in NYC, Irv Berzon lived in a number of other places including Bogota, Columbia; Caracas, Venezuela; Seattle, Washington, before settling in Columbus, OH.
“I – of course I served in the Army during World War II so for almost three years in Europe so I guess all of that adds up to where I came from,” said Irv during his 2010 interview.
His work as an engineer and Plant Manager for the Phillip Morris Company took him to all those far away places later.
“I started my engineering career, if you will, as a ship’s engineer; I worked for the U.S. Army. This was after I left the service. I went to work for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps as a Ship’s Engineer for two years. We were taking displaced persons out of Europe and taking them throughout the world.”
Irv considers himself a combination of a secular as well as a religious Jew, and has a strong sense of Jewish identity, perhaps made stronger by what he has seen and experienced everywhere outside of the US.
In Collier County since 1969 because of his wife Shirley’s health. Collier County offered him a job as a County Engineer and a Public Works Director and he stayed in that job initially for 13 years. Then he retired in 1984 and was called back to take on a special project in 1990 for what was going to be a short six to nine month period. It turned out to be another 14 years. He was involved in developing the utilities system for the County; he wrote the first land development regulations – otherwise known as subdivision regulations. He was instrumental in designing and overseeing the construction of our landfill, which was at that time a very controversial issue. But eventually it became an entity for which we actually received an award from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Irv was a known Jew in a community and within the government where at that time there was maybe one other Jewish person working.
“I felt no discrimination. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to recognize it when it was being directed at me, but actually I don’t think any of it was ever directed at me. Was I – did they like Jews? I don’t know and I don’t go around asking people do they like Jews or not. I – I can only judge by how they relate to me.”
The Jewish services were held at the Coast Federal Bank, where Berzons met about 20 Jews.
After his first wife passed away, Irv married Muriel, who had a home and children on the East Coast in the Miami area and she had been actually raised part-time in Miami.
UJA was out there to raise money for Israel but by the mid-to-late 70’s there was an effort to a Jewish Federation of Collier County, as it’s known today. Irv was Vice-President for a few years and was also the Editor of the Federation paper for a five-year period. Irv was also active in the formation of the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida.