The funeral for Loren Berry was reassuring because it was so much in keeping with the way Loren lived his life.
A large number of us gathered in the chapel at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park in Sebastopol, and at the appointed hour we were asked to rise and sing the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” There were no hymnbooks, nor were they needed, because most everyone there knew the hymn and sang it with deep feeling.
Thus we got started the way Loren would have wanted us to, focusing on God rather than Loren. He lived to be 98 and to the end was consistently strong in his faith.
We learned that Loren came with his family to Cazadero as a youngster to work alongside his father at the Cazadero Water Company. Loren ended up managing the company for 80 years. Growing up, he attended Kidd Creek School No. 2 and Analy High School. We were told that, as a freshman, though running barefoot, he beat Analy’s best sprinter.
Loren finished high school in Oakland but returned to Cazadero and, in 1941, helped his father set up Berry’s Sawmill. In World War II, he was taken into the Army to direct the building of sawmills both in Europe and the Pacific islands. During his last year of high school, he had met Beatrice Harrison, and after the war they were married, a union that lasted just two days short of 73 years.
We were asked to join in on “I’ll Fly Away,” a gentle, hopeful song featured on the recent country music series on PBS Television and recorded by Johnny Cash, among others. In those blended Cazadero voices, it sounded authentic and real.
Pastor Pete Munson of Cazadero Community Church, a tall, strong looking gentleman, wove Bible verses and his own good words into a message of hope. “Death is not the end,” he said in several ways. The calm and steady way the pastor spoke felt just right. That, too, was in keeping with what I know of Loren Berry’s steadfast and purposeful way of life,
In his deep baritone voice, Bob Harrison, Loren’s brother-in-law, brought us the George Beverly Shae song “It Is No Secret What God Can Do” and then he sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” With both, people entered in and sang along. The last song in the chapel was “It Is Well with My Soul,” another one most of the people knew by heart.
As I’ve mentioned before, I find the singing of people of faith to be moving, uplifting and encouraging. As the hymn came forth, I began to think of all the Cazadero folks I’d known over the decades: Parmeters, Canelises, Bohans, Schneiders and so many others, all of them strong solid people doing hard good work that shaped the houses, buildings and roads of our area. In my experience, they have all been fine people to deal with, to work with and to be with in one or another community endeavor. Loren Berry and his family have been a force in all of this. Our house and most of the houses around us were constructed with beams, joists, siding and decking from Berry’s Mill.
I found myself missing these folks and all those who were here in our River towns when we arrived over 50 years ago. So at Loren’s grave, when Pastor Munson bid us sing “In the sweet bye and bye/We shall meet on that beautiful shore,” I was ready to join in. I found myself feeling close to those good folks like Loren Berry who lived worthy lives among us here where the river flows its last miles to the sea.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville & Monte Rio Community Church.