By Maddy Vitale
Councilwoman Karen Bergman joked with the audience that it was hard to believe she was receiving the 2019 Salute to Working Women Award from the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“What an honor for a Philly girl,” she said with emotion as she looked out into the audience Wednesday at the Flanders Hotel, where family and friends filled the room.
The honor recognizes women in business for their achievements, both professionally and personally.
Bergman, who also serves as the Flanders Hotel’s director of catering, began her love of Ocean City when she owned and operated Nash’s News on Asbury Avenue from 1997 to 2004.
It was there that she developed a passion for Asbury Avenue and the Ocean City business community, she said.
“I always had a passion for people,” Bergman said from the podium.
Bergman recalled when her love affair with Ocean City began.
“As owner and operator of Nash’s News I met so many diverse people,” she said. “It really is a place where my love for Asbury Avenue began.”
Bergman told the audience that she does not consider herself a political person, but rather a person invested in the community.
She served as an Ocean City councilwoman from 2008-2012 and took a three-year break from politics.
In 2015, City Council asked her to return to fill an unexpired seat being vacated by Michael Allegretto, who became the city’s Director of Community Services.
“I will always be grateful to that Council,” Bergman said of her opportunity to be involved in City Council once again.
Bergman thanked many people for her achievements and successes, including Peter Voudouris, who hired her back at the Flanders after she left for a position in Cape May. She also thanked her parents, children and stepchildren and her grandchildren.
Mayor Jay Gillian and Cape May County Freeholders E. Marie Hayes and Jeffrey Pierson honored Bergman with a proclamation for her accomplishments.
During the luncheon, the one resonating theme was strength.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian told the crowd at the start of the program that Bergman truly deserves the honor bestowed upon her for her never-ending work for the betterment of the community.
“Karen is very unique. She is a friend, Council person, great mother, great grandmother – not a great grandmother,” Michele Gillian said as the audience laughed at her joke. “She is one of the nicest and most caring people you ever want to meet.”
Gillian noted that this is the 21st year that the Chamber is honoring working women with the award.
She highlighted all of the honors Ocean City has received that put women in focus. The main one occurred in 2015.
Ocean City was voted one of the Top 5 places for women to own a business.
“We promote and nurture women and respect women in the workforce,” Gillian said.
Gillian added that there is great volunteerism by women in Ocean City and that it is important for women to get out and have their voices heard.
In addition to Michele Gillian, Mayor Jay Gillian and Brian Broadley, second vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, got up to honor Bergman.
The mayor said he surrounds himself with great people. Bergman, he said, is one of those people.
“This is the real deal,” Gillian said as he put his arm around Bergman.
He emphasized that she is an asset to the city and the community and that he is so pleased she chose to return to City Council.
While the focus was on Bergman, keynote speaker Carol Beske, founder of ACT Engineers, told the audience why it is so important to honor Bergman, and all women for that matter.
Beske sold her company two years ago and is happy traveling and enjoying time with family. She is also ACT Engineers’ director of public involvement.
Beske, a mother of four and the former mayor of West Windsor, started ACT Engineers 27 years ago.
Before she spoke of her career, she said a few words to Bergman, who sat with family and friends in the audience.
“Can you imagine how much joy you’ve brought into people’s lives?” Beske asked Bergman, referring to her position as head of catering for many pleasant events, including weddings at the Flanders Hotel.
Beske told her story to the crowd that perseverance will make a goal achievable.
She said while her husband was always supportive of her career path, she made her own decisions.
“I choose what I do,” she said with a smile.
When Beske founded ACT Engineers, there were some tough times, especially in the beginning when the checks were small and her children’s college tuition checks were large, she recalled.
But over time, five years, then 10, then 27 years, the business built up to be a thriving and successful company.
“It takes a lot of perseverance,” she told the crowd.
She added that there are some wishes she had for women in the workforce, specifically, there aren’t enough in politics.
There are 20 women in the U.S. Senate and only 100 women in the U.S. House of Representatives, Beske noted.
That, she said, needs to change. “We have much to offer,” she added.
She ended her speech with this advice: “Take advantage of every opportunity and don’t sell yourself short. Go for it, ladies. We love women in the workplace.”