While most ventures are the result of careful planning, summer programs for boys being no exception, the Berwick Boys Foundation sprang into being spontaneously. Two struggling young doctors, Dr. H. Meredith Berry and Dr. Walter Wichern (“Doc” and “Wick” as we know them) however have drawn upon their experiences with programs such as the Boys Scouts of America and the Big Brother Program, to guide the growth of the Berwick program which began so unexpectedly some nearly 60 years ago. The result has been the growth which has assumed the use of a 750 acre island two miles off the coast of Maine where teenage boys build and direct their own camp and learn the necessity of cooperation for survival.
GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE
The two doctors met in New York City in 1946 at Roosevelt Hospital. Doc had just returned from World War II service as a Major and a Surgeon and Wick was serving his term as an Intern. Although Doc was Wick’s immediate superior, he had been away from organized medicine for three and a half years, and the younger Wick was more thoroughly acquainted with new medicines and procedures. Consequently, the two worked closely, each benefiting from the other. Outside their duties they also found much in common. Both felt stifled by the City because they had been familiar with outdoor life and the pleasures of hunting and fishing. Doc had spent his summers as a boy on a lake in Pennsylvania and later became active with the Boys Scouts program and a summer camp on Long Island. Dr. Wichern had spent one summer on Forbes Island working with a professor of anatomy who was making a study of deer antlers. In medical school, Wick had studied and spent leisure time on Naushon Island off Cape Cod. Such mutual interests led the two to search for a place where they could escape the city, hunt fish, and “raise Cain” where nobody would be bothered and where nobody would bother them. Such conditions meant owning a lake and the surrounding shoreline or an island. In summer during their two week vacation, they began their search for a place where they could relax in piece and quiet.
To find an Island, the two doctors began searching the newspaper advertisements, as real estate listings were too expensive. At long last they saw an advertisement “For Sale: Dyer Island off the coast of Maine, owned by the Maine Seaboard Paper Company. Pulp wood supply has been cut. Will sell the 1000 acres.” Correspondence went back and forth until the young doctors who were making a combined income of $50/month, agreed to pay twenty five dollars each on a ten year lease towards buying their dream island.
After much futile searching for a site they found the Maine Seaboard Company listed in the yellow pages of the New York Phone book. A phone call revealed the existence of an available piece of real estate, Dyer Island in Harrington, Maine.
It was on Dyer Island that the doctors began formulating ideas. Dr. Berry was already interested in the Big Brother program, which was natural to him because his parents who were teachers often brought home to their table boys having difficulty with their studies or with classmates.
Through the Big Brother Program, the Doctors became interested in a boy whose past-time was running away from home. They decided to put him on the Island for the summer.
IN THE BEGINNING
With a small boat and motor, an ax, a tent and a few supplies, the boy moved to Dyer Island during the summer of 1948. At the same time Doc was moving to the Lahey clinic in Boston, close enough to make weekend trips to the Island, which he did about every two weeks. Usually Doc would go up on Saturday afternoon returning the following day. Wick who was serving in the army made the suggestion that the boy could spend his time preparing logs and a site for a cabin. Following Wick’s advice, Doc and the boy would spend their Sundays together carrying logs that he had cut and spudded out of the woods and into clearing.
By the end of the summer, the boy was sorry to have to leave and was anxious to return the following year to complete the cabin. Doc said that he could do that only if he returned to school and showed some improvement. Both of these he did. The success of that summer suggested that perhaps a program could be organized for a group of boys to spend the summer on the island to construct living quarters and to organize and manage their own program. Through the winter of 1948-1949, Doc searched for boys in New York and Boston who would be interested in such a program.
The doctors were jubilant over their first experiment with a little brother. Putting their heads and hearts together the question was, “Why keep the island for their own peace and quiet? Let’s give it to deserving boys rich and poor alike who need help growing up.” In 1949, they hammered so effectively on their idea that 10 boys from the Boston area and some from New York were brought to Dyer Island for summer camping. The project was financed primarily by doctors at Roosevelt Hospital and other concerned individuals. Camp Berwick was nailed firmly on the map as a sensible place for boys who will develop through hard physical exertion, special counseling and few dull moments.
When June of 1949 arrived, ten boys, 4 from New York, 5 from Boston, and one from Pennsylvania were ready to spend the summer in Maine. The organization Berwick, a name derived from the contraction of the names of the two founders, had purchased an old Boston police boat and with other equipment much of which was donated, the group embarked for Maine. At the time, Doc had completed his fellowship at the Lahey clinic in Boston and before moving to Brockton, at the Goddard Hospital, he had most of the summer free. He persuaded a former boys scout from Doc’s Long Island days to spend the summer on the island to help oversee the project.
THE MAKING OF CAMP
With a balsa wood model of the cabin they planned to build plus a few sketches, the group launched their project. The purpose of the project was threefold: to achieve a goal through hard work, to learn to work and live with others and to instill a sense of responsibility and cooperation among the group. Each boy had the opportunity to build a cabin of his own. He would thus aim for a personal goal as well as the cooperative goal of building a central lodge. Thus was the time to be divided in half. However, as the group realized the time consuming difficulty to their cooperative task the dividing line of the work schedule occurred at about dusk on weekdays and Saturdays, with Sunday reserved for worship and personal projects.
Everything that arrived on the island had to be carried by hand including fresh water. Rocks and sand had to be carried from the beach. There was no pier, no road from the lobster shack, where the two tents were, to the work site on the other side of the cover, no tractor, no cement mixer, no power saw, no electric appliances. The group worked from after breakfast 7:00 AM to dusk six days a week sometimes with only half a day on Saturday. About half the group stayed beyond the planned eight-week period and managed to frame and close in the lodge. Being able to stay past the normal camp period was considered a privilege and inspired perhaps even more conscientious work habits than had been cultivated during the summer.
The success of the summer of 1949 reflected not only in the completion of the lodge but also in the enthusiasm of the boys to return. Despite the hard work and primitive conditions, the boys received rewarding educational experiences both in terms of physical accomplishments and in learning to live with one another.
These boys were really explorers coming to a totally undeveloped camp on an island that was furnished only with an abandoned lobster fisherman’s shack. Fortunately, in the decade and a half since the cutting of the valuable pulpwood another stand of trees had grown up which were available to the newcomers. There was plenty of sand and rock and a power boat to bring cement and roofing from the mainland.
Often new ideas required new equipment. When a truck was needed two boys undaunted, built one at home out of old automobile parts. Sometimes the camp was used in the winter by small groups of boys led by Dr. Berry. At Thanksgiving, a crew went up to cut Christmas trees. 1,500 trees were ferried across to the mainland one winter and trucked back to Brockton and sold. A nursery of seedlings was planted to continue the supply. An after camp project for a few older boys was picking blueberries on the mainland where made a good sum of money for their college expenses. Another activity that used to take place was that Dr. Berry used to take some of the boys to the island for winter and spring vacations and taught them how to hunt deer and duck. They learned to live in low temperatures amid icy and stormy weather. Ingenuity of the campers is shown frequently in hard to solve problems. For instance when a heavy tractor was acquired, two scows were tied together to make a platform ferry to bring it from the mainland.
AND SO IT GOES
Inspiration of Berwick has caused one boy to complete a college course in wild life conservation, another to study at the museum of Fine Arts in Boston, several to become industrial engineers. One boy served six years on a submarine. There are several doctors, college professors, and architects.
Such deserving students are awarded scholarships. These are presented at the end of the summer during the closing lobster banquet, which is attended by parents and friends.
The younger boys of the camp are chosen by the group leaders to receive awards according to their progress in functioning under the Berwick Characteristics. Persistence and Industry, Altruism giving others a helping hand, sincerity and integrity “his word is good”. A further objective of the doctors was to encourage the boys to accept courageously whatever happens.
The Berwick Mariner Camp which no longer exists today, was for still younger boys aged eight to fourteen and was managed by veteran Berwick Boys on a fee basis to help support the entire project.
The ideas being constantly put into place over the span of years by the Berwick Boys Foundation are due to personality and unity of purpose of its founders Dr. Berry and Dr. Wichern. They have poured into it their money, their concern for boys, and their faith. The boys who come to this Island find it a haven where they are given a chance to work out their own solutions.
As the story of Berwick spreads, friends in industry and the professions have provided many things from stainless steel kitchen equipment to chain saws, dump trucks, a cement mixer, pumps and plumbing. A yacht, a sloop, motor boats and sailboats have been generously donated, sometimes by grateful patients of the found doctors. Such tools seem to entice the youngsters more than their standard recreations such as baseball, tennis and swimming. Work becomes play when it is creative.
Dr. Berry stated that the “best results are gained by not imposing many rules and regulations but by letting boys feel that they want to do what is right for themselves and best for others. Berwick is more than a camp. It’s a type of living where problems are faced, loads are carried, success is shared by working, learning, playing, and developing attitudes and understanding that can and will make a contribution to our world. One former Berwick boy said “Berwick is no longer a puzzlement but a solution to growing up in a big way.”