The view from the Plymouth Harbor home of Norbert and Maria Berta may well be the best in town. From their 12th floor perch in the middle of Sarasota Bay, you can see the downtown skyline, Siesta and Lido keys, the Gulf and the bay. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy the memories and adventures of a life well lived.
The Bertas’ journey to Sarasota began in the Hungarian town of Szombathely. They met when Maria was only 13, and, even then, Norbert says, “I knew she was the girl I wanted to marry.” But neither could anticipate the drama of their wedding day.
The year was 1956. After a decade of Communist tyranny, Hungary was exploding in revolution. Norbert, recently graduated from the university, was serving in the army. When the Russians began shelling the barracks, he and many of his fellow soldiers, unable to match the brutal force of the occupying army, fled to Budapest and became wanted men.
Norbert and Maria were engaged at the time. After a quick consultation with their families, they were married immediately and then got a train that took them close to the Austrian border. There, they bribed an army patrol to guide them through the minefields to Austria and freedom.
Next came immigration to the United States and then a busy life of moving around to various parts of the country, while Norbert pursued a distinguished career in chemical engineering and Maria worked as a med-tech and a teacher. Now, with 56 happy years of marriage behind them, their Plymouth Harbor home blends their personal past and present. Mementos and family photos complement the up-to-date décor to provide a setting that is unique as the couple themselves.
The Bertas have lived in many places and visited even more, so when they moved three years ago into Plymouth Harbor they knew exactly what they wanted.
With 2,000 square feet of living area, the Bertas’ home is larger than most units in Plymouth Harbor. The couple renovated the space by incorporating lessons they learned from a succession of condos — six in all — they bought and remodeled on Longboat Key.
“Every one I had fun with,” Norbert recalls, “and every one I made good money.”
The focal point is undoubtedly the view.
“It is precious to us,” Maria says.
The living room and dining area face south, and to make the most of the vista that stretches down the keys all the way to Venice, the Bertas purchased low-slung Italian furniture that doesn’t block the sightlines.
The style is modern — white sofas set on spotless porcelain tile floors — but accents of color are everywhere. Pillows — some that Maria embroidered, others in Hungarian folk patterns and designs — brighten the atmosphere, and paintings — mostly European landscapes and city scenes — line the walls. The effect manages to be both European and resort-like at the same time.
The master bedroom, along with an office and a den/guest room, face the east side of the building. Bird Key is the first thing you see; beyond that is a spectacular view of the city skyline. The bedroom is roomy but simple, as befits a home designed for aging in place. Perhaps the most luxurious touch is an enormous, room-size walk-in closet, complete with a large display of the hair bows that Maria habitually wears.
The comfortable den and office both contain mementos of Norbert’s career in chemical engineering, including the patents for the various products he invented. The most interesting of these souvenirs recall his role in one of the great life-and-death dramas of American business — the famous Tylenol poisoning incident of 1981.
Norbert was working as a plant manager for McNeil (a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson), when the country woke up to terrifying news — someone (the case is still unsolved) tampered with Tylenol capsules on various store shelves in the Chicago area, replacing the medicinal powder inside the capsules with cyanide. Six people died as a result, and the very future of Tylenol was hanging in the balance.
“Everybody had an idea,” Norbert recalls of the chaos that followed. Although he was not in the Research and Development division (he was an engineer), he asked the company for “a million dollars and a year’s time.” In his kitchen at home he developed the gel capsule and the gel tabs, along with innovations in protective packaging, which not only saved Tylenol but revolutionized the way medicine is sold to the public.
Today the Bertas’ life revolves around the Plymouth Harbor lifestyle, in which residents are offered a wide range of choices designed to make life simpler, easier and more enriching. Though they usually eat in their apartment, there is an elegant full-service restaurant downstairs, plus a more informal café for burgers and salads. The weekly calendar is filled with events, programs, movies and musical performances, which are particular favorites of Norbert and Maria.
As one of the older and more prestigious retirement communities in Sarasota, Plymouth Harbor has the reputation of being an extremely social place. Norbert and Maria enjoy hosting brunches for their fellow residents and for members of Sarasota’s Hungarian community. Physical activity is still important to them — Norbert was a long-distance runner in his younger days — and Plymouth Harbor’s outside and indoor pools, walking trails and kayak facilities provide plenty of options.
But, what centers their life these days is the view and the natural beauty of their surroundings. “It’s a wonderful place,” Norbert says. “A wonderful way to live.”
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