Children's chapel trustees look back at 50 years
Rockport — Gordon Bok recalls as a young child playing outdoors and his mother Helene Bok asking him to find a proper place for a children's chapel. He said building such a place of contemplation was something his mother always dreamed of doing.
Her vision — eventually — became reality as Vesper Hill Children's Chapel, celebrating its 50th year in 2012.
Bok never came across that location for his mother, but after seeing what remained of the Tamarack Lodge off Calderwood Lane, which burned to the ground in 1954, on her drives to and from her summer home just down the road "she saw in the old foundation, a possibility that never occurred to anyone else and gradually dreamed a way to make it all happen," according to information provided by the Vesper Hill Foundation. Bok currently serves at the president of the Vesper Hill Foundation.
Bok recalls that when he was in high school, Helene Bok would attend various churches from Belfast to Thomaston and maybe beyond, he said. When Bok asked her which was her favorite, she told her son she found one where the congregation would "sing with all of their heart and soul," he said.
"I think she was dissatisfied with churches and when the fire happened it tipped her over the edge. It was a good opportunity to pick up land like that," Gordon said.
Around 1950, Harold "Hap" Callendar converted a summer home at the site into a 20-room winterized hotel and lodge. He and his wife Ruth moved to Rockport from Livingston, N.J., and after completing the renovations, operated the lodge from June 1951, until fire struck just three years later.
The Callendars and their staff were at a catering event when the fire struck in February 1954. The fire was discovered at about 2 p.m. by neighbors when they saw flames shooting up from the southwest corner of the building. Rockport and Camden fire departments raced to the scene to help battle the flames in sub-zero temperatures. However, it is thought the fire had been burning for some time before it was discovered.
"It burned flat to the ground — only the foundation was left," said Maynard Ingraham, a former Vesper Hill Foundation Trustee. All of the Callendars' personal belongings were destroyed.
From 1954 following the fire to 1960, the burned wreckage lay as it fell. The field grew in around the charred remains and tiny saplings began to take root and rise above the grass.
Eventually, Helene Bok told the Callendars she wanted to buy the property "as is" and told them her idea of creating an open air chapel using the rock foundation of the building and landscaping the area with gardens filled with plants and flowers that would appeal to children.
Sonny Goodwin of Camden said he was working for Clarence Thomas Construction at the time and designed the shape of the chapel, incorporating Helene's ideas, and the company crew constructed the building.
Goodwin joked he and Helene disagreed about which direction was east and after their disscusion she said, "if you do not mind, I will not go to sea with you."
Goodwin said after he helped design and build the chapel, he did not have any involvement with it for some years. However, after being approached by someone on the board, Goodwin joined the board in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The Vesper Hill Foundation was incorporated Aug. 13, 1962. The first board consisted of: Helene Bok, Joan M. Greene, Archie A. Stevens, Elmer Crockett, Robert E. Laite and Gilbert Harmon.
An inscription inside the chapel written by Helene Bok reads: "This chapel is built to the memory of all young people who have passed through this world and gained God by so doing. It stands for freedom of thought, prayer and action. It stands for holiness within the heart and wholesomeness within the body, and for God in the heart each waking hour. May the Lord bless all young people who come here for spiritual or mental refreshment."
When Helene Bok died in 1972, she left the property to Vesper Hill Foundation, along with a bequest of $65,000 to be invested, and the income from the money was to provide funds to maintain the gardens and the chapel.
Weddings have taken place at the chapel almost since the start. On Sept. 24, 1961, Jane Harmon and Alan Carr were the first couple married there and hundreds more weddings have occurred at the site since. Ingraham said people come from all across the United States to be married at the location and said he has even married a few people on the site.
In addition to weddings, there have been baptisms, memorial services and church services. The Religious Society of Friends, a Quaker group, continue to hold unprogrammed meetings of worship at the site on Sundays, from 9 to 10 a.m., June to Sept.
Lynn Johnson, Ingraham's daughter, said she graduated in 1971 and was part of the first class to graduate when Camden and Rockport combined high schools. The class picture was taken at the children's chapel and she also remembers playing Capture the Flag there.
Trustee Barbara Furman said every Thanksgiving, no matter if it is snowing, raining or below zero, Allen Fernald of Camden and his family participate in a football game there.
The trustees have always been an active board, Ingraham said, noting the group comes together to help maintain the facility and often host work parties to pick up twigs, paint and to shingle the chapel roof. Currently the board is comprised of 14 members.
Bok said the chapel grounds have remained low key — just as his mother intended. The trustees do no advertising and word spreads about the location completely by word of mouth.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Trustee Carol Rohl at 273-2090.
The Camden Herald reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.