She came to the U.S. at age 7 in a harrowing escape from Russia-Ukraine with her mother, grandmother and siblings.
Minnie Perrin Berson went on to become a teacher, author and educational innovator. She spent most of her life in Michigan and retired to California, finally coming to Seattle five years ago to be near her daughter, Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic.
Mrs. Berson died two days ago, April 23, at age 98, at Kline Galland Nursing Home in Seattle.
While Mrs. Berson spent most of her life a long way from Seattle, her daughter recounted her flight from Ukraine in a Seattle Times story in 1993.
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A bit of her later life first: She came a long way from the small town of Ruzhen, Ukraine, where she was born Manya Pogrebitsky. She and her family came to Detroit as refugees from the Russian civil war. She was educated in the Detroit public schools, received a B.A. from the University of Michigan as well as a Ph.D from Michigan State University. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse, promoted the standardization of early childhood education, and wrote three well-regarded books in her field. She went on to Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Education during the Lyndon B. Johnson years and helped craft the Head Start Program, and later became a professor of early childhood education at two universities.
Yet, it’s the story of that flight from Ukraine that Seattle readers might recall.
Here’s an excerpt, her recollection of the trek through the night from Ukraine toward Poland:
“I was 6, Sadie was 3 and Ilene was just a babe in arms,” my mother remembered. “My grandmother was 66, and seemed very old. I really don’t know how we did it. We took little with us. It was the dead of winter, bitter cold, and my mother arranged for a wagon to bring us across the countryside by night. We melted snow to make tea over a fire. We slept in the wagon during the day, under the straw.
“It was really harrowing at times. One night a Russian peasant let us sleep in his house, which we paid him for. We heard later that the Bolsheviks found out and burned his place down.”
Here’s a link to Misha Berson’s story.