Bob Coffin, Betty Coffin, and Tony Berg at a Kildeer Player’s show in the 1960’s

Tony’s legacy lives large in Long Grove. Born in 1918 in Des Moines, Iowa and weighing in at a whopping 13 pounds, Tony would eventually reach an adult height of 6 feet 5 inches. He was the first employee of the Village of Long Grove, and togther with his wife Gwen, seemingly took on leadership roles in most every civic and community group in the Village (Church, School, Historical Society, Fire Department, Library, etc.). He recently passed away at age 102, and kindly left part of his estate to the Long Grove Historical Society.   In 1994, he penned an autobiography – here are a few stories of his life, paraphrased from that work…


“Dutch” – I had trouble with Algebra in the ninth grade, and eventually worked with a tutor, a Mrs. Stevens, who lived on Bell Avenue, a block from the school. The man who lived across the street from Mrs. Stevens was a radio announcer who broadcast the Cubs games by teletype. Sometimes I would see him working in his yard and would occasionally say hello to him. His name was “Dutch” Reagan and would eventually go into national politics.

“Depression Impact” – After completing the first semester of my senior year in January of 1936, the school board announced that because of the depression, extreme cold, and lack of funds to buy coal, the school would be closed for six weeks. To help pass the time, I worked for my father’s construction business. After experiencing the difference of work life vs. school life, I decided not to return to school.

“Tug of War” – I volunteered to serve in World War II in April of 1941, when a good friend was drafted, as we thought we’d serve together. On the second or third day of processing, I was separated from the group and assigned KP duty for a couple of days. Turns out there were some upcoming athletic games vs. the navy, and my assignment delayed so I could be in the tug of war (at 6’5″, no doubt Tony kinda stood out). So much for staying together with my friend. On my first day of KP, the mess sergeant pointed to me and said “Open up some of these windows. It’s too damn hot in here.” It was a new mess hall and the windows were painted shut. In banging on them trying to loosen them up I broke a window. With a great deal of apprehension I went in to the kitchen and told the sergeant I had broken a window. His response was “When I tell you to open the damn window I don’t care how you open it just get the damn thing open” and walked off.

“Patton” – One day while we were in Trabia, we were informed General Patton was going to inspect us. He gave a rousing speech, gave out a few medals and then inspected the ranks. He stopped in front of me, looked me up and down, asked my name, how tall I was, and my home town, then moved on. His parting words to the battalion were “just keep on killing those sons-of-bitches”.

“Bombed” – A few days after coming ashore during D-Day, we stopped in a wooded area and had just finished digging foxholes when three ME-109’s strafed us. I didn’t make it to my foxhole so lay as flat as possible. I turned my head enough to see them coming right over me at tree top level, their twenty millimeter guns hitting about every twenty feet and exploding. The last one dropped what I thought was a five hundred pound bomb and it was going to land awfully close. I put my face in the dirt and my arms along side of my head and there was a kind of “bong” noise. I looked over that way and there lay an auxiliary gas tank. It had bounced on top of two of my buddies who, luckily, only sustained cuts and bruises. They were the only casualties and later both were given Purple Hearts. I’m sure they were the only soldiers in World War II who were hit bya falling gas tank.

“Black Leather” – South of Munster, Germany, I saw many dead SS troops, dressed in black leather lying in a field. In a small town, the infantry went house to house checking the occupants. Suddenly sniper fire from one house erupted and two infantry men were hit. They stormed the house and came out with two Germans in civilian clothes. They made them take off their shirts. Sure enough, both had SS tattoo serial numbers. They were lined up and shot.

“Road Kill” – As we rolled through the small towns only very young and very old people were visible. The first thing we would do in a town was have the civilians bring their guns, cameras, and binoculars outside. The soldiers picked what they wanted. The rest was dumped in the streets and run over with tanks. One old man came to me one day carrying a shotgun wrapped in newspaper. It was absolutely gorgeous, a beautiful stock with ducks and pheasants carved on it. The barrel was etched with scrollwork. He did not want it destroyed. He would give it to me. I told him to take it home and hide it.

“Long Gove” – In the mid-1950’s Gwen and I decided to seek our fortunes elsewhere and I started working construction in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was a subdivision called Windsor Heights where Kimball Hill was building a house. Kimball Hill’s masonry superintendent was an elderly little Irishman named Denny Walsh. He spoke extremely fast and with his Irish brogue was difficult to understand. They worked differently than what I was accustomed to and union rules were strictly obeyed.  Houses cost twice as much in Chicago compared to Des Moines, so we decided to rent. I saw an ad for a one bedroom summer cottage on a twenty acre estate in Long Grove with tennis court and swimming pool privileges, owned by Leslie and Katharine Schauffler. It was a beautiful country setting but nothing fancy. After some discussion, Mrs. Schauffler said she had only one more question – what was my opinion on the Army-McCarthy Hearings then heavily the topic on radio and television. I told her I was very much opposed to the tactics of Senator McCarthy. She told me that was the answer she hoped I would give. I was then told a nephew of Aldai Stevenson was also interested in renting the cottage and they would make a decision and call me the next evening. Lo and behold they called and said we could move in June 1.

“Church and School” – In September after our move, our son Steve started first grade at Kildeer Countryside School. His teacher was Mrs. Gosswiller. We soon discovered that Long Grove centered around the school and the church, so on Sunday we got all dressed up and went to church. We were greeted very warmly and afterward Hal and Rosie Wilder invited us to their home for coffee. We attended church regularly and quickly made many friends.

“Making the List” – One day I was asked to contact Mr. Frank Ferry, a member of our church. I went to his home on Oakwood Road. He informed me that he had been given some land on Route 83 as a wedding present, and he had subdivided it into four lots. He had made up a list of four families he would like to see live permanently in Long Grove and Gwen and I were on the list. We bought a three acre lot from him. The other families who were on the list were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hurley, Mr. and Mrs. Robert McNitt, and Mr. and Mrs. David McCartney.