High school shop project grows into a career for Atwater man

ATWATER -- Marv Berger's high school wood shop class was so crowded that there weren't enough tools to go around, so students were asked if anyone was interesting in doing a special project.

Marv Berger
Marv Berger of Marv’s Drafting Service of Atwater shows drawings of a condo development he’s working on in his home office. He has worked from his home since the 1970s. (TRIBUNE/Linda Vanderwerf)

ATWATER - Marv Berger’s high school wood shop class was so crowded that there weren’t enough tools to go around, so students were asked if anyone was interesting in doing a special project.
“I’ve always wanted to design a house,” he told his teacher at Milaca High School. The teacher guided him through what he needed to do to finish the drawings.
Years later, Berger, 66, is still doing that in his own business, Marv’s Drafting Service.
After high school, he studied architectural drafting in Canby until he was drafted. In the service, he became a carpenter and was assigned to an engineering unit in Vietnam and was later a company clerk.
After the service, he went back to his study of drafting before working for an architect in Wisconsin for a time.
Marv’s Drafting Service started gradually. He had moved from Wisconsin to work for a commercial contractor in the Willmar area. He was an office manager and an estimator for the contractor.
When he and his wife Nancy moved to Atwater in 1976, Berger designed their house.
Then the contractor who had built their house had him do some drawings for a project, and so did a local lumber yard. Gradually, he did more and more of them.
“I hadn’t done anything to promote it yet,” he said, so he decided to see how the business would grow. He got a part-time job so he would have time to promote his drafting service.
Currently, Berger draws 35 to 50 projects a year, mostly homes. He no longer does commercial projects, because they have to be stamped by an architect. “I am not a licensed architect,” Berger said.
Berger has designed a house built in Alaska and one in Belize in Central America.
“There’s usually a story with every house,” he said. “The ones I do away from home, they have a story behind them.”
The Alaska job came when a man saw a home designed by Berger in a contractor’s brochure. He wanted his home designed by the same person.
Berger said he never met the man. They communicated by telephone and fax.
A person moving to Belize got Berger’s name from a Twin Cities contractor.
Some people from the area will have him draw house plans for them when they’re planning to move after retirement. That’s how he’s come to have houses he’s designed built in Georgia and Texas.
“The main reason people come to see me is they can’t find what they want,” he said.
“I have to be a very good listener,” he said, because sometimes people come to him with a sketch on a napkin. Others show up with a folder full of ideas.

Sometimes, he has had to act as a mediator. “She was talking about the house they were going to build, and he was talking about the house they were going to build, and I could tell it wasn’t the same house,” he said, with a smile.
That’s when he tries to put the focus on what the family needs and ask people to weigh alternatives and priorities.
“I tell people we can build anything you want, but how much do you want to spend,” Berger said.
Berger delivers a dose of reality sometimes, too. “People don’t realize how much room a stairway takes,” he said. They also learn that asking for wider doors means having wider hallways.
As he’s talking to a family, he said, they are talking about what they want inside the house, but in his mind he’s already picturing how the house will look and the pitch of the roof, he said.
Berger said he still enjoys what he does and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“It’s not really work,” he said. “I still wonder what I’m going to do when I grow up.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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