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February 15, 2005 > Berge-Perry Family

Berge-Perry Family

by Phil Holmes with collaboration of Linda Mitynes

Thomas Jerome Berge lived in New York State with two brothers and three sisters until his parents, Alexander and Elizabeth Baches Berge, brought the family to Mission San Jose in California over a hundred years ago. The original mission church had fallen down in the 1868 earthquake and been replaced by a much smaller wooden church next to the surviving adobe mission building. The Berge family was able to move into a small house behind the mission on Dominican property. Tom bought the Ehrman store property in 1907 and operated the store and post office with Joseph Rogers for about three years in Mission San Jose. Their 1908 Christmas ad stated that the shop was "prepared to furnish everything needed for Christmas by the young and old."

Tom was a salesman for a cigar company when he met Wilhelmina Perry who lived with her parents, Mary and Manuel V. Perry, on a farm on the present Olive Avenue. Manuel Perry had purchased his 100-acre farm from winemaker Juan Gallegos. The two-story Manuel Perry house was designed by architect Harry Minton, Juan Gallegos' son-in-law. Tom and Wilhelmina were married in Mission San Jose in July of 1911 and were married 54 years before Tom died in 1965.

Tom worked as a buyer for Packard Automotive Equipment in Hayward until 1913 when he opened the Berge Mortuary in Irvington. The Berge Mortuary was located on the remodeled ground level of the DeCosta Apartment Building in the center of town, where the roads to Mission San Jose and San Jose came together. Tom and Wilhelmina Berges purchased vineyard property from Edwin A. Grau on Washington Boulevard where the Methodist Church is now located and established their estate. Tom added onto the existing small house and built garages for his fleet of funeral cars and a small house for Wilhelmina's mother, Mrs. Mary Leah Perry.

Wes Hammond recalls that Tom used four 1930's Packard autos for his business. He also provided ambulance services and served as the county coroner for several years. The new Berge-Pappas mortuary opened on Fremont Boulevard in 1965, the year Tom died. Lois Smith purchased the mortuary business from Tom Pappas in 1976 and it has been operated by the Smith family since then.

Wilhelmina Perry attended Irvington Elementary School, Washington High School and Notre Dame High School in San Jose where she majored in music and art. Her schooling was interrupted when she fell in love with Thomas Berge. She taught music for many years after her marriage. Wilhelmina was a charter member of the Washington Township Business and Professional Women's Club and an active worker in St. Joseph's Parish.

Tom and Wilhelmina had two daughters, Carmelita and Eleanor. Carmelita attended nearby St. Mary's of the Palms and graduated from Notre Dame in San Jose and Holy Names in Oakland. She taught at Irvington Elementary School and later married Edwin Freitas who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Their daughter Maxine now lives in Calistoga.

Eleanor attended St. Mary's in San Jose and graduated from San Jose State University. She taught at Campbell Elementary School before moving to Santa Barbara where she met her husband Glenn Trent. The Trents moved to Fremont where Eleanor taught at Norris and Glenmoor Schools. Glenn operated Trent Photography in Irvington for many years. They built a home on Mill Creek Road in the late 70's where Eleanor lived until her death January 7, 2005. The Carmel Apartments on Adams Avenue were named after Carmelita and Eleanor.

The expanded home of Wilhelmina's parents, Manuel and Mary Leal Perry, survives today on Olive Avenue, and the original two story portion can still be recognized. This home has traditionally been opened annually for a holiday boutique in past years.

Wilhelmina Perry Berge and her daughter, Carmelita Freitas, wrote two histories in the 1970's. They envisioned writing a history for each of the five districts that united to form Fremont, and completed histories for Irvington and Mission San Jose.

Background Note:
Mother Pia Marie Backes (1852 - 1925) was one was one of the founders of the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of the Queen of the Holy Rosary located at Mission San Jose. She helped establish the motherhouse and novitiate in 1891 on 26 acres of land behind the mission which once belonged to the Berge family. Mother Pia was a great aunt of Thomas Berge and allowed his family to live in a house on the sisters' property.

Several family members were buried in a cemetery directly behind the rear wall of the wooden church. When the adobe church was reconstructed beginning in 1982, it covered part of the old cemetery that included the Berge family platform from the wooden church days. The family plots are now at the front of the Communion rail of the historic St. Joseph Mission Church. The reconstructed Mission San Jose church was dedicated June 11, 1985.

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