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Friday, May 4, 2018

Talented woodworker shares his passion to help and inspire others by Lorraine Glowczak

Bob Berry made this ukulele for his daughter
Bob Berry, grounds-keeper, maintenance employee and woodshop teacher at Windham Christian Academy has a passion for woodworking and craftsmanship. He shares this innate skill with not only the students at the academy but with others who are fond of creating music.
 
Recently, to help the music program at his alma mater – the Lakes Region Middle School, Berry donated five ukuleles so music students could pursue their dream of starting a ukulele band. Berry made each of the musical instruments by hand. 

“My childhood friend is now a health teacher at Lakes Region High,” explained Berry. “He knew that I was making ukuleles with the students at the Academy, so he approached me about a way to make the instruments for the students at Lakes Region.” 

Realizing that arts programs in almost all schools lack funding, Berry wanted to support the students in the only way he knew how. “I gave them away,” he said. His friend paid for the parts that Berry has to order to make the instrument complete - such as the frets, strings and bridges. But Berry’s time, energy and
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craftsmanship, as well as the purchase of the wood, was his donation.

Berry’s road to workshop teacher at a Christian school was a long, arduous one. Being a student who fell through the cracks of the educational system in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Berry never learned how to read or write. School was difficult for him. The one class Berry excelled in was his high school woodworking class.

A sample of his craftsmanship
“I saw my woodworking teacher’s passion,” reflected Berry, “and somehow I caught that same enthusiasm.”

Due to the educational challenges Berry faced, he quit high school and went on to work in the fields of construction and cabinetry; perfecting his technique and craft in woodworking for the next 15 to 20 years. His life was filled with disappointment, hardships, drugs and alcohol. During an especially low point in his life, he and his current wife were invited to Windham Assembly of God. It was there he changed his life for the better.

“The instant I decided to walk with Jesus, I knew I had to learn how to read and write,” Berry said. “I didn’t know that was going to be a part of the deal,” he joked.

He participated in his local Adult Education Program. “When one Adult Ed Teacher interviewed me as part of the program introduction, I showed her photos of many of my woodworking and cabinetry work[s], when she asked about what I had done with my life thus far,” Berry began. “She took a look at all the photos and said to me, ‘You are lying. Anyone who cannot read and write could not be able to build and produce something as professional as this.’” 

Bob Berry (second from left) in front of the tree at Thrive Coffee House
After two years in adult education, he received his diploma. “I learned how to write by writing journals with two of my teachers – including the one who initially didn’t believe my woodworking skills,” Berry said. “I also began reading the Bible as well as other books. I have read the Bible in its entirety every year for the past 26 years. This one thing has changed my life unbelievably.”

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Once his life began turning around, Berry started working in the grounds-keeping and maintenance departments at the academy. He had heard that a few students at the academy wanted to build a boat as part as the senior project; so he gathered his woodworking tools and found the wood necessary to teach them how to build their boat. One of these boats was entered in the Portland Boat Show and caught the attention of a Rhode Island entrepreneur who owns the Pirate Cove Marina in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

The owner of the marina had always wanted to own a coffee shop and had envisioned putting a tree inside the shop. She admired Berry’s craftsmanship on the boat displayed. “She approached me about making a tree to put in her coffee shop,” Berry said, befuddled. “So, I got a few of the students to work with me on it as part of their senior project and we built a tree. It is now in the Thrive Coffee House in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.”

And, thus, Berry’s career as a woodshop teacher began and he has been teaching the students for the past 10 years. However, the big projects of boats and trees were getting a bit overwhelming. About a year ago, he saw a student with a ukulele and thought that might be a much easier project to pursue. “I looked online to see how to make the instrument,” Berry said. “And we have been making ukuleles ever since.”

Word has gotten out about Berry’s talent for creating the popular and beautiful sounding ukulele and he is asked often to create and make special instruments for many within the Greater Windham Community. 

He has no plans of becoming an instrument-making entrepreneur, but if you have questions or would like to talk with Berry about his passion for woodworking, he is happy to do so. Feel free to contact him at fearnot58@icloud.com.

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