Sports

Montclair Prepares for Private Yogi Berra Funeral Tuesday, Public Memorial Sunday

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Credits: W.L. Bill Allen, NJ Sports Action
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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MONTCLAIR, NJ - Baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra will be memorialized during a private ceremony to be held at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair on Tuesday. The ceremony will be televised on the YES network, says Berra family members.

After the news of his passing on September 22 at the age of 90, fans and neighbors began showing an outpouring of love for the baseball great. Many took to social media to share memories and photos of him through the years. 

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson said, “I am dee‎ply saddened by the loss of Mr. Berra and my heartfelt condolences go out to his wonderful family.”

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On Sunday, a public ceremony is scheduled at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center located on the campus of Montclair State University from 12 noon to 5pm.

In an official statement, his family said, “While we mourn the loss of our father, grandfather and great-grandfather, we know he is at peace with Mom. We celebrate his remarkable life, and are thankful he meant so much to so many. He will truly be missed.”

Berra, known as one of baseball’s greatest catchers and clutch hitters, 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.  

In addition to his accomplishments during his baseball career, Berra was also know for his down-to-earth persona and words of wisdom. 

Berra's son Larry once said: “Basically, he loves everybody, as long as you are trustworthy and loyal – doesn’t matter whether you’re the garbage man or the president of the United States.” Comedian and lifelong Yankees fan Billy Crystal noted: “He is cherished because he has never really changed….the most caring, honest, decent, and good-humored player and person of his generation.”

Berra was also known for his compassion for others and his unwavering leadership. Despite racial tensions in baseball across the nation, Berra treated all people with respect regardless of race, gender or class. 

When Elston Howard joined the Yankee roster in 1955 as the team’s first African-American player, Berra went out of his way to befriend his new teammate. As recently as 2013, Berra's open-minded tolerance and respect for others prompted him to become an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Born in 1925, the son of Italian immigrants, Berra came of age in “The Hill” section of St. Louis during the Great Depression. He dropped out of school in 8th grade to help his family financially. At 18 he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a machine gunner on the USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Berra often said that his military service in Word War II was more significant to him than anything he did on the baseball field. In 1949 he married his wife Carmen, the great love of his life for 65 years, and together they raised three boys, who in turn produced eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Yogi nurtured close friendships with fellow Yankee greats Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Whitey Ford while remaining first and foremost a family man, returning at the end of each day to his home in Montclair, where he was known as a kind, generous and approachable member of the community.

Much of Yogi’s personality is captured in what are fondly referred to as “Yogi-isms,” the pithy statements he delivered throughout his life that served to illustrate his unique worldview in the most memorable ways. Lines like: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over;” “If there’s a fork in the road, take it;” and “You can observe a lot by watching” made him one of the most quoted Americans in history and a trusted spokesperson for a wide array of products.

Berra's desire to share the wealth of his experience with others came through in his characteristically understated 1972 Hall of Fame induction speech: “I want to thank baseball. It has given me more than I could have ever hoped for. And I hope that when I’m through with this game, I will put something back.”

He continued to attend Yankees spring training as a trusted advisor until he was 87. Nonetheless, in 1998 he “put something back” in a concrete way by helping to create an institution that secures his legacy for generations to come: The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.

Conceived as a reflection of Yogi’s spirit and values, the YBMLC offers year-round programming and exhibits that instill lessons in the ideals that made Yogi an American treasure: perseverance, respect, teamwork, social justice and excellence. Set on the campus of Montclair State University, next to Yogi Berra Stadium, the museum provides workshops for coaches, parents and athletes; panel discussions and screenings on topical issues in sports; special events with professionals in the sports industry; and camps for student athletes on its neighboring fields.

Berra's devotion to the Museum that bears his name came directly out of his love for young people. When news reached him of a 2014 break-in and theft of his MVP plaques and World championship rings, his first response was: “Can the kids still go?” Upon hearing that they could, he added, “That’s all that matters. I don’t need a plaque. I know I was MVP."

“When you get to a fork in the road take it,” was how Mr. Berra told his friend Joe Garagiola to get to the Yankee legend’s home in Montclair.
 
The fork is located at the corner of Edgewood Road and Edgewood Terrace has been memorialized to honor the Township’s famous one-time resident with the alternate name of Yogi Berra Way. 
 
Montclair passed an ordinance in November of 2012 to add Berra’s name to Edgewood Terrace as a tribute to the local hero. The Yogi Berra Way street sign was officially unveiled at a commemorative ceremony in January, 2013.

For further information about the Yogi Berra Museum & Leaning Center, contact Kevin Peters at 973.655.2378 or visit www.yogiberramuseum.org.

 

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