Cheryl and her husband. Tom Berg, started Berg Construction Inc. in 1988. Tom grew up in Mukwonago, and according to Cheryl, he always had sort of an entrepreneurial spirit. Cheryl maintained the back office of the small firm when it started.
“We were young, but Tom had vision. The city of Mukwonago and the community members here were always a priority to him,” she said. “He was a strongly independent person and whether you liked him or not, his word was his word, and that always went a long way in this community.”
In 2003, Tom was killed when the helicopter he was flying crashed into a field in northern Illinois. Berg’s 12-year-old daughter, Chelsey Berg, and another Berg Construction employee, Michael Siegler, also were killed in the accident.
Cheryl later took over as president and sole owner of Berg Construction Inc., and she embarked on a mission to commemorate her husband and his love for the Mukwonago community.
“That morning, Tom and one of his operators were going to fly to Kansas to pick up a semi-trailer they had purchased for the company,” Cheryl said. “It was not unusual for our children to be involved in the everyday aspects of our business. They grew up here in the office right a long with us.”
Chelsea was enrolled in an invention camp in Big Bend. Chelsea hated the camp, and Tom convinced Cheryl it would be OK to let Chelsea skip camp that day and go with her dad.
Tom, Chelsea and Siegler left at 7:30 a.m. Their helicopter crashed nose-first an hour later in a field in Colletta, Ill.
“We’ll never know exactly what happened,” Cheryl said. “It took a while to accept, but for me and my other children, it was better for us not to dwell on the ‘how.’ We needed to let go of that thought in order to move forward.”
Because of the Great Recession, Berg Construction has downsized from 25 full-time employees at the time of the accident to less than 10 today, but the company is still surviving, Cheryl said.
“Many people asked me why I didn’t just sell the business after Tom died. But what they don’t realize was that it was my life too. I was beside him from the beginning, through good times and the bad, and even though the recession has forced us to scale back a little, we’re still surviving, which says a lot in this economy.”
Cheryl has two other children, Michael, 29, and Ashley, 23. Chelsea would have been 18 in October.
“My daughter was really an old soul,” Cheryl said. “She interacted extremely well with adults and with animals. When she was 10 years old, she asked for a job at the Linden Grove nursing home where my father-in-law was staying.”
Linden Grove couldn’t give her a job, but Chelsea came on a regular basis and visited with the residents there. She earned the nickname “little angel,” and even before she died, the faculty and staff wanted to name the facilities rehabilitation garden after her.
“I have to tell people that, they didn’t name the garden after her because she died, they named it after her because she lived and was the ‘little angel’ for the residents there,” Cheryl said. “Even though she couldn’t understand why they would want to do that, after the accident we put a lot of effort into establishing that garden because it represented such a big part of her life and she enjoyed it so much.”
Cheryl had a bronze statue of Chelsea made. It resides in Chelsea’s Garden at the Linden Grove skilled nursing facility in Mukwonago.
After the accident, Cheryl said she relied heavily on family and friends to survive.
“Even though I had the help of wonderful friends and family in my life, I felt as if I needed a survival tool. I needed something to keep me busy or I felt like I would just give up,” she said.
During his life, Tom was very big on rehabbing existing buildings and repurposing them for other uses in the community, Cheryl said. And a lot of small things kept happening that convinced Cheryl that the city of Mukwonago needed a Community Center.
“It became more and more apparent to me that this community needed a resource center to fill specific voids in the services of the community,” she said. “I began working with a small group of individuals from the community to help establish the Tom Berg Community Center. So I could stay busy, but also because it represented how much Tom cared about this community and honored the things he has done.”
Cheryl started that process shortly after the accident and put up the first substantial sum of money to finance the project in memory of Tom. Citizen’s Bank in Mukwonago was another early donor that came on board before there were any real plans, Cheryl said.
In 2008, the plans for the center adapted and grew into plans to develop the Mukwonago YMCA.
Cheryl serves as president of the organization’s board of directors.
The proposed plan is to develop a $12.7 million facility near the Wal-Mart Supercenter near Interstate 43 and Highway 83 in Mukwonago. The Mukwonago YMCA will serve the communities of Big Bend, Eagle, East Troy, Genesee, Mukwonago, Muskego, North Prairie, Vernon, Waterford and Wales. It would include a recreational pool, a lap-lane pool, a gymnasium, a group cycling studio, a fitness area, an indoor walking/jogging track and a senior center for residents.
So far, $8.4 million has been raised for the construction of the YMCA, and the board of directors has a goal of raising the additional $1.8 million by the end of the year in order to receive funds in the form of a challenge grant from the Waukesha YMCA. The facility is being designed by Kahler Slater Architects of Milwaukee.
“This is going to happen. This community needs this,” Cheryl said. “It started out as a way for me to honor Tom, but it has grown into something so much more than that. It became about the community the community he served and what he lived for. It became about a way to provide this community with the resources they need.”
For more information on the proposed Mukwonago YMCA or to donate visit www.mukwonagoymca.org.