The John Deere blanket covering the lower half of his casket might have given you an idea how much Raymond Berger loved tractors.
If not, the numerous photos that played during a slideshow at Berger’s funeral that showed Berger on a tractor, playing on a John Deere checkerboard or holding a birthday cake decorated with a photo of himself on a tractor might have clued you in.
But what would have really given it away was Berger’s 1952 Model A tractor hauling a farm wagon with his casket from Oltmann Funeral Home in downtown Union to St. John’s Mantels Cemetery north of town. It was one of eight John Deere tractors Berger owned when he died at 80 on March 13.
“If there’s a farm up in heaven, and if there’s a tractor up there, I’m sure the lord has given him that assignment,” his daughter, Margie Berger, a youth pastor, said while leading his March 18 service.
Raymond Berger spent most of his life on his family’s Century Berger Farm, which raises cattle and grows hay, corn and wheat. He also worked for Ford Motor Company as a line inspector for 30 years before retiring in 1996. He served in the Army from 1959 to 1962.
“He was just a real hard-working man,” Kendall Berger, one of Raymond Berger’s three sons who are now fourth-generation farmers, told The Missourian at the service.
Raymond Berger’s last wish to his family was to have the tractor carry him to his gravesite, even if it was raining. The rain came down, but Berger’s children and grandchildren climbed on hay bales on the trailer for the ride.
“He said, you’ll be able to do it, just get it done,” said Kendall Berger, Raymond’s youngest son. “He’s going to be at peace. Everything I’ve told him I’m going to do, I’ve done.”
After the 45-minute service, pallbearers placed Raymond Berger’s casket on the wagon and family members climbed on. Kendall Berger drove the tractor through downtown and out to the cemetery. A sheriff’s escort and a procession of vehicles accompanied them.
Being able to honor the wish is a dream come true for the family.
“For years, he’s talked about it,” said Raymond Berger’s sister, Susan Herbst.
Berger took part in tractor pulling for 30 years. He came out of retirement in 2017 to win first place at the Franklin County FFA Alumni Pull. Another late in life highlight was when he took part in the county Honor Flight’s trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans in October 2018.
Kendall Berger looked forward to carrying on the family farming tradition.
“It’s in my blood, I grew up with it,” said Kendall Berger, one of several men at the funeral wearing blue jean overalls. “He’ll be looking down on me making sure I do things right.”