By Kelly Urban
JENNERSTOWN, Pa. (AP)—Bill Berkey was 17 years old when he delivered his first newspaper for The Tribune-Democrat.
Fifty years later, on Dec. 31, the 67-year-old was to deliver his last edition and hang up his delivery bag for good.
“I really enjoyed doing it,” Berkey said. “I'm going to miss it when I go, but it's becoming too much.
“I'm very proud of having delivered newspapers to my friends and neighbors for 50 years.”
Berkey began his career in the summer of 1970, delivering the newspaper in the Jennerstown area, and shared the route with his brother, Tim.
“My dad wanted us to do it,” he said.
But within a year, Berkey took over the route and was doing it by himself.
For many years, he delivered both The Tribune-Democrat and The Daily American of Somerset. But for the past several years, he's been carrying just The Tribune-Democrat.
At his peak, Berkey was delivering 106 combined newspapers daily.
He said he never sets an alarm and often is waiting for the papers to be dropped off early in the morning.
“I'm up at 5 a.m.,” he said. “It used to be 2 a.m., but that became too hard for me.”
In any weather
The extensive route takes him to every corner of Jennerstown.
Because he doesn't drive, he can often be seen in the early-morning hours making his deliveries by bicycle, no matter the weather.
Berkey said he loves riding his bike for deliveries and has gone through at least 10 bicycles during his career.
“I have 21 papers now and that's down from years ago,” he said.
Berkey said he takes great pride in making sure the newspaper is delivered on time.
“I made sure every customer receives the newspaper every day, no matter what the weather,” he said.
But the job hasn't been without some mishaps.
“I was run over by a car because they were going too fast,” Berkey recalled.
The accident left him with a broken right leg and a permanent limp.
‘Always out there'
Tim Berkey said he can't say enough good things about his brother and his dedication to the job.
“To tell you the truth, it's been Bill's life,” he said. “He very rarely got anything wrong, and he's never had a bad thing to say about it.”
Tim Berkey said his brother had no backup, so he rarely missed a day delivering.
“My wife and I tried to figure out in all this time how many days Bill missed the newspaper and we don't even think it was 50 times in 50 years,” he said. “He was always out there.”
Sue Sheehan, The Tribune-Democrat's director of audience development, said Berkey's dedication has been exceptional and has been greatly appreciated.
“I remember Bill from when I first worked here back in 1988,” she said.
Sheehan added that Berkey's main concern was to always do a good job and take care of his customers.
“Bill will be missed by the staff of the circulation department,” she said, “and I am certain by the customers that he has served for all these years.”
‘Hope they remember me'
Berkey said he has encountered all sorts of animals - dogs, cats, deer, opossums and raccoons, with a few near-misses involving spraying skunks - while on his route.
He's been bitten by dogs several times resulting in stitches, and has undergone the series of shots to prevent rabies when the dogs couldn't be located.
“I really didn't like that,” he said. “It was painful.”
But his good experiences far outweighs the bad.
Berkey said his favorite time of the year to deliver the paper was during the holiday season, when the generosity of his customers was seen.
“I enjoyed and appreciated the tips, gift certificates, the cold weather gear and the food, especially the candy,” he said.
Berkey planned to tell his customers of his retirement with a letter to be attached to each paper.
“I thank all the customers for their friendliness and support over the past 50 years,” he said.
“I hope they remember me as a wonderful paper boy.”