“Camp transcends everything, it’s a special place. To see it continuing, young guys stepping up and taking the reins. It will keep on going in perpetuity.” Rick and Neal Shrier have an old West End House lineage. In 1918, Neal’s grandfather, Louis Real, was signed up for camp when it was canceled due to the Spanish Flu epidemic. But in 1919, Louis took a little suitcase, took off by boat to Portland, Maine and then took a horse and wagon to Parsonsfield. Louis eventually became the camp’s Doctor, “Doc Real,” despite not technically being a doctor. After skipping a generation, Doc Real’s grandsons, Neal and Gordon, came to Parsonsfield on a bus from Cleveland Circle, in Brighton, MA. His cousin Rick, better known as Ricky back then, joined him a few years later, in what has been a lifetime shared experience that has helped the cousins stay close.
In 1969, Neal and his older brother, Gordon, first came to camp for 3 weeks. Gordon was in Gottlieb and successfully begged to stay the full 8 weeks, so he could participate in Color War. Neal remembers his parents paying $35 a week and giving director Allie Coles an extra $5 for the big Ogunquit trip. Neal’s father (Sidney) and Ricky’s father (Eddie) were brothers. The boys lived across the street from each other in Natick, MA, as it became a West End hotbed. Mike Finn, Jeff Yarckin, Bobby Brown, the Gilberts, and the DiRuscios all came from Natick with the Shriers. Paul Lesser, also from Natick, sent his 3 boys more recently. 1984 Heisman trophy winner, Doug Flutie, also grew up in their neighborhood. Ricky’s first cousin from his mother’s side, Andy Katz from Newton, also was a camper. They said that Rick was sponsored by a relative, the legendary Manny Brown (who sadly passed away in 2020). Ricky came to camp a few years later, in 1973. He was a 4 week camper, old enough to be in Gottlieb, but due to the lack of space, he was placed in 4B. His counselors were Peter Nason, Steve Marcus, and Steve Lepler.
While both Ricky and Neal enjoyed their summers at camp, they were still well connected back home. Both were always looking forward to seeing the UPS truck arrive at camp as they enjoyed regular packages from home. Bagels and snacks always seemed to be included.
Having spent 6 years as a camper, Neal has many early memories. He remembers his rigorous interview with Allie Coles to get into camp. Allie simply asked, “Can you swim?” He remembers the legendary counselors of the time like Mike Finn, Tank Sherman, Marty and Allan Jacobs, Keith Sherman, and Peter Kaplan. “Reggie Bird, Bobby Gordon, Peter Nason, Steve Dushan, Mike “Cat” Cataldo, Ned Cohen, the Sharpstein brothers, Joel Saperstein, Pistol Pete Avergun, these guys were gods to us.” Neal recalled “I remember Keith Sherman doing pushups between two beds. These guys were ripped.” He laughed at some of the less than safe measures taken in that era. “Don Dutch (Program Director) put like 10 kids in the back of a pickup truck for a trip to Mount Washington (over 1:30 away).” Neal loved so many activities. He especially loved the Gottlieb Hunt. “Someone threw a rock at my hiding place under the Mess Hall and hit me in the head, so I got to egg HIM.” Those not found during Gottlieb Hunt got to crack an egg on the head of the camper of their choice. Neal loved watching the intercamp counselor games, staying over at the campsite across the lake using “those nasty sleeping bags that were stored in the Rec Hall attic.” Some of his other favorite activities included trips to Ogunquit Beach, Capture the Flag on the first night, Gold Rush, as well as Bombs & Missiles. In 1975, Neal was in Gottlieb with future Camp Director Steve Lepler as his Senior Counselor. “He made me sleep in the bunk next to him, because he knew how neat I was.” Paul Cohen was his Junior Counselor. As a CIT, Neal had Brett Barenholtz and current Board President Stuart Snyder as his campers. As a counselor, Neal taught small crafts (sailing and canoeing). “I spent more time on that pond sailing, it was my happy place. One of the treasures of being at camp. Thank you, Doc Evan Hack, for giving me all those periods off.”
Ricky didn’t come to camp until 1973, after not having the best experience at Camp Joseph. Prior to camp, Ricky was very active in his local Babe Ruth Baseball and was on the travel team during summers before 1973. “I fell in love right away and I was not happy to leave” after just 4 weeks as the oldest camper in 4B. He regretted not having come to WEHC years earlier. However, Ricky was pleasantly surprised when “I got asked to be a CIT, when some of the Gottlieb kids were not asked.” His first assignment was with counselors Steve Lepler (as the Junior Counselor) and the larger than life Peter Nason (as the Senior Counselor). One year, he had Neal as a camper. When I asked if he gave Neal preferential treatment, he responded “Absolutely Not.” Ricky was the tennis guy, a job he did not love. He would have preferred to be on the baseball field. He recalls the poor condition of the tennis courts back then. “Everything was broken.” Ricky’s true love was baseball and therefore the Watermelon League was his favorite. Ricky was very good and was able to have his own team, “The Shriers.” The Watermelon League includes a rule that all family members are guaranteed to be on the same team. But Ricky was not impressed with his cousin Neal’s hitting skills. Neal, seeming a little triggered, jokingly noted, “He made me bat 1st, even before the kids in 5A.” Winning his Watermelon League Division with the league’s best record was Rick’s favorite camp moment. He also remembers a fellow local counselor letting him drive his Ford Mustang. Ricky had never driven a stick shift before. Ricky was lactose intolerant but did not know it at the time. “I spent a lot of time looking for bathrooms after meals.” When I asked if he knew about the “Secret Bathroom” in the storage room, Rick had a horrified look on his face, like a 6 year old who learns that Santa isn’t real. That probably would’ve been helpful knowledge for him 50 years ago.
As with most West Enders, Color War is a hot topic. Neal was a captain on the winning Blue Raiders. Then he coached as a CIT on the Blue Family (with Head Coach & former Camp President – Jeff Kublin). “I was so honored to be with the big guys.” He was a proud member of the coaching staff that is in the “600” club, the White Stallions, who were the first white team to wear blue jeans. “Before that year, the white team wore sheets that resembled diapers.” When asked why that was a tradition, it was because the White team would never wear BLUE jeans, the color of their opponent. “We declared “No more white sheets”; we ended the toga/diaper era.” Up to that point, being on the blue team was preferable. “Alex Berger coached the Blue Train, and they were so cool with the blue shirts and blue jeans.” Ricky was picked as a coach once for the White Sensation but admits “I did not contribute one word to Song Night.” Steve Lepler was the head coach for the White Sensation and is still angry about a disputed call made by the officials, in a heartbreaking 3-point loss. Rick remembers his first Color War for the winning White Crusade. However, after losing as a coach, he learned “the life lesson to lose with dignity. You can’t be a poor sport.”
Neal recalled the great Color War starts of the time, one during Gold Rush and another at 1st bell for breakfast when an airplane dropped blue and white confetti onto the campus. Neal recalls always being surprised by the starts, but one start, in particular, seems odd to him to this day. “My Gottlieb year, someone purportedly stole Don Dutch’s wallet. For a week there was an investigation. In the Council Ring, he opened up his wallet and blue and white confetti came out.” This did not seem like a rewarding moment, after a week-long fake wallet investigation that had everyone walking on eggshells.
Neal had been coming up to Old Timers’ Week for several years (since 1984) at the insistence of the legendary Al Sands, when Rick (no longer Ricky) decided to join him in 1994. In what I found to be a beautiful moment between long time cousins, Rick said “we reconnected as friends. Camp brought us back together. It has been great to have this shared experience with my cousin.” Neal smiled intensely, “I LOVE that.”
The cousins have had a wonderful time at Old Timers’ Week each year. “The personalities, the characters are unbelievable. A lot of great friendships with people that have different backgrounds. Some of the best friends, you didn’t like or know at first.” One year, the 1970s Old Timers’ crew took a bus to Portland for a night on the town. Rick has sleep apnea, so he stays at the Midway Motel in Cornish and makes sure to stop by the Bay Haven Lobster Pound while he is there. Neal has a hard time with the noise, late at night, so he brings ear plugs in order to get some sleep. Neal was proud to have recently delivered “Ishka Pishkas” to camp buddies Bobby Ryter and Bruce Balder on their birthdays. An Ishka Pishka is West End’s version of a Celebrity roast, but through song, straw hats, and a bizarre farmer dance. The origin of this bizarre ritual is unclear. This tradition was banned at camp in the late 90s, for obvious reasons. However, revivals, in jest, between alumni have become a way to remind our friends that we can make fun of each other, in good fun, as nothing can break these deep bonds we share.
When it comes to Bill Margolin, there is a deep reverence. Neal remembers how excited everyone was in 1970, when Bill came back to camp. Rick was always impressed, “Bill knows everyone’s name and cared about EVERYONE.” Neal remembers “I always wanted to please him. He always remembers my street address and that I received “Personals” for having a neat locker and a well-made bed. Definition of cool. West End is a positive place because of him, he’s larger than life.”
When asked about a random West End run in, Neal recalled the time he was living in New Jersey. He went into Manhattan with some friends to the Village. Then he walked into a bar and in the middle of a magic show, “Allan Jacobs was one of the performers.” Allan is a long-time professional juggler, with his partner as the tandem known as the “Gizmo Guys.” Allan has been the Camp’s Waterfront Director the last few years and loves to teach the campers juggling during his off time.
These days Neal Shrier lives back in Natick and has 2 adult children. He owns his own printing and promotional company, “Shrier Works.” According to their website, “Shrier Works has printing and promotional product solutions that work for you. Our knowledge, experience, and ability to effectively manage projects from concept through completion is the Shrier difference. Shrier Works help businesses get their brand into their client’s hands. Print and promo that will engage, entertain, inform, appreciate and motivate them to buy their products and services.”
Neal is also a well known Spin Class Instructor at Lifetime Fitness in Framingham and Chestnut Hill, MA. One of his testimonials reported “Neal is pure sunshine! Guaranteed challenging class with lots of laughs and incredible cardio.” There are other West Enders who have taken Neal’s class, one of which reported that “Neal is a Rock Star.”
Rick has 2 homes, one in Clinton, MA and the other in Asheville, NC, the home of the Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt home, which is the largest home in America. Rick is an Investment Advisor and has 2 daughters and a son. Rick met his son, Matt, for the first time a few years ago as he was a “23andMe” surprise. Rick said “Matt would have been at home at WEHC as a star athlete, captain of his high school football team and his college football team at Bridgewater State.” Matt coaches his own children’s baseball teams.
Sidenote: When I asked Rick how old Matt was and where he went to High School, I was shocked. Another small world camp connection. My best friend at Foxboro High School is also 39, played football at Central Catholic and Bridgewater State. I asked him if he knew a Matt. “Yeah, he’ s one of my best friends.”
Rick is the owner of his own Wealth Management company, Shrier Associates LLC. According to their website, Shrier Associates is “focused on the long-term financial goals of our clients, rather than short-term gains or the latest hot stocks and mutual funds. We have over three decades of experience in helping individuals and families preserve and grow their assets, increase income, reduce tax liability, and help ensure that their money lasts their lifetime or even longer.”
On my end, Rick is best known as the man who saw the Pickleball revolution years before it started. He has been donating equipment and lobbying to have camp go all in on the sport. Rick has offered to conduct clinics for campers the last few years, which was impossible during the pandemic. We look forward to taking him up on his offer this summer.
Neal and Rick noted many lifelong benefits of being a West Ender. “Nobody who goes to camp has a home sick problem in college.” The transition is seamless. When I asked the cousins how important it is to be “one of the boys,” the list was lengthy. “Family, connections, guys I’ve known for 50 years, feeling of community, belonging, common experience, you can be yourself.” In terms of the beautiful spot on Long Pond, Neal said “It is the only place I can go to that is exactly the same. This is what my grandfather saw in 1919, the beauty of that area. We get shivers coming down Route 5, passing Kennards.” Rick said directly, “We belong here.”
Often, we think of the lifelong friends we make at camp. But this interview also reminded me of how camp makes brothers and cousins even closer, sharing that common bond, having a common place to love, enjoy, and connect yearly at Old Timers’ Week. I know this well seeing my own brothers fly in from Chicago and Charlotte every year. Thank you, Neal and Rick Shrier for “Remembering with Ryan.” While being reminded of many great traditions, I can assure you both that Rec Hall attic sleeping bags, rides in the back of trucks, the white team wearing makeshift toga sheets and Ishka Pishkas will not be making a comeback to West End.
Ryan, many thanks for doing this with Rick and me. It only deepens my appreciation for West End House Camp and for guys, such a you, who ensure the the Spirit of the House has a bright future and continuing legacy.