“Push the tiller towards the sail!”
Boris Gregory’s distinct voice boomed through his megaphone across the GAC cove for close to three decades. Campers from the 1960s well into the 1990s will never forget the dynamic sailing duo of Boris and Irene Gregory. They taught countless campers and staff how to navigate the Huntington Lake winds.
Last weekend, surrounded by his four children, including current GAC staff member Claudia “Cloudy” (Gregory) Werlin, Boris passed away in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 96. He joined his beloved wife Irene, who preceded him in death by 14 years (April 16, 2002). Born on May 14, 1920, Boris lived a full and energetic life, which included not only his many years of teaching GAC campers how to sail across Huntington Lake, but also coaching sailing at the college level. Up until he was 90 years old, Boris taught fitness classes to seniors. All of us who were blessed to be at GAC with Boris remember trying to keep up with the brisk pace at which he walked through camp and wondering how he could be so much fitter than staff members a third his age! According to his son Michael, the answer may be Boris’ discipline and that, like the rest of the Gregorys “he rarely ate processed or preserved foods.”
The Gregorys arrival and influence at GAC is documented in the upcoming GAC history book:
During that summer of 1966, a community college teacher andsailing coach from the Bay Area was vacationing at Huntington Lake with his wife and four children. It was a trip they’d been making for years as a family, trekking to Lakeshore with two sailboats and a loaded Volkswagen Westphalia camper. They lived for a month each summer at the “College Camp” campground, sailing every day on what had become known as one of the finest sailing lakes in the western United States. After their sail, the coach and his wife—Boris and Irene Gregory – made it part of their daily routine to picnic on the beach across the cove from Gold Arrow. From that vantage point, they could see that Manny had skimped a bit on the sailing program.
The program was mostly chaotic, especially given the typical afternoon wind conditions. But much of it had to do with the battered, twenty-year-old sailboats. The Naples Sabots kids sailed were not only worn from years of tough service, they were difficult to sail and even more challenging to turn upright after capsizing. In general, the Gregorys took note of what seemed to be a lack of instruction, chuckling at misguided directions hollered through megaphones.
One day they saw Manny himself on the sailing dock blasting instructions through a bullhorn to his sailors. It was clear that challenging afternoon winds were frustrating the kids and the man tasked with teaching them. Finally, the Gregorys had seen enough. They sympathetically packed up their picnic and went over to Gold Arrow to introduce themselves, tracking Manny down on the dock. We couldn’t help but notice…, Boris began. He went on to tell Manny that he coached the sailing team at the College of Alameda in the Bay Area, that he had an excellent first mate in his wife Irene, and he had four kids who were terrific sailors in their own right. He then asked Manny if he wanted a little help. “Manny enthusiastically accepted,” said Len Gregory, the second of the four Gregory kids. He then invited Boris and Irene to the dining porch “for a look around and a talk,” said Len, and by the following summer (1967), Manny had a whole new staff of sailing instructors. Boris directed the program, with Irene and oldest son Ron providing instructional support; Len was hired at sixteen to work as a “mechanic’s assistant” while the two youngest, Mike and Claudia, “were quite young and they became campers.”
If the decade of the sixties was one of expansion and great change, the seventies ushered in a shift in focus on activities. “The Gregorys,” wrote Hoff, “solidified the sailing program as a key component of camp experiences.” They introduced a variety of new sailboats more appropriate for training, and emphasized water safety and sailing techniques that had been previously lacking. Activities like canoeing, kayaking, and “paddling on a surfboard,” wrote Hoff, “took a back seat to the more adventurous appeal of sailing.” Gold Arrow Camp yearbooks from the seventies reflect as much; all of them feature the sailing program prominently, with pictures of an impressive fleet of sailboats as well as campers holding High Sierra regatta trophies alongside their tanned and very proud sailing coach, Boris Gregory. “My father poured his heart and soul into the sailing program and it became his pride and joy,” wrote Claudia Gregory-Werlin. Holiday newsletters echoed that success, highlighting accomplishments from previous summers: “Every year, our sailors seem to conquer greater heights in the regattas.” Camper Vic Karidakes (1968-70, 75), who won the Will O’ the Wisp race twice, wrote that the Gregorys “were the greatest family ever”: “They were great at teaching every aspect of sailing, from pure beginners to advanced sailors.” Boris and Irene enjoyed their work, and they enjoyed each other.
“My parents had an agreement […] that they would go for a swim off the sailing dock every day in the snowmelt called Huntington Lake,” added Claudia. “They never missed a day.”
We are incredibly grateful for the legacy the Gregorys left at GAC, which goes far beyond sailing. Their son Michael Gregory summed it up well, “Life with Boris & Irene was a parade and celebration of humanity. No bystanders, spectators or wall flowers, all were welcome to join in.”
We are grateful for the legacy of the Gregorys. Their hard work, love for others, and positive impact on all who worked with them and learned from them, continue to live on in the generations that have followed. In fact, two of of their grandchildren, Jake “Genki” and Jessie “Cosmo” Werlin, spent time on the sailing dock serving as GAC Sailing Instructors and then as Sailing Directors! Boris and Irene’s daughter, Claudia “Cloudy” Werlin, has continued to work at camp in various capacities over the years, and in the most recent years has brought her husband Bill “Oddjob” to join the GAC team. So while we have said goodbye to dear Boris and Irene, we know the Gregory legacy will live on forever at GAC.
If you listen carefully while sailing in the GAC cove, you just may hear the echo of Boris’ voice in the wind.
The Gregory family has suggested that, for those alumni wishing to make a remembrance donation, the Max and Marion Caldwell Foundation (campership fund, please designate Gregory Fund, Gold Arrow Camp) or the American Red Cross, would both be great choices that honor Boris and Irene.
Words of Remembrance from Boris’ son-in-law, Bill Werlin
Lives are written in many ways. Some are a story with footnotes. Most have chapters but for a special few, they write volumes. Born as Boris Gregorivich Hamovich, he was a master author.
Perhaps only in the minds of a Hollywood writer or an epic novelist could a Russian man born and raised in China find his way around the globe and generate nearly a century of laughs, loves and legacies.
It’s impossible to cover a life like Boris’s in a simple fashion. At 18 he made what for most people would be an inconceivable decision to leave his family and head for US shores. Ironically, as soon as he arrived, his American dream began with volunteering for the US Army, wading ashore at Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion, hard duty in the Battle of the Bulge and finally a purple heart in the service of his new homeland.
As with all dark nights, new dawns bring new adventures. An invitation to a party in Malibu and a chance encounter with a newly arrived, beautiful German girl led to 54 years of true wedded bliss, four exceptional children, eight grand children and life-long impact on hundreds if not thousands of students and children who had the good fortune to fall under his wing.
Putting himself through UC Berkeley and settling the Gregory family in the East San Francisco Bay Area, Boris was the true immigrant success story. Hundreds of students and adults at local colleges experienced a loving but no compromise education in gymnastics, swimming, physical education, sailing, first aid and how to never cry “uncle”. As if his mentoring wasn’t enough in the Bay Area, he took the Gregorys on a year’s teaching exchange program to London and another foray to work the Munich Olympics. Trains, planes and old VW buses introduced the family to a myriad of cultures, languages and friends, the memories and impact of which have sculpted family members even today.
Lido races on Lake Merritt, US travel adventures in that same Euro VW bus, the Jolly Trolley which followed them home from Europe, countless hours sailing the San Francisco Bay on the Mad Rush, dance parties until early morning hours were constant color additions to his life’s palette.
Truly impactful participation in Rotary Club, the American Red Cross and Encinal Yacht Club added to the sum total of how widespread his influence and legacy ranged. Perhaps most of all was Boris and Irene’s 30+ years of introducing children from all walks of life to the joys of sailing and reveling in the outdoors. Patience, care, support, encouragement and the reminder to first time solo sailors, “Don’t forget to write!” as they sailed away from the dock are etched into countless memories of Gold Arrow Campers.
From Harbin China, and literally around the world to his final resting place in California, perhaps about Boris, Kipling says it the best…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Thank you Boris!
Our beloved camp dog, Lucy, met approximately 7,252 campers and more than 2,000 staff over her 15 years at GAC (according to Monkey’s calculations). We’re pretty sure most of those campers gave her some love and pets, and we know that many homesick campers were soothed by her soft fur. Lucy loved all the campers and staff at GAC and enjoyed a fun, full life.
Lucy joined camp as a young puppy the summer of 2001, chased sticks into Huntington Lake, loved going in boats, and especially enjoyed being pet and loved on by thousands of campers and staff.
When Lucy slowed down over the past few summers, she still showed up for every meal for hundreds of pets on the steps by the dining porch. Thank you for 15 years of friendship and love, Lucy. We will miss you.
Enjoy this tribute video, which shows just a few of the friends Lucy made over her years at GAC.
Estaline Watkins (1906-2014) was Manny Vezie’s first wife and was instrumental in helping Manny realize his dream of starting Gold Arrow Camp. Estaline passed away in Redding, California, on November 11, 2014, at the age of 108.
Manny and Estaline met while both worked summer jobs at Yellowstone National Park. She was a talented musician, dancer, and horseback rider who loved the outdoors. A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in music, she taught briefly while waiting for Manny to complete his education at Notre Dame. The two married in 1931 and immediately moved to Southern California to start a life and family. Manny had a law degree, but Estaline said it was work that never really “stirred him.” Throughout their early years, he had talked often with Estaline about starting a camp for boys. When he came home from his first day of work in a law firm, he told her, “I can’t do that. Let’s start a boys’ camp.” She said, “I’m ready.”
In the early years of Gold Arrow, Estaline did just about everything to support Manny’s dream. “I was the cook, dishwasher, clothes washer, secretary, happy helper,” she wrote. In the off-season, she earned money as a dancer at Graumann’s Chinese Theater to help finance camp and support Manny and their young son, Krieg Stanton Vezie, born in 1932. She had two other children with Manny: Diana, born in 1940, and Tim, born in 1941. For over a decade (1933-1945), Estaline kept the camp books, cooked for the campers and staff, and taught the boys “how to ride the ponies.” She was a very important person to Gold Arrow Camp and she remembered it fondly even to her last days. She was active and sharp, playing the piano and harmonica and writing poems until the very end. We at Gold Arrow have a deep admiration for the life she lived.
I spent the six most important summers of my life at Gold Arrow Camp. I have my blanket and I also think GAC changed my life. I had no idea I owed it so much to Jeanie.
Ellen Fead Fields (Camper 1964-1971)
Many parents and grandparents of today’s campers fondly remember Jeanie Vezie, who co-owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp with her husband Manny for thirty years. Jeanie passed away at the age of 101 on Saturday, December 13, 2014.
Jeanie was born on a ranch in Western Nebraska on February 17, 1913. “We lived on this ranch, and in February out west the weather can get pretty bad. There was a big blizzard. The doctor couldn’t make it. My father sent a team to go to the farm next door to get the midwife. When the midwife arrived, she found me all cleaned up and my dad holding me by the pot belly stove. “I suppose there was a little whisky in it too,” was what my dad said about the bottle he had fed me. My dad had delivered me. He took me with him when he was going to work. He took me everywhere with him. I was my dad’s favorite from the beginning,” said Jeanie.
Jeanie had many adventures living and working in Los Angeles during World War II as a real estate agent. As fate would have it, her husband passed away while her son Scooter was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. And thus began a new adventure in her life.
In 1958, Jeanie Vezie joined her husband Manny at camp and became part of the beloved team “Manny and Jeanie.” Together, they owned and operated Gold Arrow Camp during the years when many of our current camp parents attended (1960s-1980s). For 30 years (1958-1988), Jeanie brought her business sense and woman’s touch to camp and helped Manny create a successful and world-re-known summer camp.
We can especially thank Jeanie that GAC has girl campers now, as she had to convince Manny that girls would enjoy his “rugged camp” as much as boys did! In Jeanie’s words, “I recalled that some parents had asked why we couldn’t have girls at Gold Arrow. I broached this to Manny and, at first, he said it was out of the question. One day he asked me if I thought girls would like Gold Arrow. I said, ‘I’m a girl, and I like it.” Finally, we decided to try enrolling boys in July and girls in August. None of these changes made over the years were easy to get Manny’s approval but, after they were made, he always agreed they were good.”
The positive influence Jeanie has had on the lives of the campers and staff at Gold Arrow Camp is something impossible to measure.
On February 17, 2013, a group of GAC alumni gathered to celebrate Jeanie’s 100th birthday. She is fondly remembered for her high energy and her deep love for the campers and staff at Gold Arrow Camp. She is also credited with convincing Manny to allow girls to attend GAC. For that, and for her hard work creating a special community at Gold Arrow Camp, many of us are thankful.
We will always remember you, Jeanie!