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'My Life in Print'

  • SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS R. Thomas Berner, Tamaqua native and former Penn State journalism professor, has completed his memoirs in a 94-page, fully-illustrated book, 'My Life in Print.'
    SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS R. Thomas Berner, Tamaqua native and former Penn State journalism professor, has completed his memoirs in a 94-page, fully-illustrated book, 'My Life in Print.'
Published October 05. 2011 05:01PM

Highlights of a lifetime in journalism and a career in education are examined in a new 94-page memoir by R. Thomas Berner of Bellefonte.

The Tamaqua native, former professor of journalism and American studies at Penn State University, self-published the book through his Coal Cracker Press. The full-color work is presented in an easy-to-read, almost scrapbook-style format, providing warm, personal remembrances of growing up in Tamaqua and his early introduction to journalism, including a stint as sportswriter for the Tamaqua Evening Courier.

Berner tells the story using a variety of means, including a few passages written by others, newspaper clippings of career highlights, pre-published articles, early photographs, original artwork and other documentation.

Individual chapters provide an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at situations and circumstances that laid the groundwork for Berner's education, military service and eventual employment.

For example, 'The Accidental Professor,' is a chapter written by former student Sally A. Heffentreyer. The work first appeared in the June, 2003, edition of State College Magazine.

"It's a pretty good summary of my life and so it functions as a good introduction," states Berner, a 1961 graduate of Tamaqua Area Joint Senior High School.

Berner had worked on an undergraduate degree in English literature at Penn State Hazleton, and transferred to University Park as a sophomore. There, he began full-time work for the Pennsylvania Mirror, a publication in its infancy. Upon completion of his degree in 1971, he enrolled in a master's degree program in journalism in what was then the School of Journalism in the College of the Liberal Arts. While he worked on his master's degree, he worked full-time at the Centre Daily Times.

His master's thesis - Death of a Small-Town Daily - was written on subject of The Tamaqua Evening Courier.

It was a busy time for Berner as he and his first wife, Karen (Tressler) Berner, were raising two daughters, Tracey and Amy, during those years.

He finished his master's degree in 1974 when a faculty member "quit in the middle of the year, which is out of season. I was encouraged to apply by a member of the faculty," says Berner. "Probably more in an act of desperation than anything else, the university hired me."

Berner's work vicariously chronicles advances in journalism through the years, from typewriter to computer, and from film photography to digital.

He fondly recalls his first Brownie Hawkeye camera and taking photos of Tamaqua's swollen Little Schuylkill River during Hurricane Diane.

Also discussed is Berner's thoughts about his parents' divorce and how it impacted his life.

The book also recounts the Anthracite League in Centre County, a group of residents with coal region roots. "At our best we had about 40 people on the mailing list and we usually had a 75 percent turnout. We met in one of the rooms in the Hotel State College," Berner recalls.

Among other chapters, many with local flavor, are: Naming Rights, My Grandfather's Slides, Penbrook, Postcards from my Father: A World War II Story, Still Creek, The Dam, Travels with Sally, Tamaqua, Bethany, and many others.

He also discusses married life, daughters Tracey Snook and Amy Specter, his own divorce, and the loss of his first wife.

Berner candidly mentions the days when he served on the staff of the Centre Daily Times, eventually working as an editor and earning the nickname Nervous Ned. Another chapter outlines his experiences teaching in China.

"This memoir was created for my daughters and grandchildren, and I count all others who take the time to read it as great friends - or relatives," states Berner.

The book is available through a print-on-demand system and can be obtained at A copy soon will be available at the Tamaqua Public Library.

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