“West End is in your blood. The place will infect you and there is no vaccination. It goes beyond being a member. It’s part of your core.” There are few, if any, people in the modern era that bleed West End more than Gerry Walsh. At the age of 8 years old, Gerry started attending the West End House Club in Allston-Brighton, as he lived in the public housing nearby at Fidelis Way. He has been a staunch supporter of both the club and the camp for more than 50 years.
As a youngster, Gerry would come to the club every day and hang with his friends. The club was a safe place where everyone got along, and he loved the gym, library, playing chess, and the game room. All of this was for free, sort of. Gerry didn’t even have the $2 minimum entry fee, so Bill Margolin told him to sweep the floor a little to cover his fee. “The Club and the Camp have the same mission that they have had for over 100 years and stuck with it. How many organizations have had the same basic mission and survived so long? Kids have had a safe place to get away. West End was open to everyone well before its time.” Gerry is so passionate about the West End brand and preservation of its synchronicity and mission that he proudly admits to being “The only board member to vote AGAINST the separation of the camp from the club.”
Gerry was never a camper because he was always busy with summer Basketball and Baseball in leagues in Boston. However, he had been to the camp once when he was about 13 years old during Old Timers’ Week. Bill had needed another guy in the kitchen and “asked Gerry for a favor.” He picked Gerry up and brought him to camp for what would amount to about 10 hours of work.
In 1984, while in college at Framingham State, Bill asked Gerry if he would work at camp as he needed someone to drive the van. Gerry, an experienced driver of all of 1 month, was the obvious choice. Bill trusted Gerry, even with such little experience behind the wheel. “Bill always had confidence in me.” Gerry was chosen to be the Senior Counselor of 5A, with Junior Counselor Kevin Lustig, leading an important group of the youngest campers. “Brian Bloch, Cooker (Dan Andelman), Hal Schwartz, Jon Alfred, those kids would jump through the window of the Counselor Room and wake me up in the morning.” Back then it was customary for the older campers to come in and prank the little guys. Gerry and the Senior Counselor of 5B, Adam Sussman, agreed they would not allow this silly tradition anymore, to the dismay of many veteran campers.
Gerry was sitting in 5A one day, a month into camp, and he noticed he could still see the word “Ivory” engraved in one of his camper’s bar of soap, which meant it got very little use. He was confused because the campers took showers every night. Gerry had a bunk meeting and all of the campers had to promise to actually use soap when they showered each night. Gerry loved being with those campers. He had a key to the kitchen and would sneak in each night, throw a giant amount of ice cream in one of those large metal pots, dump some milk in there and bring it back to the cabin to the delight of the campers. “We used to call it Smush and we had it every night.”
Gerry loved his time on staff. He loved the Rec Hall. “Love the gym, it was out of a old sports movie.” Unlike most counselors, Gerry liked to stay in camp on nights off. “I didn’t want to go to Portland or Double O (Old Orchard), I lived in Boston. I did not need to go out on my nights off to a city. I enjoyed going to Kennards in the evenings. There wasn’t as many people on the lake then. Sometimes you would have it to yourself or with 1 or 2 other staff. That water on the lake was like glass, clear, and very warm, I could not get that in Boston.” In addition, he appreciates that two of his childhood friends, Rich Grealish and John Sullivan, also had the opportunity to experience camp as counselors.
When asked about his favorite activities, Gerry quickly responded “Besides Cake and Milk?” He loved all the sports, the intercamp sports. Shoving “27” kids into the van to Robin Hood, campers sitting on crates for a 10-under soccer game. “The kids loved it.” Gerry also loved the trips to Funtown, Old Orchard, and to watch the Maine Mariners minor league baseball team. “We would just laugh the entire time. I liked the wise guys, who kept it interesting.” Gerry was also happy to be the one to take a group of about 8 campers to Sunday Mass each week, at St. Matthews Church in Limerick. “We took the campers out for candy afterwards, some of the kids came just for the candy.” Gerry had great memories of those Sundays and was thankful for how inviting the community was. “The priest used to wait for us if we were running late. They were super nice to us.”
For the evening activities, Gerry liked Watermelon best. “You got to watch the sunset in the field.” His least favorite, “Counselor Hunt, standing in the mosquito forest. (Counselor Hunt is no longer allowed in the woods). Staff sports was fun too. I played everything.”
In 1985, Gerry had 3B, with a staff of Jay DiRuscio and Mike Tollins, and with campers like Gilbert Michelson, Matt Bloch, and Brett Wilensky. In 1986, Gerry had 3B again, this time with Lonnie Elfbaum and Dave Andelman on his staff and campers such as Mike Santosuosso and Mike Lamkin. “As a counselor, you don’t realize you may be saving a family’s summer.” Gerry knows how much kids need camp and how some benefit from getting away from stressful home situations for a few weeks over the summer.
While Color War was new to Gerry, he got involved immediately, coaching on the victorious Blue Dynasty. “The coaches were intense, I loved Song Night.” Also on his coaching staff were Adam Sussman, Greg Harper, Eric Sussman, and John McEachern. Gerry remembered there being a Newcombe game that would never end (that’s a yearly occurrence). He was impressed with how some campers that were under the radar would shine and how important having campers with good attitudes was to winning. The Blue Dynasty had Neil Weiss and Jimmy Klapman as captains. “Neil was such a strong kid and you couldn’t help but like Jimmy.” Gerry ran Color War one of his other years on staff.
Gerry was quite the basketball player and coach. At one point as a young kid he was the ball boy for Boston College. He went to Boston Technical High School, one of only 3 exam schools in the city. Famous UConn coach, Jim Calhoun, was at Northeastern at the time and wanted Gerry on his team, but Gerry told him he had to work and Calhoun hung the phone up on him. So Gerry played for Framingham State College and still holds the single season assist record. After college, Gerry coached at Watertown High, Framingham State, Wentworth, Emerson College, and finally, at Bentley College, where he coached the women’s team. While at Emerson, the boys coach at the time was an older fellow West Ender and long time friend, Hank Smith. Hank recommended one of his players, Kabir Moss, to work at West End for the summer. Kabir, from Chico, California, was a terrific counselor for 2 years. Kabir then recruited his friends, Tyler Randolph and Brett Smyth. The Chico crew were some of the best counselors camp has ever had. Hank Smith also coached Sam Presti, who is the long time, extremely successful General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Presti drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. West Ender Hank Smith is an official scout for the team.
Gerry went on to work as a police officer for Boston schools, then for the West End House Club (of course), before landing his longtime career as a Corrections Professional for 25 years. For several years now, Gerry has been working at UMass-Boston, teaching Criminology and Sociology. He also enjoys helping raise funds for WEH club and camp members to receive college scholarships in honor of Bill and Bryna. “Bill and Bryna are living saints, we are happy to honor them in a small way with the Margolin Family Scholarship.”
Gerry comes up to camp every few years, especially if there is an event honoring someone. He was happy to have been at the West End House Girls Camp for the dedication of their new court, in memory of great basketball coach and West Ender, Bobby Gordon. He remembers the great story Henry Barr told that day of Bobby Gordon making him box. Gerry believes one of the greatest parts of his WEH experience is learning its history. “Meeting the old West Enders and hearing their stories is one of the many gifts the WEH has given me.”
Almost everyone has a great relationship with Bill Margolin, but Gerry’s is extra special. “Bill has been like a father for 51 years. He is the most consistent person I know. I know his answer to any question before I ask it. Loyal, accepts others’ faults, patient, talented, dedicated his life to help kids. What an inspiration. My biggest fear was always disappointing him. However, he is always forgiving.”
One story in particular always stuck with Gerry. There was a kid from the club that was horsing around and threw a rock that cracked the car window of an old alumni. The man was fuming and Bill tried to calm him down while the man was ranting about how big of a punishment the kid should get. Bill said, “Did you ever do anything stupid as a kid? It happens, they are kids.” The man stopped his call for the kid’s head. Gerry pointed out “Bill has a great perspective of child behavior. Club kids know him well because he had to deal with us for 8 months a year. He never raised his voice. He gets kids to be better people.” Gerry is forever thankful that Bill helped him and many others pay for college. He always helped find the money. He was always impressed that Bill was not afraid of befriending people “on the margins.” Bill helps all people and looks down at no one.
In a previous article, Kevin Lustig boasted about Bill’s move to trick someone out of their candy. Gerry did not realize that he needed to set the record straight. Gerry claims that he and Bill invented the move. “Bill and I used to have a sweet tooth. I would find out when a counselor got some sweets in the mail, for example, brownies. Then I would go up to that person on the dock, act like I was annoyed with Bill, and say ‘I bet your brownies that I’ll push him in.’ Worked every time. Gerry would push Bill in the lake and they would share the brownies they cheated someone out of. We passed that one on when I left.”
Gerry is proud that his family has continued the West End House tradition. He was the 10th of 11 children, so he has several nephews, many of which attended camp, including Danny and Kevin Walsh. In total, he has had 5 nephews and 2 great nephews attend camp, including current camper Derek Walsh. Gerry and his wife live in Wilmington and have one daughter, who attends Malden Catholic High School.
“The West End Club/Camp is a well known brand that has gone 100-120 years and made it through economic challenges, organizational changes, cultural shifts, and even pandemics. Kids always had the opportunities to be kids. West End House (Club/Camp) took care of their hierarchy of needs. Kids at camp got along and became friends. They absorb everything, all those life lessons from the great staff.”
It’s all about the people and relationships for Gerry. “People are important, they stay with you. I’ve been lucky with relationships I developed from the West End House. Those people become even more important later in life.”
Gerry is forever grateful for being a West Ender. “I’m lucky to be part of the camp and club. It’s something I cherish. It’s made me and my little world better.” Thank you Gerry Walsh for sharing how you “Became One of the Boys.” We may have to print a retraction piece, now that we know the true originator of the “Push Bill in the Water” snack scam.