The History of Berkshire Boys Camp

As told by "Pop" Welch

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This is the Story of Berkshire Boys Camp as told by Austin "Pop" Welch, the camp's founder and director for most of the camp's existance

Short B.B.C. History - No. 1

From the BBC News November 28, 1955

The West Coast, Maine, New Hampshire, or Michigan may have been the location of the camp, as I had looked long for a proper site for the present B.B.C. The Berkshires fascinated me -- the soft beauty, nearness to cosmopolitan areas, the friendly looking mountains and forests. One week was spent in Pittsfield in October 1939, looking over sites.

When shown the "Kirby Farm" tract (now B.B.C.), I stood on the wilderness shore of the pond, admired Spruce Mountain on one end, and said "I have found it." The area was indeed a wilderness, with two trails leading to the pond. A site was selected for a base operations cabin. I had decided to call the place Camp Mahaiwe, after a local Indian tribe, but, upon further reflection settled on the "Berkshire Boys' Camp" for a name.

One could little imagine, standing in the silent wilderness, that, in time, a community of one hundred people would be living here or that, on occasion, with streams of cars coming in, parking would be at a premium. (Continued next issue.)

Looking Backwards Into History

From the BBC News February 4, 1956

Those who see B.B.C. now will never realize what a wilderness it was. The high adventure of that 1939-40 Winter will be omitted in this short chronicla, but there was danger and risk.

The car stalled one day in January, that the road was passable, and thus I met for the first time, one of the camp's loyal friends, an unusual man, a huge man, a man of depth, of thought, kindly, humble, a man versed in nature and practical knowhow. This man was, at the time, my nearest neighbor, John Bondarenko, whose holdings and farm adjoins the B.B.C.

John was loading logs on a horse-drawn sled, when I asked for help. It was bitter cold. John got the car started. with his truck and a tow.

I stopped at his farm house upon my return fro Otis, and offered to pay for his labor and inconvenience. Then it was that I found myself in another world! John had a painted expression on his usually genial countenance when he explained to me that "we are neighbors and we should help one another. I may need your help someday. That's the way we do things here." And thus it has been through the years with us. However, John's countless neighborly deeds far outweight the camp's to John.

By April I abandoned all hope for a 1940 camp season, and re-entered social work in Boston, returning to the B.B.C. site in April 7, 1941, in eight inches of snow.

Through these early beginnings runs the name of a friend to whom I am eternally greatful. This is Pat DeFlumeri, now of Roslindale. Pat, who understood my dreams and limitations, aided, counselled and encouraged me and his name will appear many times.

There are others too, that will be mentioned in the B.B.C. story, People who were vital to its being a story at all.

(The next B.B.C. News will describe the initial B.B.C. camping season in 1941, it's First boys, leaders and what they did.)

BBC History - 1941 & 1942 Seasons

From the BBC News March 14, 1956

Through the Spring of 1941 work was pushed to make possible the opening of BBC for its first season.

Shelter cabins, (still standing) were built, the spring head (known as an everlasting spring) was boxed, more clearings made, a waterfront area selected and worked on. A Young fellow, Dick Randolph joined me in the work, remaining on asone of BBC's first counselors. (Dickvisited camp last summer, an dwas amazed to see the developments since 1941.)

The camper season started the end of June, with 18 never-to-be-forgotten, ideal boys. They loved the quiet primitive life, and with them, the then unknown areas were explored, like the wild Churchill Mountain to the immediate south of camp. I have the roll call of this splendid group, with such boys as BIlly Feeney, Jerry and Larry McCue.

Bob Munsteat, now a professional entertainer, a talented young man, whom I have known since his 17th year, pioneered the season with me, returning in 1942. Bob was wonderful, the boys loved him, and he did much to make these initial years so impressive and inspirational to the pioneer boys. These same boys, now men, tell me that they will never forget the experiences and impressions. They recall with pleasure, the inconveniences, the lamps, bucket brigades, the firewood crews and the more primitive setting.

One of BBC's greatest debts is to the McKeogh sisters, Margaret and Josephine, two unselfish people who, through their lives have spent their energy and talents on keeping others, with little or no thought for themselves. Miss Margaret McKeogh, though unaccustomed to the country living, volunteered to take care of theall-imporant food end of camp, and did a remarkable job, on an oil range, with no running water, and countless inconveniences. Margaret, through several years continued her assistance in whatever capacity needed and always as a volunteer, a firm believer in the BBC. Miss Josephine MeKeogh secured campers, and on several occasions, assisted the camp most vitally.

Everyone has now seen the famed "2x4" cabin, the 6x8 slab shack that camp's versatile assistant director, Tony Balski, uses as hoem base. (It is to come down, but Tonyobjewcts, so, its demolition has been delayed.) This was built in 1941, far in the woods, as a secluded, temporary home for Miss Margaret McKeogh, that first summer. I had Dick Randolph cut a trail from it to the kitchen. It is now in the open.

In the 1941 and 1942 seasons, trips were made to Rod's Farm in Becket (camp milk supply farm), staying overnight, sleeping in the pastures near the high water falls, or in the hay barn. Cable Mountain wa another hiking point, and the famed "LUcy Home" legend known to hundreds and hundreds of boys was in the making. Trips were taken to Great Barrington to Fred Preston;s beautifully located farm, and to Monument Mountain. These trips wre of three days duration. The 1942 season was in the war years, making for some difficulties in supply and transportation. Charles Humelson in Otis took good care of BBC food supplies, and we managed with the rationing.

Updated: 12/16/2003