Benjamin F. DeBaufre, 68, supervised production of famed Berger's cookies

June 02, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Benjamin F. DeBaufre, who for more than 50 years happily supervised the production of Berger's cookies, a distinctive chocolate-covered cookie that through the years undoubtedly contributed to the waistlines of its devotees, died Sunday of a heart attack at his Parkville home. He was 68.

Mr. DeBaufre (pronounced De-BAW-free) and his late brother, Charles DeBaufre Sr., began working as children in the old Dallas Street bakery owned by the Russell family, greasing pans and smearing chocolate on the famed cookies that are as much a part of the local scene as crab cakes, the Orioles or August afternoon humidity.

The bakery was founded in 1835 by three Berger brothers, who had immigrated to Baltimore from Germany and brought with them the cookie recipe that has delighted customers for more than 160 years.

In 1918, the bakery was purchased by the Russell family, who continued producing the vanilla wafer cookie that is liberally covered with a fudge-like frosting. In 1969, the two DeBaufre brothers and John Koehler, a brother-in-law, purchased the business and decided to keep the product's old name because of its long connection to and familiarity in Baltimore.

What became DeBaufre Bakeries had been been located in the 1800 block of Aiken St., a few blocks east of Green Mount Cemetery, from 1953 until last month, when the business moved to new and more spacious headquarters on Waterview Avenue.

Despite the new location, the cookies, some 20,000 per day which Baltimoreans insist on pronouncing "Bergerscookies," are still made the old-fashioned way, according to Charles DeBaufre Jr., Mr. DeBaufre's nephew and the president and chief executive officer of the business.

"They're made with a lot of tender loving care," he said. "The workers still swirl them in vats of chocolate. They're put in by hand and pulled out by hand."

Mr. DeBaufre said his uncle seldom ate a Berger's cookie -- and if he did, it was only to "check for flavor and texture."

He was "an easygoing man and jokester" who was well-liked by the company's employees, said the nephew.

Mr. DeBaufre, who had retired for health reasons in 1995, continued to be amazed by the popularity of the Berger cookie.

"He never thought of them in terms of some legacy. He was a modest man who was very proud of the product but never felt it was some kind of local institution," said the nephew.

He also said that it wasn't uncommon for his uncle to put in long days, dressed in a white apron and a baker's cap, alongside other workers.

"When business was booming, he'd be in there icing cakes or dropping in cookies," said Mr. DeBaufre. "He didn't sit in an office all day. He did whatever had to be done."

"He just loved the business," said his wife of 26 years, the former Elsie I. Conley.

Born and reared on Montpelier Street near Kirk Avenue, Mr. DeBaufre graduated from St. Bernard Parochial School and city public schools.

Services for Mr. DeBaufre will be held at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow at the Hartley-Miller Funeral Home, 7527 Harford Road.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a stepson, Edward Delafe of Baltimore; and three step-grandchildren.

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