BECKET — John Ritter Bartsch wears a label "jack-of-all-trades." The label is fitting and one he wears proudly as he retires after 16 years as full-time caretaker of Camp Becket in the Berkshires.
This summer, instead of living among the more than 245 boys at the YMCA camp, Bartsch is living in Becket Village in a trailer. The change is one he may have difficulty adjusting to after the hectic pace of summers gone by.
That he will be missed by the campers and staff was indicated by the wording of a proclamation presented to him at the final camp banquet last year.
It said, in part, "no place in camp has gone unvisited by this man. He has been inside of, under, and on top of most every building. The cold winds and snows of winter, the overwhelming beauty of fall, the signs of a new season noted each spring and the hard tasks of summer … have seen him giving loyally of his talents. He constructed automats, fixed leaking pipes, made our beautiful signs, scraped our roadways, raised our flagpoles, repaired the things which were broken. He did so with care and skills befitting a man who has many talents … and he made our camp better for having been here."
Boys from all over the world have come to the camp, which is on Rudd Pond, here. They have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, professionals and nonprofessionals and many have also, over the years, sent their sons to camp.
"These boys have been like a big family to me and have been just great," Bartsch said in a recent interview. He is divorced and lives alone in the trailer he purchased last year.
Winters were always quiet at the camp, but I used to do most of the major repairs then, screens and doors and the like," he said. When asked about the behavior of campers, Bartsch spoke with a note of pride. "Vandalism from campers is rare. These kids don't really come for a vacation; they get an education in the out-of-doors and don't have time to get in trouble."
One of the most famous campers was the late Dr. Paul Dudley White, heart specialist to President Eisenhower.
"He was one of the first campers here when it opened in 1903. I can remember many long and interesting talks I had with him, not as a camper, of course, but he used to come back every now and then in the summertime to visit," Bartsch recalls.