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A descendant on my mother’s side of the Bieber-Hilbert family, my ethnic Bieber roots go all the way back to 1744 when three Bieber brothers had immigrated here from the Rheinish territory of Hirschland, Alsace France. Speaking a Palatine German dialect called PA Dietsch, my grandparents and uncle, Fred Bieber, who lived in the Oley Hills, were very Dutchy who conversed with natives that preferred to express themselves in their ethnic Dietsch dialect.
A history college graduate from Kutztown State in 1960, I always felt at home with Bieber Freinschaft (relatives) who I met and socialized at Dryville Hotel, drinking a friendly beer. One of my ancestral Bieber descendants who shared his life with me was Carl Bieber, Sr., the trucking and bus transportation magnet who attended various township meetings. His unique PA Dutch pysche made him a successful leader in our Kutztown community.
Later having moved to Kutztown from the Oley Hills, I was fortunate to work with the co-owners of the Kutztown Bottling Works, Ellsworth (1917-2002) and Donald “Barney” Bieber who I met when I set up an educational folklore exhibit on distilling PA Dutch Birch Beer soda at Dr. Alfred Shoemaker’s Kutztown Folk Festival. My Bieber descendants still owned about 163 acres of forested hills in Rockland and District townships where Kermit Kemmerer of Barto cut sweet black birch trees down to operate his Birch Oils distillery, paying my Bieber relatives by the truck load for thinning out their forest, which they used to pay their real estate taxes.
But astute Dr. Shoemaker wanted to know whether the same birch oil extract was used in the same flavoring which was included by the Bieber brothers in their Kutztown Birch Beer beverage which had become a famous hometown Kutztown product. Sure enough Kermit Kemmerer’s natural birch oil was in one of Ellsworth Beiber’s flavoring ingredients, for Kutztown Birch Beer.
Although Barney Bieber’s brother specialized in bottling and filling the kegs of Kutztown Birch Beer, Barney’s specialty was in sales, selling the products of the Kutztown Bottling Works which they both owned. Ironically, the 18th century birch oil distillery which I used in the educational exhibit at Shoemaker’s Kutztown Folk Festival was actually used on a farm in the Oley Hills,which was previously sold by a farmer outside of Kutztown!
A quality beverage like the other flavors made by the Bieber brothers, Kutztown Birch Beer became a popular brand in Southeastern Pennsylvania among the native Dutch people in the 1960s as well as sarsaparilla.
After Carl Bieber Sr. died I became a friend of Carl Bieber Jr. whose wife, Tory, was a good college classmate friend of my wife, Eleanor, whose friendship we cherish. But on Sunday night, Oct. 27, I received a phone call from Andrew Bieber, Donald Bieber’s son, telling me that Barney had passed away at age 90, at the Kutztown Manor.
A community leader, “Barney” was a charismatic person whose personality I once compared to the pop teenage singer Justin Bieber, because he was such a significant personality among our PA Dutch people. Becoming a leader in all the civic organizations in our community. A modern PA Dutchman he was well liked Hugenot who was proud of our rural folk culture and assisted Dr. Shoemaker with his educational goals.
Few citizens among our community organizations had endeavored to make the Kutztown Folk Festival succeed in the earlier years than industrious Ellsworth and Donald Bieber who were my personal friends for many years. God Bless Barney’s wife, Lucille, whose maiden name ironically is Barto, the same village where birch oil was distilled.
Having attended the Memorial Service for Donald F. Bieber at St. John’s modern church with a number of Kutztown citizens and Lions Club members on Nov. 3, I realized from the photo montage of Barney’s life in the vestibule, it was people like him and his industrious friends that made our town a positive, successful, all-American community. May we all live up to the high standard of these honorable senior citizens. Whether they are PA Deitsch or Italian, like the late former mayor, Jerry Marino.
Richard Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.