By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Karen Tucker recalls the moment with intricate details, unwavering pride and eternal gratitude.
About 80 years ago, her uncle, Floyd Lewis, along with her father “Pop” and the Lewis clan, relocated from Beacon to Newburgh. Here, they met a Harvey J. Burger Jr., at an event that was to serve as an unforgettable catalyst for special, transformative lifelong relationships. Floyd, then 10 and Burger 11, could constantly be spotted around the City of Newburgh, near each other’s side, a bond that was to only strengthen over the years. “Pop” was also a staple in that triad friendship, cemented by common interests, priorities on education and hard work as well as devotion to family and community betterment.
“Harvey became a staple in the Lewis family; everyone knew how special his relationships were with my father and uncle,” recalled Tucker. “They did so much together: family things, work, and community service; they were family.”
And so it was only fitting that Floyd, now age 90, was one of several people to offer words of reflection and extreme admiration and gratitude for his friend of eight decades, at Wednesday’s, “A Celebration of Life for Harvey J. Burger Jr.,” held at Ebenezer Baptist Church. In addition to several speakers, the well-attended, uplifting, moving service, celebrating Harvey’s lasting legacy, included; an Opening Hymn of Moving Grace, Scripture readings by Aketta Gibson and Jesse Howard, poem readings as well as a Eulogy by Bishop Jeffrey C. Woody. The afternoon, praising a man devoted to family and community, revealed the unwavering love and appreciation for someone who forever changed the dynamic of the City of Newburgh as well as all those who were blessed to know and interact with him.
“I’ve known Harvey my whole life; I grew up in the community with him, and remember him as someone always trying to uplift the community and the youth,” said Tucker. “He and my dad were best friends; he was always around, working in the community, just a real staple, who was a hard worker and tried to make things better, and a very good friend who will be missed.”
That 91 year incredible journey of Harvey J. Burger Jr. came to a tangible earth end at sunset on March 28, 2023. Born on October 27, 1931, Burger Jr. (who had three brothers and one sister,) lost his father at 13 years old and was raised by his Aunt Laura Brown. During this time, Burger Jr. was a regular fixture at the Lewis Household, his “adopted family,” laying a strong foundation of love, support and a belief that anything is possible with hard work and focus. A lifelong resident of the City of Newburgh, Burger Jr. excelled in its school system, moving on to complete degrees from both SUNY New Paltz as well as Rutgers Law School.
In 1951, Burger Jr. married the love of his life, Luzetta Polk, and by 1953- at age 19- had already purchased a house he remained in his entire life on 252 Montgomery Street, the residence where he and his wife raised their three children: Harvey J. Burger III, Hamilton J. Burger and Gwedolyn Burger-Taylor. Devoted son Hamilton or “Hammy,” remained in that symbolic, familial Montgomery Street home with his parents his entire life, becoming his father’s caretaker in his later years after Luzetta passed away. Burger Jr. is also survived by several grandchildren and great grandchildren, all of whom he cherished. “Hammy” is quick to cite an assortment of fond, unforgettable memories of his father, but one in particular stands out.
“My father was well-informed on everything, and read THE NEW YORK TIMES every day,” said the proud son, who refers to Burger Jr. as ‘still the smartest man I know.’ “I will truly miss how much he kept me up on current events.”
Known for his incredible work ethic, Buger Jr. was a long-time Shop Steward at his full-time job at Master Tile as well as the head of the Community Workers Association (CWA), presently The Glen Hines Center. Someone “who will be remembered for his years of devotion and dedication to the City of Newburgh,” Burger Jr. possessed an unmatched passion for its diverse and talented people as well as for making its community better. A Scout Master for the Boy Scouts, coach for both the basketball and softball teams at Glen Hines (where he was Executive Director for around 30 years) as well as Goshen Annex for Boys, Burger Jr. also flourished for 15 years in his position as President of the NAACP.
Local political involvement further decorated Burger Jr.’s extensive resume of immersed-dedicated involvement. Just last year-at the youthful sharp age of 90- he retired from the Orange County Legislature after serving 19 years in an assortment of integral roles. Non-legislative committees also had Burger Jr.’s enduring imprint, as the former Chair of Labor Relations Advisory Committee as well as member of the Ways and Means Committee of the Orange County Legislature.
In addition to all these critical roles, much of his mark still remains on the revitalization of the Liberty Street Block where he invested in two businesses- Burger’s Fish & Chips and Burger’s Wine & Spirits. Here, he played a transformative role in forming the cooperation, Brave New Focus, “adopting” the now revitalized Liberty Street Block, while replacing its once vacant, dilapidated buildings with thriving businesses and affordable housing.
Cheryl Morehead was one of many in attendance Wednesday, and like so many around her, was positively impacted by Burger Jr.’s life.
“I remember him as a close family friend, who was always around my family, and was a well respected business owner and County Legislator,” said Morehead, who knew Burger Jr. since she was a little girl when her grandfather was close friends with him. “He helped many people in the community, and I admire him for all he stood for; he will be terribly missed.”