Leslie Anne Berg remembers late husband, thanks community for support
Stephen Berg was a larger-than-life figure in and around the football program at Canyon del Oro High School.
Berg, who passed away after a four-year battle with colon cancer at age 34 on March 20, was a towering figure, at 6 foot 6 inches tall and 305 pounds. He earned a plethora of accolades during his playing career, as an All-Southern Arizona selection during his tenure with the Dorados and All-Pac 10 selection for his play on the offensive line at Arizona State.
He wound up in Tempe in 2002, after choosing the Sun Devils over hometown Arizona, the University of Oregon, Cal and Colorado State.
Berg was better known for his off-the-field traits, however, with an affable personality that lit up rooms across the country.
It was that trait that caught the eye of his future wife Leslie Anne in 2009, long after the spotlight dimmed on Berg’s noteworthy athletic career.
Leslie Anne remembers how kind and caring Stephen was, and how he’d go out of his way to help anyone in need.
“He would give the shirt off of his back if you needed it,” Leslie Anne said. “There were times when somebody would need help and he would want to give and give and give, and I would have to pull him back and remind him that we had to make sure we were taken care of.”
It’s that selfless streak that caught the eye of current CDO football coach Dustin Peace several years ago.
Peace first met Berg through a few assistant coaches after the latter’s playing career ended. Peace said he realized how great of a man the former lineman was.
The coach described Berg as a “gentle giant,” and someone who will always be remembered as a Dorado legend.
“What our team has talked about these last few weeks is the huge heart that he had,” Peace said. “Even though he was a huge guy, he was just gentle with people around him. And I think that’s what inspires some of the younger football players here. They don’t have to be mean, because Stephen was a gentle giant, and he had as a big a career here as anyone that’s worn that Dorado uniform.”
Peace remembers taking his players to Berg’s house, which he and Leslie Anne bought when he was first diagnosed in 2013, as a fixer-up project.
Peace wanted his team to know how much Berg meant to the CDO program, and to reinforce the brotherhood shared by all who don the green and gold on Friday nights.
“We went over to his house and spent about six hours with 20-some kids and did all kinds of stuff, and the kids really worked for those six hours,” Peace said. “And Stephen came out and talked to them about football and CDO and everything. I think it was good for our kids to be there helping, because he’s a brother to all of us.”
It’s that community-wide support that’s caught Leslie Anne by surprise, raising $27,610 from 266 donors via a GoFundMe drive to help pay medical bills and assorted housing costs.
“The community has been amazing,” she said. “They actually have the GoFundMe site. Ever since Stephen passed, it’s been really active. We’ve been getting donations from people left and right that we know, we don’t know. Just everybody reaching out to send thoughts and prayers and kind words.”
Leslie Anne and her four kids, who range from 3 to 14 years of age, have taken a lot of pride in the community’s response.
They’ve had people donate time and effort in helping with housing upkeep and doing everything possible to shower love on the family in their time of need.
Berg hopes her children understand how much support they have from their friends and family and how their help can get them through the darkest chapter of their lives.
“I think the biggest message that I would like for my children to take from this is that even in the darkest of times, there’s always light to be seen,” Berg said. “When you belong to a community that’s as great as our community, you always have love and you always have somebody that will have your back. I’m hoping to show my children that the love that they’re receiving, they can actually give back some day.”
She knows that her husband is watching somewhere with a smile on his face, finally free from the pain and suffering that cancer wages on the human body.
“Stephen was always the life of the party,” Berg said. “He is probably going to be looking down at this with a huge smile to see how many people have shown up to make him the life of the party.