Morris Frederick BurgerDecember 18th, 2020
Morris Frederick Burger, 85, passed away on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Mr. Burger was a true visionary whose efforts as the second-generation leader of Burgers' Smokehouse led to a diversified business strategy that continues to have a profound influence on the company today. Morris was first diagnosed with cancer in May 2013. After enduring rigorous treatment, by December 2014, the disease was in remission. It was truly a miracle. Morris was fortunate to be free of cancer for over five years before its return early this year. He loved life and was just courageous enough to not give up but finally he succumbed to Stage 4 pancreatic cancer at his home in California, Mo. I am Morris's wife Dolores. He loved me unconditionally. I think that's the greatest honor a husband can bestow upon his wife. I wrote this unusual obituary from notes and many conversations we had. He wanted to critique this but decided he would rather I was by his side the last days so he said, "Please make it sound like me, but I know you won't because you always have to be grammatically correct!" This is written in first person because that was Morris's wishes. Since Morris hesitated to include many of his accomplishments and awards, I have inserted using italic print in various places throughout the story. My life began on May 2, 1935. At that time, most rural children were born at home, but since Mother had complications when my sister was born, it was determined that I should make my small appearance into the world at Bothwell Hospital in Sedalia, Mo. I was baptized July 7, 1935, and confirmed April 10, 1949, at the Evangelical and Reformed Church in California. This is now the California United Church of Christ. I was raised in a Christian home, and church and Sunday School was one word in our family. I am blessed to have a loving church family. Morris served on the church consistory, taught a young adult Sunday class and took several turns as Sunday School Superintendent. My parents, Edwin Morris (E.M.) Burger (1902-1972) and Natalia Elizabeth Bueker Burger (1904-1993) lived in the rural Red Brush Community, nine miles southwest of California, and that's where I grew up with my older sister Mary and younger sister Jane. We were raised on a farm with no electricity, running water or indoor toilet. Some people would call us poor and perhaps we were, but we didn't know it, because we didn't have rich neighbors to compare ourselves to. Mother and Daddy loved me and were good to me. Mother taught me that cleanliness was next to godliness and Father stressed that hard work was what it took to achieve one's goals in life. I remember working at a young age with my dad on our farm and at my Grandpa Bueker's farm. In fact, when the preacher came for dinner one Sunday and saw me driving the tractor on the bluff overlooking the Moreau Creek bottom, he got so nervous he didn't stay to visit. He probably went home to pray! Our family was very close to my maternal grandparent,s Fred and Minnie Oesterly Bueker. I was blessed to have wonderful parents and grandparents and Aunt Anna Margaret Bueker was like a second mother to me. I attended elementary at Red Brush one-room school for seven years and then transferred to California High School. Although I was an academic achiever at Red Brush, my high school "smarts" record was anything but impressive. Morris served as president of the FFA chapter and received State Farmer in 1953. He played basketball and ran track for the CHS Pintos. Upon graduation in 1953, I intended to work on the farms, however, my Aunt Lena Bueker Bieri thought I should go to college. Give it a try, flunk out and come back home, I thought. Enrolling at the University of Missouri turned out to be a very smart move. I was treasurer and house manager of Alpha Gamma Sigma. The fraternity certainly improved my sorely-lacking social skills. Now it was popular to be smart so I studied hard to help AGS achieve top academic awards. I have stayed in touch with many fraternity brothers and I am blessed to call them my good friends. Morris was also a member of honorary fraternities in the fields of Leadership, Scholarship, Engineering and Military. As an alumnus Morris worked tirelessly for his alma mater serving on boards and committees too numerous to mention. Recognitions from CAFNR (College of Agriculture) include Citation of Merit (1996), Alumnus of the Year (2014), and Mumford Distinguished Service Award (2015). In 2014, he received the prestigious Missouri Alumni Award. In 2003, he was Executive-in-Residence Guest Lecturer. Morris and Dolores have created a CAFNR scholarship for a Moniteau County student that is to be activated soon. The second good decision was taking four years of ROTC. In 1957, I graduated with a degree in Agriculture Engineering and as 2nd Lieutenant in the United Sates Army. At the time our country was involved in the Korean Conflict. After completing officer's training at Fort Sill, Okla. the summer of 1957, I was sent to Germany to command a field artillery division. While there, I received top security clearance to attend Special Weapons School to learn how to assemble atomic bombs. My stay in Germany was noteworthy for three reasons, I traveled through Europe with a California friend Duane Sterling, also stationed in Germany and I visited through an interpreter with Bueker relatives living in Germany. Most importantly, the Army, more than the university or any other pursuit, prepared me for the leadership role I was to assume in the family business. When I returned home, I extended my army career by entering the Army Reserves as commanding officer of a unit in Tipton. I retired as Captain of the United States Army in September 1964. Upon my return home in 1959, I was surrounded by a loving family and a great evening meal. The next morning, I put on an apron and went to work at the Ham House. That's what family members called the one-room building erected in 1952, on my Grandpa Bueker's farm; and with the 1956 addition, this housed the entire work place for the family business upon my arrival home. Family businesses begin small. I credit my father for being a textbook entrepreneur. Few people have the ability and tenacity to start a business. It's by trial and error. My dad tried a number of ventures that didn't turn out well, but to him, they weren't failures. When they didn't work out, he was on to the next adventure. Country ham seemed more promising. He had sold his first hams as a young man in 1927, so he had a lot of experience with cured meat. His wife, Natalia was a good helpmate. First generation family members farmed during the day and worked at the Ham House at night. If it were not for the hardworking first generation, there would be no Burgers' Smokehouse today. I worked side by side with Dad until his death in 1972, and with Mother until her death in 1993. We never had a cross word. It was now time for me to contemplate my future. I was ready to get married and settle down. Research disclosed that Dolores Harlan was still single. My third big decision was to propose to Dolores. Lo and behold, she said yes! We were married on September 10, 1960, at the First Baptist Church. Our children are Steven and his wife Laura with sons Grant (Bailey) and Luke; Philip and his wife Susan with sons Aaron (Allison), Adam (Kelci), and Allan; Sara Rohrbach and her husband Ted with sons Seth, Alden (fiancé Abbie Bilyeu) and Clark. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful family. My children have been a huge help to me and Dolores during my last months on earth and I can't thank them enough. I am a workaholic. I neglected Dolores and children. They turned out well thanks to Dolores. I am truly sorry that I thought about work more than family and that early on, I was away more than at home. But to my credit, I was trying to build a company that would include them and perhaps their children someday. I hope you will forgive me. Dolores says she has, but I'm not sure about that. Before we married, Dolores and I discussed babies and where to go to church, but as a recall, I didn't tell her of my political persuasion. I'm a life-long conservative republican. Dolores is more liberal but somehow we have worked that one out by not talking about it. Morris served as president of the local Republican Club and as a delegate attended President Ronald Reagan's inauguration. Other community involvement includes: California Jaycees, California Country Club and Aurora Alumni Association. Morris was named 1997 California Citizen of Year. He was a life member of Wood Place Library and Moniteau County Historical Society. He and Dolores were instrumental in bringing back "Heck the Horse" to the Moniteau County Cultural Center. He served as president of California Progress, Inc. and the R-1 School Board. I did make time for golf and truly enjoyed the camaraderie with my golfing buddies. Skiing was a yearly event with the family for many years. Some of my fondest memories are "Walks in the Woods" with my eight grandsons. Dolores and I have traveled in the states and in many other countries. I enjoyed my time on the Central Missouri Commerce Bank Board and serving as president of Capital Region Medical Center Foundation. My most unique experience was when I spent a month volunteering through the United States Agency for International Development to provide meat processing expertise to the people of Turkmenistan. My stay there made me appreciate, more than ever, my home and the freedoms we have in the USA. When I left, I was greatly touched that the workers cried and clung to the car as we drove away. There are good people everywhere trapped in countries that don't provide the freedom to advance and prosper. Over the years, the company has received many awards. One person cannot achieve this without the help of many others. I share these awards with supportive family members, loyal customers, reliable suppliers, knowledgeable consultants and dedicated fellow workers. Over the years, I had the privilege to work with good people and do what I loved to do. In a family business, it's not easy to satisfy everyone for one reason or another. I think what is best for company in the long run is usually best for family, so I tried to maintain that philosophy. In 2000, I retired at age 65 to enjoy some time traveling with Dolores and to make room for the next generation. Generation three has exceeded my expectations. I am very proud of them. Five members of the fourth generation have joined the company, so it looks like we will continue as a family-owned and operated business. Morris was co-founder of the National Country Ham Association and served as its president. On behalf of the company, he accepted awards into the Cured Meat Hall of Fame and became a member of the National Meat Hall of Fame in 2019. As this is being written, I am survived by my children and grandchildren. Still living are also my sister, Mary Keil with her family; sister, Jane and cousin Michael Bieri (Kris) with his family, all of California; and two cousins ,Alta Smith of Columbia and Robert (Bob) Burger of Jamestown. My work partner and brother-in-law, Robert (Bob) Keil is deceased as well as my great-nephew, Joshua Fletcher. These memories have been shared with you as it's almost time for me to join them. Doctors have told me my days are numbered. I am not afraid. I am grateful for life's blessings. I will tell you as my dad told me shortly before he died, "My buggy's in the shed." Morris was fun loving, witty and would always share his stories with anyone that would listen. He liked people and enjoyed life. He was a blessing to his family, friends and those who knew him. In a school essay his grandson Aaron wrote that he never heard his grandpa say anything bad about anyone. This compliment came with a huge responsibility that Morris took very sincerely. Memorials are suggested to the E. M. Burger Foundation. This charitable entity was set up as a memorial to the company's founder to benefit the community of California and the surrounding area. Donations may be sent to Burgers' Smokehouse, 32819 Highway 87 South, California, Missouri 65018. Family members will not be present at the public viewing on Saturday, December 19, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. Celebration of Life Service for Morris Burger will be at 2:00 p.m. on December 20, with the Rev. Russell Cobb officiating, followed by private burial at the Evangelical Cemetery in California. The public viewing and Celebration of Life will be held at the United Church of Christ with social distancing and masks required. Arrangements are under the direction of Windmill Ridge Funeral Services. Condolences can be given at WWW.windmillridgefuneralservice.com.