Nathan Louis Burgen, longtime Gainesville business owner and entrepreneur died Wednesday at the age of 90.
Burgen, a resident of Cornelia, was most known for his chain of clothing stores in Georgia and South Carolina, including Milner’s and Burton’s of Gainesville and Gold’s of Cornelia.
Born in Eufaula, Alabama, on Oct. 10, 1926, the youngest of five children, he lived in Alabama until he was drafted into the U.S Army during World War II and was sent to the Philippines.
After returning home in 1946, Burgen took over the operation of Gold’s clothing store in Cornelia, a business that he would spend the next 70 years of his life working.
“That generation believed in work. It was in their DNA,” said Linda Orenstein, owner of Gem Jewelry.
Orenstein said she had known Burgen from the time when her father ran Gem Jewelry. She explained that in the days before Burgen and his brother Jake Burgen brought their stores to the Gainesville Square there hadn’t been anywhere for the “working man” to buy clothes.
“There wasn’t a Walmart or any of the big box stores then,” said Burgen. “They found their niche and ran it.”
Over the years Burgen and his family owned as many as 14 department stores in Georgia and South Carolina, but according to his friends and family these business successes never changed his deeply generous nature.
“He was so generous to our family,” said Bergen’s niece, Penni Powell. “We would go on vacations to New Orleans and Florida, and he would quietly pay for everything. He paid for every funeral with no fanfare. Calling ahead and settling with the funeral home so no one else could.”
Powell said that Bergen kept the depth of his generosity from his family, giving to countless causes and benefits over the years with little to no recognition.
“While he was on the board at Piedmont College, if there was ever a student who needed help with funds, they would call him. We never knew he was doing that,” she said.
But most of all, he loved his adopted home of Cornelia, refusing to relocate for any reason.
During his time in Cornelia, Bergen served in various board positions and trusteeships at Piedmont College, and giving to many groups within the community.
“He was just a really great guy,” said John Foster, owner of Cornelia radio station WCON and longtime friend of Bergen.
“There are only a certain number of folks in the community who are the foundation of that community. Those are the kinds of guys who stabilize the community and make it better. He was one of them.“
A graveside service was held for Bergen on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.