Times of transition Newspaper: After the death of his father last fall, Andrew Buerger reluctantly found himself running his family's publishing business.

September 28, 1997|By Eleanor Yang | Eleanor Yang,SUN STAFF

An article in Sunday's Business section incorrectly identified Ronnie Buerger. She is the mother of Baltimore Jewish Times Publisher Andrew Buerger.

The Sun regrets the error.

The seven of them gathered slowly in the living room, a grand room with Victorian furniture, abstract paintings of the children and large windows looking out toward a pond, one of two gracing Waterspout, the 16-acre Owings Mills family estate.

Andrew Buerger took a seat. Then his stepmother, three sisters, brother and the family lawyer sat down. The mood was solemn. Just the day before, last Nov. 10, they had buried the patriarch of the family, Charles A. Buerger. But there were decisions to make, and one couldn't wait.


After settling in, they quickly turned to the question of who should take over the family business -- Waterspout Communications, LLC, the parent company of the Baltimore Jewish Times and five similar newspapers, three lifestyle magazines and a small design firm.

They first considered Gary Rosenblatt, who edited the Times before leaving to run a similar newspaper in New York. But Rosenblatt did not want the post.

"I think it should be Andrew," Kevin Buerger finally said.

For as long as anyone could remember, Andrew Buerger was always the one who spoke for them. At his uncles' weddings, his grandparents' funerals -- just about everything that involved the family. What's more, a family member had always been in charge of the business since the founding of the Baltimore Jewish Times in 1919.

"My family chose me," he would say later. "I thought I was not ready for the job."

The last 10 months have indeed tested Andrew Alter Buerger. Besides dealing with the death of his 58-year-old father, he has been uprooted and forced to examine his basic beliefs.

By all accounts, he hasn't disappointed his family, the community or the employees or readers of his influential chain of weekly newspapers.

"My sense is that apples don't fall far from trees," said Darrell D. Friedman, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. "Andrew is carrying on the legacy of his late father in terms of the commitment and passion that Chuck had. I think he's being very well-received by community. People say they're very pleased with the Times. It did not miss a beat."

The transition hasn't been easy. Buerger, 32, was just three years out of graduate school, where he earned an MBA, and he had limited experience in publishing. He had worked a short stint in sales and circulation for the Times, 18 months in circulation for his father's paper in Detroit and less than two years as publisher of the Waterspout Communications' publication in Vancouver, Canada. Although he knew he was being groomed to take over Waterspout, Buerger was, by his own admission, perhaps five years away from being ready.

Moving to Baltimore

It didn't help that the job required him to move to Baltimore. In Vancouver, Buerger had transformed a newsletter into a respected weekly newspaper and doubled its circulation to 5,000 in 21 months. The Vancouver paper was "Andy's dream and his project," said Rick Wolk, who became its publisher after Buerger left for Baltimore.

More than that, Buerger found the area entrancing. He loved kayaking along the more than dozen rivers in the area, hiking into the Pacific Ranges and mountain biking. And he had begun a relationship with a woman.

"I had never seen him so profoundly connected to a community as he was in Vancouver," said Alan Fleischmann, Buerger's best friend since sixth grade.

Buerger reluctantly left all that behind to run the family business.

More difficult was coping with his father's death and following in his footsteps. The two were exceptionally close. Friends say Charles Buerger was father, counselor, confidant, mentor and advocate.

"They were very close," Ronnie Buerger, Andrew's stepmother, said. "My husband was able to instill values in him -- to be honest, caring, strive to do better. They just clicked."

Andrew Buerger said of the time of his father's death, "It felt like I was free-falling through the air. I knew it was going to hurt when I landed."

But he recalled that Charles Buerger wouldn't tolerate any of them complaining or feeling sorry for themselves.

"His mother went blind and deaf and eventually died a horrible death from cancer," Andrew Buerger said. "His father left him when he was 5. His first wife died when she was 25, leaving him with two kids, and he never ever complained."

Said Jodi Buerger of her father, "You never heard him say, 'I had such a hard life.' Not once did he complain."

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