In this day and age where we’re more connected than ever via social media, texting, Skype, email and a variety of other electronic outlets, we seem to become less personally connected and the face-to-face interaction is more uncommon, yet more precious than ever. While relationships through a computer screen come easy, long-term, in-person relationships suffer. We’re a more transient society, as well. People don’t seem to stay in the same place for long, whether it is for a job or in a home. That’s what makes the story of Bert so special.
This past week I got a couple of messages about David Burgwald of Munster, also known as “Bert.” It seems there are a lot of people in Lansing who knew and loved Bert, a 35-year employee of the Lansing Post Office. Bert passed away on Aug. 15 following a brief, but courageous fight with cancer.
I didn’t know Bert, but it is apparent from the flood of compliments about him that he was someone who made a big impact on residents on a daily basis. I talked to people on his route, to his friends and co-workers and to his wife and he just sounds like one of those pleasant people that you come across that are always smiling and friendly and bring joy to those around them. I was told that some affectionately called him “Rain Man” because of his incredible memory for addresses and names. There’s a consensus among those I spoke to that he never said a bad word about anyone, never complained, always looked on the bright side and was always friendly. How could you not fall in love with someone like that?
Joe LaBella, who has a State Farm Insurance Agency on Ridge Road, was on Bert’s route for the past dozen or so years. However, he first met Bert in the early 1980s when he spent a summer in college working at the post office.
“He never had a bad word to say about anyone. Everyone in the office just loves him. He brightened up the day,” said LaBella. “He knew all my family because my kids have worked in the office. He loved to talk about sports and family. He was just a nice man who will be missed immensely.”
Kevin Shepard was the carrier who took over for Bert when he switched routes. Bert trained him and also trained his dad over 30 years ago.
“Everyone out there loved him. To this day I still get 15 questions a day about Bert,” he said. “Filling his shoes is something else. I’m still trying to convince people to like me. It was like taking the job from George from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Everyone knew him. It’s been a good experience and I had really big shoes to fill.”
Tony Reh was a co-worker and friend who golfed in a league with Bert and they’d have breakfast together on Saturday mornings.
“I can tell you he was not only a great co-worker to work with all these years, but he was a good personal friend and a good golfing buddy,” he said. “He was a man of great knowledge and a man that’s really going to be missed.”
Another co-worker, Jamie Parks, said they both had kids who were cross country runners.
“We got to learn a lot about each other and shared stories about our families. I worked with him for 20 years and he had a great attitude about everything and was a tireless worker,” he said. “I never heard him complain about anything.”
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Mark Castillo, a 28-year letter carrier worked with Bert and said he was the one everyone went to with a question because they always knew he’d have the answer.
“He knew almost all the names in Lansing. He was a hard worker. On his days off, he would often work and he’d sometimes go to another office to work,” he said. “He worked hard to put his kids through school. He said he wanted to work six more years until his youngest went through college.”
Gayle Reinsma’s home in Lansing was on Bert’s route for many years and she said he was “truly the best mailman ever who knew us all by name and said hello to us by name.”
Her in-laws, Rey and Jackie Reinsma, were also on his route for about 25 years. “There was never an unfriendly greeting,” they said. “Always a cheery greeting. We should have many more people of that type for a better world.”
Debbie Haak knew Bert as her mailman for about 16 years and she witnessed an act of kindness she said she will never forget.
“He was always so very polite and a true gentleman. I always knew this about him and it was confirmed one winter day when there was a lot of snow on the ground. I saw an aging man trying to catch up to Bert to give him a letter to deliver. When Bert heard his calls, he turned and hurried back to the man. Bert graciously took the letter form him, talked to him briefly and then held out his arm for the man to take hold of. Bert then carefully walked the man back to his home.”
Jackie Martin, who was another customer on Bert’s route said that for many of the kids he was the only mailman they ever knew.
“He was the kind of person your kids could go to if they got scared or needed help. He touched so many lives in our village that I don’t think he even knew,” she said. “The children of Schultz Park and local business owners adored the man.”
And according to his wife, he was just as kind and gentle at home.
“We were the loves of each other’s lives,” she said. They were married 27 years and had four sons. He grew up in Thornton. The couple lived in Lansing for five years before moving to Munster.
“He was a wonderful father and attended all the kids’ events. He coached their basketball teams,” she said “He was genuine. Up to the end, he was the picture of grace and so thankful to everyone that helped him. Even at his sickest he never complained.”