Berne leaders mourn the loss of colleague, friend

Authored by Jim Langham on Mar 23, 2012

Former Berne Mayor John Minch, who is currently out of town, was stunned when he received the telephone call informing him of the passing of former city attorney, Robert Biberstein. The local attorney sat at the left of Minch in the solicitor's chair during the former mayor's terms of office.
"I knew him some from basketball, but we became good friends when we first came to Berne in the 1960's," recalled Minch. "I really got to know him when his daughter and my daughter competed on the swim team. We served on countless committees together at that time.
"He was honest and fair in anything that he did," continued Minch. "I felt very confident with him when he was the city attorney. You knew that he was not going to do anything to embarrass you. Sometimes he would call me into his office and we would talk over things. By the time I left, we shook hands and understood the scope of the issue that we were dealing with."
Minch lauded Biberstein for his deliberate, careful and cautious approach to dealing with various issues.
"I can't say enough about how well he and I worked together," Minch said. "At council he would say, John, if we are going to do this right, I am going to need time to study it. I admired his intellectual ability; when he put his stamp of approval on something, you knew that he was ready and right."
Minch said that Biberstein always stressed the importance of looking ahead beyond a present issue.
"He would say, 'it's not only how this affects now. How is this going to affect tomorrow," added Minch.
Biberstein passed away on Wednesday at Adams Memorial Hospital after an illness of a few weeks. He was owner of the Biberstein Law Firm and a practicing attorney in various capacities in the county for 38 years.
In addition to the practice of law, Biberstein had been a lifetime member of First Missionary Church where he had taught Sunday school for 25 years. He was a an avid sports fan (Hoosiers and Cubs) and a collector of sports memorabilia, including an extensive display of Indiana Hoosier relics in a special room in his office, which was located on Main Street.
When he wasn't busy with law or church matters, he could often be found attending sporting events with family and friends. He also enjoyed reading and loved occasionally driving to book auctions and sales.
One humorous incident concerning Biberstein occurred in the early 1990's when he attended a Cleveland Indians game with a group of friends from the Berne area. At the old Memorial Stadium, where the up and coming eventual American League Champion Indians were still playing, there was a large announcement board at the center field scoreboard where guests and groups were welcomed.
While Biberstein was watching the game, he suddenly saw his name on the scoreboard. One of those traveling to the game with him had informed a stadium official that, “Bob Biberstein, president of the Berne, Indiana, Cleveland Indians Club,” was present at the game. Biberstein totally denied the existence of such a club, but laughed at the creativity of those behind the prank.
One individual that deeply appreciated the influence of Biberstein at council meetings was Gregg Sprunger, council president, also a first cousin to the lawyer.
"When we needed somebody to step up and give stability to the attorney position, Bob would step into that post and help Mayor Minch with the experience from his attorney career with the municipal government," said Sprunger. "I really appreciated that.
"We appreciated the fact that he was straight and forthright," continued Sprunger. "He was very truthful, but also respectful of everyone and their opinions. He always listened and was deliberate in proceeding with legislation under certain steps and understandings."
"He was an incredible man," said former council member Mike Poulson, who served on council during Biberstein's tenure as solicitor. "He did a wonderful job as an attorney. He was always reserved with his actions but he responded to something when he needed to. I know that his family will miss him. He was an intricate part of them.
"He always produced what was needed," continued Poulson. "He listened to everyone's point of view to understand what we were trying to say. He wouldn't do something unless it was what everyone wanted."
Currently city attorney James Beitler said that he and Biberstein had practiced law together for 38 years, always on a professional, but friendly basis.
"I don't remember a time when we had cross words," said Beitler. "We would shake hands and smile after a meeting. A lot of our conversations would start with legal matters and then we would talk as colleagues, things pertaining to life in general and sports.
"In some ways I'm surprised how his passing has affected me," continued Beitler. "He was a great person to talk with; we had a very friendly relationship.
"First and foremost he was a good friend," added Beitler. "I'm surprised that he is gone. It is going to leave a real hole in the community. He was a great guy to know."

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