MONTCLAIR, NJ - The life of Yogi Berra, was remembered in a private ceremony held at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair on Tuesday.
Born Lawrence Peter Berra, in 1925 to Italian immigrants, 'Yogi' came of age in “The Hill” section of St. Louis during the Great Depression. After dropping out of school in the 8th grade to help support his family, he later joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and served as a machine gunner on the USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Berra is known as one of baseball’s greatest catchers and clutch hitters. Throughout his 40-year career, he was a 15-time All-Star, winner of 10 world championships (the most in baseball history), and a 3-time Most Valuable Player award winner (1951, 1954 & 1955). In 1972 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1999 was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Although his service to baseball was a notable achievement, Berra was equally proud of his service to the United States during WWII.
Dozens of Naval officers lined the streets to honor Berra's life and service to this nation. They stood along South Fullerton Ave. outside of Immaculate Conception Church as family and guests arrived until the ceremony concluded.
In 1949 Berra married his wife Carmen, and together raised three boys Dale, Larry and Tim, who in turn produced eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
For over 40 years, the Berra family chose Montclair as their home. Berra was known as a kind, generous and approachable member of the community.
After the news of his passing at the age of 90 on September 22, scores of fans and loved ones demonstrated their outpouring of support for the Berra family with tributes on social media, flowers and cards. Across the street from the church, dozens of spectators respectfully gathered to remember the legend that touched so many lives.
Berra's son Dale opened the ceremony with some humorous points, that mirrored his dad's fun-loving spirit. His humorous anecdotes about his dad transtitioned into a loving tribute. Dale then said that God called his father home to join his team in Heaven. He paraphrased what he though God might have said about his dad, "I need this guy to join my team, he can certainly help me in a clutch situation."
Dale moved from quips and subtle jokes about his dad's legacy to reverence of all his dad had done in this lifetime. He closed adding that Berra's passing was also two days before the birthday of Berra's wife of 65 years, Carmen. "My dad was called up two days before my mom's birthday." Dale explained that symbolized to him they are together again in Heaven.
It was Berra's spirit and integrity that elevated him from baseball legend to beloved national icon.
Notable figures such as former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani and baseball legend Reggie Jackson attended the ceremony.
TAPinto Montclair caught up with Jackson who said, "Yogi Berra was an icon when I was a baby boy."
Jackson recalled meeting Berra for the first time and said that he was honored to have known and worked with him. "He just came into my life."
"When I got to meet him when he was a coach for the Yankees, we also played against him." He then recalled working with Berra and being proud to be part of the Yankee family.
Jackson named Berra among Yankee greats. "Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, DiMaggio," he listed. "It was a wonderful experience. It really really was. Something I'll never forget. I'm proud to be part of that family," said Jackson.
Ruth Perretti, owner of Ruthie's in Montclair, was in attendance. Perretti, a former Vice President of Polo, was a longtime Berra family friend, having grown up near the original Berra family home on Stonebridge Rd. in Montclair.
She shared fond memories of meeting Berra and described how kind he always was to her. "Yogi and Carmen were very close friends with my family." Perretti added, "When I was a little girl, I remember riding my bike to their home and you can knock on the door and they would give you a bottle of Yoo Hoo."
She said that when her parents had parties, the Berra's would attend. "He was very charming, kind and gentle, just how you would imagine him to be."
Perretti said that she wanted to attend the funeral to pay her respect to a man who gave so much kindness to her family and to others. "It was his warmth and genuineness that I would want people to remember. He was approachable and just a regular guy." She recalled her fond childhood memories of Berra. "He brought me to baseball games," she reflected.
She added that Berra had taken her to work with him a few times and she was overjoyed at the oppotunity. "I had an opportunity to sit behind the dugout and go into the manager's office and he would ask me my opinion about what I thought about baseball. I was a little girl who didn't know much about baseball, but he was being kind and he wanted me to feel comfortable."
Perretti said that she will always remember Berra with fondness and for the kindness he showed to her and others.
Father Tim Dolan and longtime pal Joe Torre spoke of Berra's life of unwavering integrity and humility. Dolan also compared Berra to Pope Francis saying that they both came from the same town in Italy. He named what he observed to be as several similarities, including wisdom. Dolan expressed, "Where we're from and what we do is hardly as important. We are God's children."
Dolan closed by saying that the eternal life that Berra worked toward is never ending. "That life ain't ever over," he said.
A public memorial will be held at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on Sunday from 12 noon to 5 p.m.
You can watch the Yogi Berra Funeral Service HERE