the U.S. 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 when he was assigned to the Eighth Armored Division of the Third Army, headed by Gen. 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 Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and the former 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, Berkson was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.

Berkson says his crowning military achievement was his unit's liberation of Helberstadt Zweiberger, a satellite concentration camp of Buchenwald. Berkson 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.


At the conclusion of the war, Berkson was transferred to Germany where he would become part of the Army of Occupation.

Arriving home from the service, Berkson returned to DePaul University where he would complete 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, Berkson’s life would change with his decision to move to Miami. He 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 Berkson says cautioned that "the company would last a year at the most," he later sold the upstart company and initially retired at age 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 youth teams over the years." Berkson says. "One of my players was movie star Andy Garcia."

Berkson also dedicated long hours to community service in the Miami area. For more than 20 years, he was the chainman and president of the South Shore Hospital and Medical Center. As a supporter of various 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.

Despite his career of hard work, Berkson always finds 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 [Meyer] would! always take time to send me letters," Berkson says. "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 reads: "Corzine is the best recruit since Berkson."

The letter foreshadows 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 life together.


"George was a good man," says Berkson. "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 current venture into basketball is watching Miami Heat games with his significant other and his grandchildren.

His continued love for DePaul shown through as got a chance to meet former DePaul star and Heat guard Quentin Richardson. Berkson shared his stories of DePaul with Richardson at an autograph session. 

  

Blue Demon Basketball Alumni Quentin Richardson meets Marshall Berkson at 2009 Miami Heat Team Event.

With temperatures rising into the '90s across the United States, and a triple-digit heat index in the Midwest, its a good time to celebrate Marshall Berkson as a pioneer in the world of air conditioning. But after the recent celebration of our nation's independence, it is even more fitting to recognize Berkson as a man who has faithfully served his community and his country.

For that, we salute Marshall Berkson as a genuine military hero and a proud DePaul graduate.