Opinion: Mourning a community giant

With great sorrow, I learned of the death of Madera business great, David L. Berry, on July 23, 2021. A contractor responsible for developing much of the land in and around Madera, many people have him to thank for their homes and the industrial plants where they are employed.


I have known about his activities to build a better community for as long as I can remember. I once played on a recreation league mushball team sponsored by Alyce Gilchrist, one of his top sales persons, at that time.


Back in 2001, my husband Fred and I hosted the National Convention of the Toy Train Operating Society at the Fresno Convention Center.


I had done some writing for Berry Construction, helping to develop brochures and other print advertising for the new luxury subdivision, Home Ranch, that he built on Madera’s westside. Through that association, I learned he had a fondness for modeling railroading and toy trains.


I made an appointment and dropped by to give him our convention registration information and invite him to be our guest at the train show.


Taking two years to organize our convention included tours of valley layouts and collections, tourist sites such as Yosemite, the Sugar Pine Railroad and the Forestiere Underground Gardens among them.


About half way through our conversation, he said he wanted to give me a check for $500 to help with expenses. I showed him pictures of the limited-edition Lionel Santa Fe car we were selling and other souvenir items for the convention.


He said it looked like we were putting on a first-class event and he better make that check for $1,000.


Fred and I were flabbergasted by his generosity. I gave him a VIP pass to the event and went on my way. We used that unexpected financial windfall to buy newspaper ads in every paper from Merced to Bakersfield, which is the territory encompassed by the hosting Cen Cal Division.


When we first offered to host the convention in Fresno the other members of the club’s board of directors, literally laughed in our faces. They said nobody would want to come to Fresno in August.


Our convention was a huge success, and to this day, has become a benchmark of excellence that all other TTOS conventions are measured.


When people tell you they had a great time at your convention, it primarily means one of two things. Either they are a collector, and found an item they have long been searching for, or it means they were a vendor who sold a lot of merchandise.


The former Tom’s Trains hobby shop in Fresno had long been a place to go in the valley to buy trains or accessories for a layout. They carried a wide variety of sizes known as gauges of toy trains, track, buildings, people, etc.


Throughout the years, when we were getting involved with the hobby, we would visit the shop and became friends with the owners Charlie and Geoffrey Worstell.


Charlie ran the shop while his brother served as an attorney for the State of California. They donated several high dollar items to be used at the convention as raffle or door prizes. We invited them to be a vendor on our sales floor and they agreed — with some trepidation. Charlie later told me he thought it would be good for marketing to attend a model train-oriented gathering, but they would be lucky to make $500 a day for the two-day show. Much to his surprise he made $1,000 by noon on Friday and had to go back for more goods. They did equally as well on Saturday, selling items that had been on their shelves for years.


After the convention, I took Uncle Dave, as I often called him in private, the heavily loaded goodie bag he would have received if he had attended.


He told me later how much he enjoyed the assorted catalogs and information about repair shops and parts outlets for his collection of toy trains.


I have lived in several Berry Construction houses, including the one where I live now. He built many homes in gated communities, which always adds to the resident’s feeling of security.


Madera’s Westside would have a very different complexion had it not been for Berry Construction.


He contributed to many worthwhile projects and bought tables at civic and charity dinners for employees and friends, even if he was not always able to attend.


I remember more than once seeing Dave and Patti coming to the opening day at the Madera Fair, holding hands and enjoying all the exhibits. He always placed bids on junior 4-H Club and FFA project animals, supporting the next generation of Madera agriculture.