TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A former Arizona State football star died Tuesday morning before being able to move into his dream home.
Stephen Berg, once Tucson's top football prospect at Canyon Del Oro High School and an ASU offensive lineman, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013 while he sought treatment for a blown-out knee.
Once thought beaten, he moved back to Tucson in 2017 and purchased a "fixer upper" home for his family of six that was in need of a complete remodel. However, those plans were derailed when the medical bills arrived. After a campaign by relatives and friends to help Berg build a dream home for his family, over 200 volunteers pitched in to help build.
His wife, Leslie, drove up to that home Wednesday, March 21, in the Tres Lomas neighborhood near Catalina Highway and Tanque Verde Road, to see her family's future. She walked up the driveway and into the property with a different than normal feeling.
"It's bittersweet. My husband Stephen and I bought this house together. This was going to be our forever house that we were going to raise our children in, grow old together in. Because of his cancer we were both robbed of that dream. I love this house. I love all the hard work and love that has gone to putting this house together. But I also feel guilty, in a way, because my husband is not here to enjoy it, as well," she told Tucson News Now.
The house was completed last Saturday, with plans to move in during the coming weeks.
"This was our dream. This house held our future, our hopes, our dreams, our goals. It motivated us. It motivated him despite everything he was going through," Leslie said.
The four-year battle with colon cancer had Stephen Berg in and out of care centers on a regular basis. Leslie said Stephen got a terminal diagnosis in January 2018.
He was a larger-than-life figure in the Berg family and was still a looming presence Wednesday in their new home with his jersey hanging high in their kitchen.
"I'll always have the memories," said Craig Morczynski, Leslie's brother who is helping with the finishing touches. "But right now it's about helping Leslie transition from taking care of Stephen and the kids, to transitioning her into the home and transitioning her kids into the home and making sure that they're taken care of. They're our priority."
The home is a labor of love, something southern Arizona helped build when they heard of Berg's battle.
"Random strangers - people we don't even know - reach out to us. Sometimes I'll open my mailbox and I'll have this anonymous person send a really nice, happy letter," Leslie said. "It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you're a part of something. It makes you feel loved. It makes you feel like no matter what happens you have all these people who will be there for you. They have your back. They have your best interest in mind. It's really a great feeling."
Morczynski is one of many to step in and make sure the dream becomes a reality.
"Amazing, honestly, to see her strength. To see how much she loved Stephen and loved her children. She never put herself first. She always made sure that they were taken care of and they were her priority," he said, talking about his sister. "If Stephen wanted to go pick something out for the house she would take him along wherever he needed to go to help pick out the kitchen cabinets or the appliances. Those were all picked out by Stephen. The tile. Stephen had a hand in everything. That's what he wanted to do. Every little part of this house has Stephen's footprint in it."
Now, Leslie and her four young children will step foot into the finished product. They expect to be fully moved in to the home in April.
The Berg family and friends plan to hold a public celebration of life for Stephen. It's scheduled for March 31 at 10 a.m. and will be held at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, 7575 North Paseo Del Norte, on the northwest side of Tucson.
Leslie Berg told Tucson News Now she received multiple donations from businesses and organizations in the community, whether it be products and appliances for the home or time donated to help with construction. Those organizations included Accent Signs and Banners, American Leak Detection, Bella Windows and Doors, Benjamin Plumbing Supply, Brent Wright Grading, Castle Roofing, the CDO Varsity Football Team, Dunn Edwards Paints, El Camino Baptist Church, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Interior Innovations, Jimmy Johns at Tanque Verde, Lowes, the Northwest Fire Department, Paint Kings, Pima Medical Institute, RC Denney Painting, Rex Ingham Excavating, Right On Plumbing, Rural Metro Fire, Tucson Appliance Company, the Tucson Fire Fighters Association, Tucson Stonework's and Cabinets, and Valentine Plumbing.
A memorial fund has also been set up for his family which can be found at the family's GoFundMe page.