Chad Berger has seen a lot of things in his lifetime. But he’s never seen anything like the outpouring of respect and condolences his family received this week after the passing of his father, legendary stock contractor Joe Berger.
“From all over the United States and Canada,” Chad said. “When I say he was a living legend, I’m not kidding. When I took him to bull riding or rodeo, they swarmed him like a bunch of bees to say hello to Joe Berger.”
One of the pioneers in breeding bulls for bucking purposes, Joe died on Christmas Day in a Bismarck hospital at the age of 84. But his legacy lives on in his son Chad, the 10-time Professional Bull Riding Contractor of the Year who often redirected credit for his incredible career to his father.
“Pretty much whatever he wanted to do, he did it,” Chad said. “He had a vision and went for it.”
By the time Joe retired from the stock contracting business, he had gone from a kid who left school after the eighth grade to the head of a cattle empire. He was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2016.
Joe was born in July 1936 and grew up on a farm in Solen before the family moved to Mandan. His dad, Tim, worked for Kist Livestock and Joe followed him around.
“He wanted to be a cowboy, that’s all he wanted to be,” Chad said. “They moved to Mandan and my grandpa, Tim, worked for the sale barn at Kist Livestock and dad spent most of his time out there.”
A chance encounter led to Joe’s stock contracting career.
“When dad was a teenager, (contractor) J.C. Stevenson came to Kist and wanted to hire my grandpa,” Chad said. “But he was loyal to Kist and said I have a son who knows more about cattle than I do. So he made Joe a full partner. J.C. had bucking bulls and that’s how dad got involved as a stock contractor.
“My dad was one of the pioneers in breeding bulls for bucking purposes. He had a vision to raise the best bucking bulls in the world and he did. He passed on a lot of stuff to me and my brothers.”
Joe turned out three world champion bulls that claimed five titles. Legendary Little Yellow Jacket was the PBR’s first three-time champion (2002-2004). Moody Blues won the PBR in 1998 and Yellowjacket was the PRCA’s 1999 Bull of the Year.
Chad said his dad’s influence on people extended beyond the arena.
“He started so many young guys riding bulls but he didn’t just teach them how to ride bulls. He taught them how to be a good human being and be successful,” said Chad, who has taken what Joe started to heights not seen before. Chad has been PBR Contractor of the Year the past seven years and 10 times total.
“It’s in the blood,” Chad said, “I guess I got some of his blood.”