Ukes sound good — Woodmakers wow LRMS with musical gifts

HANDCRAFTED UKULELES - Windham Christian Academy students Cailyn Wheeler and Emilee Dehetre display the ukuleles they made with students in the woodworking class taught by Bob Berry. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — At the height of winter, some people like to vacation where the temps are warmer — someplace like Hawaii.

On the Friday before February Vacation began, students at Lake Region Middle School (LRMS) got a taste of Hawaii.

Six handcrafted ukuleles — including one electric uke — became the property of the school. The ukuleles were presented in front of the student body during a pep rally on Friday afternoon.

Bob Berry who teaches a woodworking class a couple times a week at Windham Christian Academy made the ukuleles. Academy students — who had helped with the ukulele project in their woodworking class – were on hand to present the ukes to LRMS.

Additionally, Berry’s former employer, Sabre Yachts presented a $200 check to the LRMS music department. Sabre Yachts had provided the scrap wood that Berry and his class used to handcraft the ukes.

Also, students from the two schools collaborated, performing a song on the ukuleles – a piece that they had practiced just hours beforehand. It was a song familiar to the students in the bleachers; and before the melody was done, the crowd stood up, swayed to the music and sang the lyrics.

WOODWORKER BOB BERRY went from making full-size wooden boats that took up to two years to finish to crafting ukuleles using scrap wood from Sabre Yachts. On Friday, Berry gifted six ukuleles to Lake Region Middle School. (De Busk Photo)

According to Wikipedia “the ukulele is a member of the lute family of instruments. It generally employs four nylon or guts strings or four courses of strings.”

“The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaption of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument, which was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants.”

As beautiful as the wooden ukes are, Berry assured the crowd he was not the person to make beautiful music with them.

“I make them. I don’t play them,” he told the audience.

“If I look at a pile of wood, I see the uke in it. But for me to pick it up and play — I am not musically talented,” Berry said.

“My job isn’t just to teach woodworking. I believe that when you put your heart into something, you can succeed,” he said.

Each of the half-dozen ukes was very different from one another. They were made out of different species of trees such as red oak, maple, mahogany and cherry. The type of wood produces a different sound, Berry said.

“The ukes are layered in colors which is really cool. I wanted to make these so custom,” he said.

LRMS Principal Matt Lokken was pleased with the aesthetics of the instruments.

“The ukuleles are indeed works of art, beautiful craftsmanship by the students at WCA,” Lokken said.

“There was not a ukulele club at LRMS, just a handful of students who were learning the instrument out of personal interest in addition to the other band instruments,” he said.

“Larry Forbes is the teacher who will likely oversee the instruction of the instruments and students learning to play them,” he said.

STAR OF THE SHOW is one of the handcrafted ukuleles that were presented to Lake Region Middle School. (De Busk Photo)

Lokken said he was pleasantly surprised by the $200 check from Sabre Yachts. Berry said that Sabre’s management wanted to invest in the region’s youth, in the music department in particular.

Principal Lokken knew the ukuleles were in the making. So, that was not a surprise but rather something that was welcomed with open arms and nimble fingers.

“Steve Mercer, the health teacher, informed me early in the school year that he had been coordinating this with his friend who worked at Windham Christian Academy,” Lokken said.

Prior to the pep rally presentation, Berry provided the backdrop for how this became a reality.

His connection to the LRMS was Mercer.

“Steve and I go back to childhood. He is such a close friend,” Berry said.

Basically, Berry talked to Mercer about how he had shifted from making wooden fishing boats to ukuleles in the woodworking class he taught at WCA. Berry told Mercer he would make six for the middle school. Later, when the ukuleles were finished, Mercer purchased the instrument bags.

“The students are so excited. Shortly after Steve and I talked, they formed a uke group. Some of the students have them. So those who don’t are just waiting,” Berry said.

“It is so cool. I just love to see that — it is going to be so cool,” he said.

“It is not about the money. It is about me giving back to the school,” Berry said.

Sabre gives me all the materials — it is scrap wood that they would just throw away, he said. Berry’s brother works for Sabre Yachts, which was also where Berry was employed for some time. He also worked for Windham Millworks for a number of years.

At WCA, Berry has been handcrafting ukes for less than a year. Since April 2017, he has made more than 35 ukuleles.

“All I did was look online. I saw one at the school and I thought, ‘That would be kind of cool.’ I saw two or three videos and figured it out from there,” he said.

Berry understands the importance of making students feel like they belong and matter.

“I’ve been doing woodworking since I was a middle school student. I started in Mr. Pomerleau’s class. We traveled from the middle school to the high school to do shop classes in woodworking,” he said.

“He was a huge influence on me doing stuff with wood,” he said.

“I made some wooden shelves and a seat that went into a breezeway for my parents. It was high back seat that you sit down in to put your boots on,” he said.

“Mr. Pomerleau was always encouraging me,” he said.

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