WORTHINGTON — If you’re searching for a can-do, glass-half-full type of gal, look no further than Julia Berger.
The 73-year-old Worthington resident, who moved here from the Lake Wilson area as a teenager with her parents decades ago, admits she is a “pretty optimistic” person.
“I tend to look at the good side of everything,” she smiled.
That positive attitude has stuck with Berger throughout her life. The adaptable mother of three children (Jeffrey of Worthington, Joan of Sioux Falls, S.D., and James of Aurora, Colo.) entered the workplace after her youngest started school.
“I worked at Sather’s in Round Lake for six years, then at Kmart in Worthington for 27 years,” she said.
“I drove to and from Sioux Falls to work at a Kmart there for four years, and then I was at the Wells Fargo Bank here for six years.”
Berger capped her primary employment record as a part-time paraprofessional within District 518; she officially retired in 2007.
But retirement for Berger doesn’t mean inactivity; she has made it a habit to spend time supporting causes and organizations in which she believes, and most of them happen to be centered within a short distance of her home.
For instance, Berger regularly gives of herself at her church, First Lutheran.
“I’ve been a member there since 1960,” she said. “I was on the worship and music committee for 15 years until recently; I thought it was about time for me to get off,” Berger chuckled.
Whether serving as a lector or a kitchen worker for post-funeral gatherings, Berger is always willing to lend a hand with, as she phrases it, “all the things it takes to keep the church going.”
Another beneficiary of Berger’s time and interest lies a few blocks northwest of her church.
“I’m on the Sanford Hospital Auxiliary,” mentioned Berger. “I work in the gift shop — oh, maybe one day a month or more often depending on my schedule — and I knit baby hats for the newborns at the hospital.”
In past years, pink and blue were the traditional choices for knitters of baby hats, but Berger has changed it up a bit.
“I went to the greens and yellows some time ago,” she said. “And I like to put flowers on the little girl hats — they’re all different, really.”
Proceeds from sales in the auxiliary’s gift shop, which is conveniently located in the hospital’s main lobby, are returned to the hospital for extras that contribute to its comfort and attractiveness.
“People come into the shop looking for gifts for friends or loved ones who are hospitalized,” she said, adding that anyone is welcome to shop there.
“We have baby presents and seasonal items; it’s a nice place to find anniversary or birthday gifts, with a variety of things offered.”
About two blocks from the hospital sits Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center (MAPAC). That’s another organization to which Berger donates a significant portion of her time and talents.
“Just over six years ago I joined the Friends of the Auditorium board,” said Berger.
When FOTA decided to operate a concession stand to accommodate guests attending the auditorium’s numerous events, Berger knew she’d found a task that was well within her wheelhouse.
“I helped coordinate it, and I buy the product for the concession stand and help maintain it,” she said.
She and other FOTA members felt having available concessions would contribute to the overall event experience at the site.
“When people come to shows, they like having the option of getting something to eat,” said Berger.
“We always have candy, popcorn, water, iced tea and pop on hand, and all the profits from concession sales go right back into bringing future acts to the auditorium.”
Berger also appreciates that the MAPAC concession stand plays a role in rewarding local students and senior volunteers.
“When the middle school kids get their Renaissance awards [for academic achievement], they get a slip to attend a movie for free and receive complimentary concession items.
“And the ACE volunteers got the same thing as a thank-you for their service.”
But the ACE volunteers aren’t the only ones who deserve thanks; MAPAC’s managing director, Tammy Makram, gives Berger much credit for her dedication to the facility.
“Julia puts in an incredible amount of volunteer time at Memorial Auditorium, and she is a great asset to the FOTA board as well,” endorsed Makram.
Although Berger says her personal taste leans toward country music, she isn’t particularly partial to one type of MAPAC event over another.
“I enjoy all the arts,” Berger confirmed, noting that she and her entire family are musically inclined.
“I love the Worthington High School musicals, piano and dance recitals, professional performances, you name it.”
Mostly, Berger wishes an even broader swath of the area’s population would discover the magic that lies within the doors of the circa-1931, city-maintained facility.
“When entertainers come, they are amazed at what a wonderful venue it is,” attested Berger. “The sound is good, the stage is great, and I’m always surprised at how many people walk in and say, ‘Man, this is nice.’
“I wish even more people would attend movies or events at MAPAC and take advantage of this facility, because whenever they do come here, they enjoy themselves and compliment the shows — and that makes us feel like people are getting something out of it.”
Berger urges anyone and everyone to offer their input about the types of performers, shows or movies they’d like to see at MAPAC. They may contact her, other board members or Makram.
“If you have suggestions, we want to hear them,” affirmed Berger. “We want to program things so that all the people in town want to come on in.”
It isn’t only local organizations that consume Berger’s time and attention; with eight grandchildren (four boys and four girls), one great-grandson and a second great-grandchild due to arrive in the spring of 2020, Berger’s family keeps her on the go, too.
“I also do embroidery and crochet, and I make dish towels as wedding gifts,” she revealed. “And with a new great-grandbaby coming, I’ll be making a quilt for the baby’s bed.”
Whether at church, the hospital, the auditorium or at home, Berger has found plenty to do in the years since retiring from paid employment.
“Get involved in something you like to do because it keeps you active and keeps you going,” advised Berger.
“Sometimes we kind of think, ‘I’m retired now, I shouldn’t have to do anything,’ but if you find something you enjoy doing, it’s not hard — it’s easy.”