DANBURY, Conn. (AP) – On his 15th birthday in 1936, Fred Bering got a note from his father.

“If you should ever find yourself in a position where you have more than you need for yourself, think of those who are less fortunate,” the note said in part.

The Bering family lived in Stuttgart, Germany. At the time of his birthday, Adolph Hitler had been in power in Germany for three years.

The Berings were Jews, and they could clearly see what was ahead.

“It was very obvious they were going to do away with us,” Bering said. Just before his 17th birthday, Fred Bering got out of Germany alive, going from Germany to France, and then to live with an uncle in Queens.

He never saw his father again. But recently, Bering – who lives in Meadow Ridge, a continuing care retirement community in Redding – found his father’s note in his files.

The words reverberated with him.

“This letter confirmed the way we were brought up,” he said.

To live by the dictum of that brief handwritten note, Bering has given $2 million to Danbury Hospital. The money will establish the Fred and Irmi Bering Chair for Laparoscopic Surgery at Danbury Hospital, the fourth such endowed chair in the hospital’s history.

Dr. Laura Choi, medical director of the hospital’s Center for Weight Loss Surgery, will be the first person to take the seat.

“It absolutely is an honor,” Choi said Tuesday. “It’s an incredibly special opportunity, and it really shows something about Danbury Hospital and the support we receive here as physicians.”

Bering said he’s happy to make the gift – his largest, albeit not his first – to the hospital.

“I have a love affair with Danbury Hospital,” he said. “I’ve never had a bad experience there or seen a sour face. New York hospitals, they may have great doctors, but the care you get there, forget about it.”

Bering and his late wife, Irmi, lived in the area for many years, owning a home on Candlewood Lake as well as a New York City apartment.

By 1980, they’d moved to the lake full time. After Irmi died in 2005, Bering decided to move to Redding. Along the way, he found the note. He acknowledges his father may have written the advice knowing what the future held for him.

“My father was a very intelligent, very politically astute man,” Bering said. “I think he knew what would happen.”

The endowed chair at the hospital is also a way for Bering to honor his wife. The two escaped Germany within weeks of each other but didn’t meet until 1948, on a tennis court.

By then Bering had become an American citizen. Serving with the 10th Mount Division of the U.S. Army, which specialized in skiing and snow-shoeing during World War II, he was sworn in en masse with other skiing soldiers in the town of Leadville, Colo.

Fred and Irmi married in 1951. They ran Nursery Plastics, a New York company they founded and ran profitably until they sold it in 1971.

“I came to this country with $9 in my pocket,” he said. “Through hard work and opportunity, I made enough money to share it with people.”

His apartment in Meadow Ridge is another tribute to Irmi, full of the art and native craftwork they collected together on their many trips to Asia, Africa and South America.

“Sometimes you don’t have a full appreciation of what a wonderful wife you had until she’s no longer here,” he said. “Everyone who ever met her would tell you what a wonderful, original person she was.”

Dr. Pierre Saldinger, chairman of surgery at Danbury Hospital, said the Bering endowment will allow Choi some desperately needed time to stay abreast of the latest developments in surgical techniques.

Surgery is moving from minimally invasive to minimally-minimally invasive, he said, which means ever smaller instruments and more specialized training.

“It may mean that Dr. Choi can go to two or three conferences a year instead of one. It means she can do research,” Saldinger said. “When you have a highly talented physician like Dr. Choi is, you want her to stay in Danbury. These funds allow her to pursue these things.”

AP-ES-04-05-08 1506EDT


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