Donald “Don” Berggren, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and lived for 45 years in Flossmoor, IL died July 26 in Madison, WI. He was 88.
He was the only child of the late Lucille (Lundell) and Ralph Berggren and grew up on playing stick ball in the street and sending away cereal box tops for decoder rings. After graduating from Hirsch High School in 1949, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration at Monmouth College in 1953. He served in the peacetime U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956, just missing the Korean War. Not particularly suited to military life, he later had many self-deprecating and often funny stories about his training and service. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Illinois-Champaign on the G.I. Bill and described his time there as “some of the best days of my life.”
Don landed a job in banking, which became his career. He worked as a loan review officer for several Chicago banks, including the former Harris Bank, where he met his future wife, Sabina Soltysiak. His final position, which he held for 22 years, was with National Boulevard Bank, in the storied Wrigley Building, during which time he became a regular at the original Billy Goat Tavern.
He and Sabina were married April 16, 1966, and moved to Flossmoor in March 1970, where they raised two children, Andrea and Mark.
Don was profoundly shaped by all things Chicago. He knew the city well and had a rich store of memories and anecdotes about favorite bars, restaurants, theaters and movie houses he visited throughout the decades. Whether at dinner parties at home or on a stool along a bar, Don loved nothing more than tasty food, good drinks and lively conversation. He especially loved to talk about movies, a lifelong passion that began during his childhood. He was also something of a cinematic savant. Mention of even the vaguest outline of a plot or the name of one actor, and he could inevitably name the film, director and other obscure details about it, whether it was released in the 1930s or ‘80s. He loved to recommend films to friends and family and often stayed up late into the night, watching tapes or reruns of old movies. He was a big fan of TCM and his all-time favorite film was Humphrey Bogart’s “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” (See his top 10 list of movies below.)
Don attended his first opera, Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” during high school and was hooked. He and Sabina became subscribers to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the 1970s. Throughout his decades of opera attendance, Don had the chance to see some of the field’s top stars, including legendary soprano Maria Callas, and he kept a running list of the few hundred different operas he saw.
Don remained a lifelong fan of the Chicago White Sox through all the team’s highs and lows, and he often reminded his children that although they may be Cubs fans, they should “always root for Chicago.” On the day he died, the White Sox lost 14-2 against the Minnesota Twins, prompting one of his cousins to remark that “At least Don didn’t have to suffer through that.” He also kept in touch with his grammar school and high school friends throughout his life and attended several Hirsch and Monmouth reunions.
He was a devoted jazz aficionado, particularly enjoying big band, Dixieland and the wackiness of Spike Jones. He was a voracious reader and an enthusiastic New Yorker and New York Review of Books subscriber. He loved the now-defunct Chicago Daily News and was a big fan of columnist Mike Royko, whom he saw on a few occasions at Billy Goat’s. One of his favorite authors was John O’Hara and he had an impressive collection of books on film, world history and war.
In addition to his other interests, Don enjoyed travel and always lamented he didn’t do more of it. At the urging of his late friend, Ray Dunn, Don took a leave of absence from work in 1959, and they went together on a four-week sojourn across Europe, which included stops in France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. In the 1990s, he traveled with Sabina to Greece, England and France. He also had business trips to San Francisco, Arizona and Boston and vacationed nearly annually in Florida and Wisconsin with his family during the 1970s and 80s.
In 2015, Don moved to Oakwood Village University Woods, in Madison.
He is survived by his wife, Sabina (Soltysiak) of Madison; daughter, Andrea (Kyle MacMillan), of Chicago; son, Mark (Julie), of Madison; a grandson, Auden, and several first cousins.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, services to honor Don’s life will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Don’s name to Agrace Hospice (www.agrace.org), SEVA Foundation for eye care (seva.org) or PAWS Chicago (www.pawschicago.org).
Donald Berggren’s Top 10 Favorite Films
1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), John Huston.
2) All About Eve (1950), Joseph L. Mankiewicz
3) Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
4) The Blue Angel (1930), Josef von Sternberg
5) The Browning Version (1951) , Mike Figgis
6) The Voice of the Turtle (1947), Irving Rapper
7) The Night of the Hunter (1955), Charles Laughton
8) La Strada (1954), Federico Fellini
9) Rififi (1955), Jules Dassin
10) The Seventh Seal (1957), Ingmar Bergman
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