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Save Bement Camp

Mary V. Bement, a wealthy businesswoman, spent the last 15 summers of her life in Stockbridge at the Red Lion Inn. She passed away Christmas Eve 1944. Bement left behind a sizable estate from which she left bequests to the Stockbridge Library and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. In the summer of 1947 Bement Center Camp was opened on 110 acres on Jones Pond near Charlton, Mass. It was named in honor of Mary Bement. One hundred fifty-eight boys and girls attended that first season and thanks to her generous gift the camp continued to flourish for most of the following 60 years during that time serving, by some estimates, 30,000 or more children. Even though Bement was owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts everyone was welcome. Children and staff from all over the U.S. and the world benefited from this spirit. Bement provided a safe and secure place for children to grow not only by exploring nature but their own beliefs. There are adults today who credit their experience at Bement with giving them the courage to pursue the path that brought them to where they are today. Six years ago a beloved and talented camp director, Mark Rourke, passed away at a young age. Following that the camp fell on hard times from multiple changes in leadership, declining camper enrollment and financial difficulties made worse by the current economic situation. In April 2009, one year after Bement celebrated its 60th anniversary, the Diocese announced the closing of the camp. In October they hosted a memorial service on the property to celebrate the passing of this beloved facility. At this point the Diocese made it clear they were going to dispose of the property. Bement has been an icon of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and selling the camp is like selling the steeple or the altar cross to pay a bill. When the Diocese announced the closing of Bement the alumni of the camp began to come together, initially encouraging the Diocese to re-open the camp. Despite a letter writing campaign and personal appeals the Diocese did not respond in any positive manner. In September 2009 the alumni determined to form a non-profit corporation. They elected a Board of Directors and by November they had incorporated as a non-profit. With the memorial service in October the Diocese made it clear they were not going to reopen the camp and the alumni moved to make an offer to the diocese. There has been little communication from the Diocese. The alumni feel like children who have found out that the family business was being sold without anyone ever asking them if they wanted to take it over. A smooth transition from the Diocese to the alumni could have been worked out to everyone's benefit, especially the children, who are the ones hurt the most by the closing. The Alumni Association has found that many alumni do not know the camp has been closed and are placing articles across New England to alert former campers and staff to the situation and to invite them, and other friends of Bement, to join in this effort to save Bement. Everyone who wants to help is welcome. The alumni association has created a Web site to make it easy to join the effort to save the camp. You don't need to be an alumnus to join the effort. Help us refill Bement with the joyous sounds of children. For more information visit the Web site at savebement.org, e-mail campbementalumn@yahoo.com, savebement@gmail.com or campbementalumn@yahoo.com or write to the Bement Alumni Association, PO Box 295, Millbury, MA 01527. James Climo Bement alumnus
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