Cover photo for Ethel Berman's Obituary
Ethel Berman Profile Photo
1924 Ethel 2015

Ethel Berman

May 30, 1924 — August 31, 2015

Teacher, Painter, and Woman Ahead of Her Time

Ethel Berman (nee Wargotz), formerly of Norwich, NY, died peacefully on Monday Aug. 31, 2015, with her husband of 67 years by her side. She was 91.

She is survived by her husband Harold; her two daughters, Lucy Berman-Edelman, of Milwaukee, WI, and Dr. Mary Jane Berman, of Oxford, OH; her two son-in-laws, Dr. Eric Edelman, also of Milwaukee, and Dr. Perry Gnivecki, also of Oxford; and her three grandchildren, Adam Edelman, of Queens, NY, Emma Edelman Levine, of Philadelphia, PA, and Alana Berman Gnivecki, of Boston, MA.

Ethel, who died of natural causes following a lengthy battle with heart disease, moved with husband Harold to Milwaukee in 2011 to be closer to her family. Her 55 years in Norwich, as well as her childhood and years as a young adult in New York City, however, tell a formative tale of strength, boldness, adventure and success. Ethel Wargotz was born May 30, 1924 in Manhattan, NY, to parents Louis Israel and Eva. She attended P.S. 2, an elite public school, showing at an early age a talent for drawing and color experimentation. Meanwhile, she, her mother, father and two siblings — older sister Helen and younger brother Bernard (both now deceased) — remained active in the prestigious Park Avenue Synagogue, which, at the time was led by Rabbi Milton Steinberg. Steinberg provided the young and impressionable Ethel with a wealth of spiritual influence. That richness, however, was not matched by material wealth: As the depths of the Great Depression consumed Manhattan throughout the early 1930s, the family was forced to move to The Bronx. It was during this time that her father, Louis, died tragically, compelling her mother, Eva, to go to work in a Garment District hat factory, under deplorable conditions — a situation, Ethel would later explain to her grandchildren, that taught her the meaning of hard work and perseverance.

Ethel, still just a child, continued on in public school, but spent every moment of her free time caring for her younger brother. She went on to graduate from James Monroe High School, in The Bronx, in 1942, having spent her summers throughout working in a women’s dress store to help support her struggling family. Exiting school during the height of World War II, Ethel took various jobs in the defense industry, working at one time for a prominent boiler and equipment firm, and at another time, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. From there, she moved on to the Free French Mission in the U.S., located in Manhattan. Taking great pride in the organization’s goal of supplying the French Freedom fighters with arms and supplies, Ethel studiously acquired an excellent command of the French language and experienced the honor of shaking the hand of General Charles de Gaulle during one of his U.S. visits. Throughout all of these demanding jobs, however, Ethel attended night school at the City College of New York. It was here, at the school’s campus in Harlem, that Ethel met her future husband, Harold Berman. The two fell into a whirlwind romance that produced, in short order, a merry engagement (summer 1947) and a lovely wedding (Dec. 1947).

Now “Mr. and Mrs. Harold Berman,” the newlyweds took off for Champaign, Ill., where the couple lived briefly, as Harold completed his Master of Science degree in Chemistry. Their return to New York City, in the late 1940s, was followed by a flurry of good events: Ethel’s graduation from City College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education (1950), the birth of her two daughters (1950, 1954) and a lucrative job offer for her husband from Norwich Pharmaceuticals, the creator of Pepto-Bismol, in 1956. The offer propelled the young family to move into, what was for them, uncharted territory: Upstate New York. Taking off for Norwich -- then, as now, a town of fewer than 10,000 residents -- was a gamble for a young Jewish family of Eastern-European descent. But Ethel, emboldened by the idea of wanting to provide a good life for her kin, met the challenge. As her husband and young daughters settled into life in Norwich, Ethel, too, found her way, teaching in a variety of capacities in different Chenango County public school classrooms. Bouncing from teaching French to special education, to first graders and high schoolers, Ethel developed both a docility for changing circumstances and a passion for teaching -- qualities she kept throughout her adult life.

Years later, when her eldest daughter had left for college and her youngest daughter was in high school, Ethel earned a Master of Science degree in Special Education from Syracuse University, in nearby Syracuse, NY, attending classes at night and on the weekends. All the while, she continued teaching in Chenango County public schools, eventually narrowing her focus on only special education.

Being in Norwich also provided Ethel the opportunity to bond with nature and animals -- a desire she first acquired decades earlier, while at a summer camp for girls outside New York City.

Ethel frequently enjoyed long walks with her husband -- and years later, her three grandchildren, and at various points, her dogs -- through a nearby meadow, as well as leisurely weekends at Bowman Lake State Park.

Her humble, but brilliant, teaching career concluded in 1977, when Ethel retired so she could devote more time to two other passions: Painting and traveling. Ethel, who had initially cultivated an interest in art as a child, began modestly, with a mix of oil, acrylic and watercolor paints. She soon, however, developed a true talent for painting, doing so most often in a unique style influenced in many works by French impressionism. Over the years, Ethel exhibited her distinct paintings at dozens of juried art shows in the broader central upstate New York area, frequently taking home a multitude of prizes. Ethel, however, resisted all calls from family to sell her work, choosing instead to bequeath them to close friends and relatives.

Meanwhile, she and her husband traveled vociferously, renting a recreational vehicle on several occasions for cross-country road trips to a bevy of U.S. National Parks west of the Mississippi River. Ethel’s lust for travel, though, knew no borders, and she and her husband set off on more than a dozen trips across the globe, including treks to Australia, Kenya, China, Brazil and Israel. In all, the dedicated duo set foot in every continent except Antarctica.

But Ethel’s hobbies in retirement weren’t limited only to worldly pursuits; she also spent much time giving back to the local Norwich community she loved so dearly. From 1977 until her departure for Wisconsin in 2011, Ethel remained active in an array of organizations that touched on many of her lifelong interests, such as animals, Judaism and teaching. At various times, Ethel volunteered at the Chenango SPCA and the Norwich Jewish Center, did community work with the New York chapter of Hadassah, an international Jewish women’s group, and NYSARC, a New York-state non-profit serving people with developmental disabilities, and counseled women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

By 2010, however, Ethel had grown frail, and in 2011 she moved with her husband to Milwaukee to be closer to their daughters, who both reside in the Midwest. In her final years she was cared for not only by her loving family, but by her devoted and doting caretakers Lorraine, Linda, Shannon, Bessie, Dawn and Helleca -- who each provided her comfort, peace and respect until her last breath.

Funeral services for Ethel will be held at 1:00 pm on Friday, September 4, 2015 at the Norwich Jewish Center. Burial will be in Mt. Hope Cemetery. There will be no calling hours.

Donations in Ethel Berman’s memory can be made to the American Heart Association.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Ethel Berman, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

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