Tom Bergeson, of East Lansing, born Thomas Mulvey Bergeson, on March 24, 1925, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Died February 2, 2013, in Evanston, Illinois. He was 87 years old.
The son of Agnes Mulvey and Donald Bergeson, Tom's young parents divorced soon after he was born and were not able to care for their child. Placed in an orphanage (at age two) run by Catholic nuns, Tom was taken out after several years and raised by his paternal grandparents - Ann Cunningham Bergeson and Donald Bergeson, Sr. - in Fargo, North Dakota. He frequently spent summers at his uncle's farm in Moorhead, Minnesota. Tom was valedictorian of his high school class at Sacred Heart Academy and received a full scholarship to St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. However, in February of his senior year in 1943, Tom took the bus to Minneapolis and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He reported for basic training in the summer of 1943 and trained as a flight engineer, tail gunner, and mechanic on the B 43 "Liberator" airplane. Stationed at various times in the southern states, he was posted to Willow Run and then Selfridge Field, both outside Detroit. World War II ended just as he received orders for the European theatre. In 1945, at a USO ball in downtown Detroit, Tom met Therese Catherine Lynett who was serving as a USO hostess.
After taking classes at the University of Michigan, Syracuse University, and the University of Detroit, Tom attained a bachelor's degree in business administration. After his separation from the service in 1946, he decided to stay in Detroit and continued to court Therese.
On October 1, 1949, Tom and Therese were married at St. Theresa Parish in Detroit. They have five children: Ann Marie Gaybrick (Robert) of Washington, D.C.; Patricia Therese of Chicago; Lynn Louise (Ingrid Hansen) of Chevy Chase, Maryland; Daniel Joseph (Diana) of Portola Valley, California; and Mary Alice Meller of Wilmette, Illinois.
Early in his career, Tom worked at various times for the Ford Motor Corporation, the Equitable Life Assurance Society, and independently in the insurance and mortgage field. He became president of the Fraser (Michigan) School Board, and served with his wife on the Archdiocese of Detroit Human Relations Commission. In 1966, he became the first Pensions and Benefits Director for the Michigan Catholic Conference in Lansing. He developed prototype health, welfare, and pension plans for lay employees of the Catholic Church, who previously had no such benefits. His plans became models that later were implemented nationwide. He also oversaw the investment of pension funds for the plans.
In the early 1970's, Tom became the Executive Director of the Michigan Catholic Conference, and held positions of responsibility as chair of the Michigan Welfare Reform Coalition, a leader of the local anti-Vietnam war movement, and an advocate for the rights of migrant workers. A lifelong advocate for civil rights, Tom worked with Rosa Parks on civil rights issues in Michigan. An advocate for respecting life at all stages, he co-chaired the successful effort to prevent the death penalty from becoming law in the state of Michigan in the 1970's. As Executive Director of the MCC, Tom strongly advocated for the Catholic schools in which he had been educated. He worked closely with the legislature on legislation that pursued the goals of justice and equality. Leaving the Conference after eighteen years, he accepted a position with the Michigan Hospital Association, and consulted for a variety of companies on pension and benefits issues. For several years, he served on the Board of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan.
An avid runner and then walker, Tom worked out at the Michigan Athletic Club almost daily until a year before his death. With an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, Tom was a daily listener of WKAR in East Lansing, as well as an avid reader, particularly of historical non-fiction. Tom was active in civic affairs for most of his adult life, and had served on the zoning board for the City of East Lansing. He touched many lives, and was known as a good neighbor who frequently was seen walking with his cocker spaniel, Annie.
In addition to his wife and children, Tom is survived by thirteen grandchildren - Joseph (Jeb), William, Andrew, and John (Jack) Gaybrick; Katherine Mary Hayes; Claire and Lilly Hansen; Samantha and John Bergeson; Jessica Meller Schirmang (Tony), Caitlin, Rachel, and Emma Meller, and two great grandchildren, Olivia and Paige Schirmang. Two former sons-in-law, Thomas Hayes and Richard Meller, also survive him.
Tom was particularly attuned to the situation of those who were poor or disadvantaged, and never forgot that he too had overcome a difficult childhood. He will be greatly missed by his family and all who knew him.
Services will be held on Saturday, February 9, at St. Mary Cathedral, 219 Seymour, Lansing, with visitation commencing at 9:30 a.m. The Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated by The Most Reverend Earl Boyea, Bishop of Lansing, at 10:30 a.m. with burial to follow at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Tom Bergeson Scholarship Fund at Lansing Catholic High School, 501 N. Marshall Street, Lansing, Michigan 48912.
The family is being served by Gorsline Runciman Funeral Homes, East Lansing. On line condolences may be made at www.greastlansing.com.