PORTAGE – Most people don’t have to wait 94 years to experience their best Christmas ever.
That’s what Wes Berrier, 94, of Portage, dubbed this year’s holiday.
On Christmas Eve, Berrier, of Portage, was blessed by friends he has never met, who sent him wrapped packages, money, and gifts — some all the way from California.
After Berrier’s wife, Frances, died in June 2012 after a long bout with cancer, he found himself with bills and a two-bedroom apartment he couldn’t afford.
In September 2013, Jennifer Kerr, of Westville, and her friends organized to help Berrier, then 92, move to a smaller apartment. The women also gave Berrier a new bed, bed sheets and towels, and several months of living expenses, and they hosted a “Thanking Wes,” party to honor the World War II veteran’s service.
Since then, Kerr hadn’t kept in touch with Berrier, but he had recently been on her mind.
“There was a week when I thought of him every day,” said Kerr. “I thought there’s a reason why I keep thinking about him.”
Through a friend who knows Berrier, Kerr learned he was once again experiencing some challenges.
Berrier had no phone and no television service, a worn-down winter coat, and often went without heat to save on energy bills. His 1994 Toyota Corolla had bald tires, no heat, broken windshield wipers, and worn shocks and struts.
Berrier uses his car to visit his disabled son each morning to “get him going,” and for trips to the grocery store, the Bonner Senior Center, and the Veterans Administration clinic in Crown Point, Kerr said.
Kerr put out a plea for help on Facebook and received an “overwhelming” response.
“Things that came in were incredible, from people I’ve never met before,” Kerr said.
On Christmas Eve, Kerr and her mother, Vicki Kerr, brought Berrier the gifts, which included food, a new winter coat, scarves, gloves, flannel pajamas, sweaters, and a new comforter and bed sheets.
Weeks before, Kerr’s father, Roger, and friends from Risch Construction, of Griffith, gave Berrier’s car “a complete makeover” with new windshield wipers, shocks and struts, heating system and tires.
Children from Three Oaks Elementary School in Michigan also sent Berrier Christmas cards, which he read to Kerr and her mother when they visited.
“That just may have been the best part of his day,” said Kerr. “He was just so happy ... He was kissing the cards and kept saying ‘I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank everyone.’”
Kerr said Berrier learned how to tough it out growing up during the Depression and was “just plugging along and doing things for himself.”
“He thought he was just kind of forgotten for a long time. He was just a little down in the dumps,” Kerr said. “I think this restored his faith in people. I can’t imagine being 94 years old and having nobody.”
Berrier is a “character,” full of interesting life stories, Kerr said.
“He had a very hard life, yet he was always willing to help other people,” Kerr said. “He keeps saying ‘I don’t understand why you want to help me, you don’t know me.’
“It’s nice to be able to give back to someone without them asking for help,” Kerr said.
Kerr plans to keep in touch with Berrier and hopes to get his television fixed and a cellphone.
Although Kerr said Berrier had a bad chest cold on Christmas Eve, he said he wasn’t going to let “a few sniffles” get him down because he now has “some mighty nice friends.”
“I’m going to enjoy one of my best Christmases ever,” Berrier said.