At 82-years-old, Millard Wilkinson Jr. continues to benefit the borough.
As a freshman at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Millard Wilkinson Jr. sat in the auditorium during orientation reading words inscribed on the rostrum from the Bible — “What so ever thy hands findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
For the nearly seven decades that would follow this moment, Wilkinson, who concurrently served a mayor of Berlin Borough and CEO of Serta Mattresses, claims this message resounds in both his businesses and policies.
“That got embedded in my mind, and, I would say, I adopted that as a work ethic,” Wilkinson said. “I feel that was instrumental and helped to guide me successfully into the many, many things that I have done and that I still continue to do.”
From a framed invitation to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan to a muted color photo dating back to the ’50s of the former Honorbilt-Serta building in Philadelphia, dozens of items hang on the walls of Wilkinson’s den.
However, along this visual landscape of the 82-year-old’s services and success, his impact on Berlin seems to surface most frequent among the sundry objects.
Wilkinson moved to Berlin with his family in September 1954 from the lower Northeast section of Philadelphia.
Growing lonely in the unfamiliar town, especially during his commutes from home to Drexel University, he’d often sit in a local milk bar to get acquainted with the community. Sitting at the counter one night, he heard fire engines in the distance, which inspired his lifelong membership and volunteership to the Berlin Fire Company One, serving as secretary for 12 years.
“Coming to a small community from the city of Philadelphia, I gained the importance of what the volunteers did for the community,” he said. “I appreciated the importance of volunteerism.”
As a young man intrigued with politics, he’d slip into local governing body meetings before he was even old enough to vote. The local government members began taking an interest in him, shepherding him along his way to a decade-long councilship and 20-year mayorship.
The guidance he received from elders particularly sparked his outreach to the local youth.
“I try to give credit to these older individuals, and now that I’m in that category, if I have an opportunity to talk to young guys and girls about stuff, I do,” he said. “I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to pay back, maybe in a different way.”
In his balance of mayoring a town and running a corporation, the most valuable lesson he’s collected is listening and considering to the ideas of others — whether it be subordinates or those on the other side of the aisle.
“I realized, both in business and and in politics, it wasn’t just all about me — it was about the people that worked with me,” Wilkinson said. “I personally benefited from that kind of approach and I think we, as a town, benefited from that kind of approach.”
Amid the two decades of agendas and activities as mayor, Wilkinson has paramount pride for his preservation of the Historic Berlin Hotel, located on the White Horse Pike. When the hotel was faced with potential demolition in the late 1990s, Wilkinson fought for the relocation of the building.
As a borough rich with history, Wilkinson felt saving the old Long-A-Coming Hotel, which dates to the 1820s, was a vital priority in retaining the town’s character.
“Being able to save what is historic to the borough was certainly important to me,” Wilkinson said. “I’m proud of that.”
The White Horse Pike in and of itself serves as a continuing testimony to Wilkinson’s influences, as just in the last few years, he proposed a referendum to turn the Marie Fleche Memorial Library into a municipal library. This transformation saved local taxpayers more than $250,000 a year, according to Wilkinson. He is currently president of the library, as well as a trustee.
In between his major motions throughout the borough, Wilkinson fills his time continuing to serve, as he belongs to a scope of organizations, including his membership to the Philadelphia Rotary for almost 30 years where he gained a lesson quite similar to the context of the biblical scripture — service above self.
“There are too many people in politics that are there to be served, rather than to serve,” Wilkinson said. “And that was never my interest or reason in politics. Service above self has been my motto in politics.”