Fred Berry went West as a young man, and the move turned out pretty well.
Actually, a little better than pretty well, both for Berry and Wichita.
Berry, 88, has maintained what he modestly calls “a high level of community involvement for over 50 years,” chairing the United Way, Chamber of Commerce and other key organizations during that time.
He is the recipient of the 2017 Russ Meyer Community Leadership Award.
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That Berry should be the first winner of the award named for his friend and fellow community leader seems appropriate. Just last month, the two signed their names to a newspaper commentary urging state leaders not to raid money intended for children’s programs to fix the state’s budget deficit.
Berry grew up in St. Louis, graduated from the University of Illinois and then served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1954.
He worked as assistant sales manager in his father’s business, Berry Tractor & Equipment Co., from 1954 to 1957, marrying Suzanne Nicholl in 1955.
After his father’s business sold, Berry wanted to start his own business selling construction equipment, so he wrote letters to several equipment manufacturers looking for a franchise opportunity.
International Harvester responded, suggesting he look at its franchise in Wichita, whose owner, Sam Denny, had died with nobody to take over the business.
Fred and his brother Paul relocated here in 1957 and bought the Sam Denny Road Machinery with their father’s help. They renamed it Berry Tractor & Equipment Co.
The Berrys expanded their operations over the years. In 1962, they acquired White Star Machinery Co., which had been founded in 1910. Today the Berry Cos. are made up of Berry Tractor, a heavy construction dealership whose flagship brand is Komatsu; several Bobcat skid-steer dealerships; Berry Material Handling, a dealer for Yale forklifts and other equipment, formed in 1967; and SB Manufacturing, which makes construction brooms, started in 2002.
The company also operates in Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas, with more than 500 employees and 30 locations.
Fred Berry is chairman emeritus and his son Walter Berry is chairman and president. Three third-generation members of the family work in the company, which is two-thirds owned by the Berry family and one-third employee owned.
“We want our company to be known as a responsible corporate citizen, a reliable partner with our customers, a caring place of employment with career development and ownership opportunities,” Fred Berry said. “We want to make a Christian statement in the marketplace.”
Berry takes pride in the company’s reputation for reliability and expertise, giving credit to its many long-term employees. He encourages them to become involved in the community and sets an example of that himself.
Berry first became active in the 1960s, joining the boards of Wesley Medical Center, the Institute of Logopedics (now known as Heartspring), the United Way and Chamber of Commerce. He eventually chaired each of them.
In 1996, he was honored as the Uncommon Citizen by the Chamber of Commerce. His son Walter recently served as chamber president, the same role Fred filled in 1982.
Fred Berry, now partially retired, continues to serve on boards and committees at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Wichita State University, the Wichita Community Foundation and Doc’s Friends, the B-29 restoration project.
Fred and Suzanne Berry have four children, 17 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
“We have now called Wichita home for 60 years and feel blessed to be here,” Berry said.