Executive Director, Henry County Chamber of Commerce
“I don’t think I have ever been more surprised,” Claude A. “Junie” Berry Jr. said after being told he was the fifth recipient of the Patrick Henry Award. “I never considered that someone would think I have the proper qualifications. I am deeply honored.”
Berry is the Chairman of the Board of Wehr Constructors, which built the Humana World Headquarters Building in Louisville, Rudd Heart and Lung Center at Jewish Hospital, the Regional Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville, Suburban Hospital in Louisville and numerous other outstanding projects in and out of the state. Wehr also is doing the new addition on Henry County High School.
One of the criteria to receive this award is that the person contributes to making the name of Henry County known beyond its boundaries, and Berry certainly has accomplished this goal. Being a life-long resident of Eminence, having done extensive community involvement without fanfare, and representing many aspects of life in Henry County makes his nomination one of which we can all be proud.
On July 26, 1925, his parents, Claude Sr. and Pearl Drane Berry welcomed him at the old Drane homestead and brought him to Eminence in 1927. Berry grew up in Eminence, and graduated from Eminence High School in 1943 as co-salutatorian in a class of eight. He volunteered in August of that year for the Army Air Corps and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant. He served as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator until the end of World War II. During this time, he received his only formal higher education at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He attended pre-flight training and advanced bombardier school after leaving Creighton.
When Berry returned to Eminence, he worked with an uncle in a local construction company, Berry Construction, doing residential and commercial building. In 1948, he married the former Mary Ann Rose and they had four sons, one of which died in infancy. Claude “Skip” Berry III, Dale and Edward are currently in business with him. Mrs. Berry died in 1989.
Berry Construction Company operated over an 18-year period, but even with regional contracts, the family found it difficult to plan on education for three sons and make the mortgage payments. At the age of 38, Berry made his first job application of his life and became an estimator for Wehr Constructors in Louisville. He became one-quarter owner of the company in 1967, and when Ralph Wehr retired in 1976, he became half owner. In 1986, he became the sole owner. Since that time, the company has worked primarily in the eastern half of the United States and has an office in Florida. They employ approximately 200 and have received the distinction from Engineering News Record of being number 259 in their top 400 national contractors.
Among the honors and awards Berry has already received are the 1991 Man of the Year Award from Construction Specification Writers Institute and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from UK College of Engineering Construction Managers Founders Society in 1995. He was inducted to the second class of the Eminence High School Hall of Fame in 2006.
While he is certainly well known in the construction business, local residents know him as dedicated to Eminence and its progress. He is an Elder in the Eminence Christian Church, a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner, has served as Director and Chair of the Board of Directors of Farmers Deposit Bank in Eminence, and serves as a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board and Lexington Clinic Foundation Board. He is a member of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Henry County Historical Society, and was most helpful in finding pictures for the recent publication Historic Images of Henry County.
Berry takes great pride in his family, and it does contain Claude IV and Claude V as well as six other grandchildren and six additional great-grandchildren. His sons are titled executives in Wehr Constructors and have increased responsibility in the company since Berry’s retirement in 2000. He still keeps in touch with the work each Friday as he goes to his office and catches up on the ongoing work. He is married to Spencer McClure Mills who is his cheerleader as he continues his good works.
The dinner honoring Berry will be March 14 at the Eminence Christian Church Fellowship Hall at 6:30 p.m. Grigsby-Stiltz Catering of Pleasureville will provide the meal. His son Edward will speak on “Claude Berry Jr.: Family Man, Community Man, Business Man.” The Patrick Henry Award, sponsored by Cook’s Pharmacy and True Value Hardware, will be presented by Ben Coomes. Sponsorship is also provided by FPC Pest Control (Jerry Martin). Other sponsorships are available, and donations to help with expenses will be noted on the program. Call the Chamber of Commerce for more information.
The dinner is to be open to the public, but due to space considerations, only 100 tickets will be available at $25 each. Call the Chamber of Commerce at 845-0806 or mail your reservation requests with your payment to Box 355, New Castle, KY 40050 to be certain you have your spot reserved.