HUGHESVILLE - When old friends tease him for having spent most of his life in Lycoming County, the Rev. Bob Berger retorts with an old Puritan saying: "They used to say that if you had more than two pastorates during your lifetime, you were a ne'er-do-well."
Berger graduated from Montgomery High School and Temple University, Philadelphia, where he lived over a funeral home on Broad Street; postage was affordable enough he sent his clothes home for washing.
He then attended Eastern Theological Seminary, taking the Pennsylvania Railroad on weekends to preach at Hughesville Baptist Church.
Upon earning his master's degree in divinity in 1954, he accepted the church's full-time position and simultaneously served at Picture Rocks Baptist Church for 21 years.
A life-threatening heart attack forced Berger to resign his pastorate in 1986. Doctors told him he should not expect to do much with whatever life he might have remaining.
When Berger recently met with the Sun-Gazette, he came from photographing flood damage in Hughesville for the East Lycoming Historical Society's archives.
He left to go home and finalize the Civil War-era program of songs for a biannual music service held at the old Immanuel Lutheran Church on Lime Bluff Road.
Doctors are sometimes wrong.
Berger serves as the archivist for the Northumberland Baptist Association, collecting and filing church histories and ephemera. Every other year, he teaches classes in Baptist history at the Church Leadership Institute of Northeastern Pennsylvania; he was a founding committee member of that institution for education of lay ministry.
The history of his denomination is a specialty. Berger earned a master's in the subject at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, attended lectures at the University of Oxford, and did doctoral work in the subject for several years at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in upstate New York, commuting every week from Hughesville.
Besides being a member of the East Lycoming, Historical Society, Berger also is a member of the Thomas T. Taber Historical Society in Williamsport and the Philadelphia, Union and Muncy historical societies. For the latter, he has contributed several articles to the journal "Then and Now," including a piece on his ancestor James Moore, the founding pastor of Pennsylvania's first Baptist church. He also is working on transcribing his grandmother's memoirs, rendered longhand in the 1950s.
His wife, Eileen, worked at Muncy Valley Hospital for 25 years and has published several novels. In the 1960s, they bought a 55-acre farm in Pine Summit.
"The weeds were so high you could hardly see the barn from the house," Berger said. Three chicken coops were exposed once they cleaned up the yard. Acting on the advice of friends, the Bergers planted Christmas trees on the property and have sold them ever since.
His foreign excursions include six trips to Israel, four of which he served as a tour guide.
Berger cannot name the time he became interested in history. He remembers that during World War II, he kept a map on the wall with pins indicating the opposing armies' changing positions. The only family influence was an aunt, he said, who served as secretary at White Deer Valley Baptist Church and maintained the church's records.
Berger has spent his life engaging with the past and present in Lycoming County.
The nice thing about this, Berger said, is you "become a part of the community in a very special way."