BAR HARBOR — Dr. Stephen D. Berger, husband, father, grandfather, amateur thespian, choral singer, sociology professor, book collector, scholar of social change movements and inveterate punster, died in his sleep Oct. 14, 2015, while vacationing in West Yarmouth, Mass. He was 74 and lived in Bar Harbor.
Dr. Berger was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City. He graduated from Bronx Science High School at the age of 16 and graduated from City College in New York City in 1961, where he studied with Dr. Kenneth Clark. Social psychologists Clark and his wife, Mamie Phillips Clark, performed extensive research in the 1940s and 1950s on the effects of segregation on African American children. This research was specifically cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision striking down segregation in public schools.
Dr. Berger earned his doctorate in sociology from Harvard University in 1970. He taught at the University of Rochester, N.Y., Stony Brook University, N.Y., and Franconia College in Franconia, N.H. While at Franconia, he co-founded a program for social workers to gain bachelor’s degrees while studying part time. This continuing education program was one of the first in the country to give credits for prior work experience. This program, and Dr. Berger, moved twice, once to New Hampshire College in Manchester, N.H., where he became the director of graduate programs for the School of Human Services, and then to Springfield College, based in Springfield, MA, but with satellite campuses in several New England states. He taught, and was site director for several years, at the Manchester, N.H., campus.
He married his first wife, Kora Sieber, in 1961, and fathered two children with her, Michael and René Berger. Dr. Berger and Ms. Sieber divorced in 1979. He later met and in 1980, married Nancy Avila. While living in Wilton N.H., he and Ms. Avila co-parented her three sons from her first marriage, John, Joel and Kyle Avila, and his two sons from his first marriage, Michael and René.
Dr. Berger loved to scour used book stores for scholarly tomes, not based on their collectible value but whether they would help him teach. His free-ranging curiosity led to a library of more than 29,000 volumes, which he used to educate himself, his sons, and his students.
After retiring, he and Ms. Avila lived in Stratham, N.H., before moving to Bar Harbor. In Bar Harbor, they both joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ellsworth. Dr. Berger sang in the Bagaduce Chorale and the Acadia Chorale Society, and performed in several community theater productions, including the starring role of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Dr. Berger is survived by his wife, Nancy Avila; his brother, Michael Berger, of Atlanta, Ga.; his sons, John Avila and his wife, Lyn Gatz of Bar Harbor; Michael Berger and his wife, Emily Strainchamps of Roslindale, Mass.; Joel Avila and his wife, Christine Smith of Bar Harbor; René Berger and his wife, Ali Taylor, of Nairobi, Kenya; Kyle Avila and his wife, Lelania Avila, of Northeast Harbor; and his grandchildren, Nathaniel Taylor, Rosazel Avila, Max Strainchamps, Caera Strainchamps, Haji Avila, Lucian Avila-Gatz and Ryan Avila.
A memorial service will be held in Bar Harbor on Nov. 27, 2015. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, 119 Bucksport Rd, Ellsworth, ME 04605, or the UU Church of Ellsworth, 121 Bucksport Rd., Ellsworth, ME 04605.