By Emily Latulippe
“Every moment can be a defining moment. But what are the really defining moments of my life?” Mr. Berkemeyer asked. He pondered and replied, “Quitting the Coast Guard, walking across the country, becoming a teacher.”
Mr. Berkemeyer joined the Coast Guard right after high school graduation in 1981. The Coast Guard afforded Mr. Berkemeyer opportunities to travel and “have some unique experiences.” He left the Coast Guard after being in the academy for two years. “I did not want to make it my livelihood for the next 16 years. I was curious about what else life could offer,” said Mr. Berkemeyer.
Following Mr. Berkemeyer’s leave from the Coast Guard, he began a walk across the country. Starting in Oregon, he ended in Watertown, South Dakota due to thirty below wind chill. Although his journey across the country was cut short, Mr. Berkemeyer assures that in ten years you can find him finishing his walk across the country.
The thought of teaching began when he was in high school. Mr. Berkemeyer said he was a bit of a “loner” but found security in math. It was his strongest subject and his teachers motivated him through school. This strength in mathematics is shown in his classroom.
A fellow educator, Mr. Heathco, said, “He has been a tremendous educator for a long time. He consistently demands a high level of performance from his students.”
If you are walking around the “square” you are sure to see, at some point, Mr. Berkemeyer with his eyes on the ground looking for spare change. A successful day is when he takes a lap looking for change and comes back with some. But finding money is not the most rewarding part of Mr. Berkemeyer’s job.
To him, it is seeing kids succeed, whether it is a student in his math class or an athlete running a race. His goal is to push kids further than they think they can go. For example, he was honored as Coach of the Year in 2014 after his boys cross-country team became State Champions. He felt greater personal satisfaction seeing the boys being successful than from the recognition of his coaching, again putting students before himself.
Beyond the classroom, Mr. Berkemeyer enjoys giving back to the community. In 2008, Mr. Berkemeyer was the front force in providing the Freeport-Durham-Pownal school district a cross-country course. Before this course, Freeport was traveling to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester to practice and the school had to pay a daily admittance fee for each athlete.
There was a clear need for Freeport’s own course, and Mr. Berkemeyer was determined to get it done. After a year of planning and logistics, the project was approved by the town and someone to build the course was needed. The committee looked towards Mr. Berkemeyer for leadership.
“He almost single handedly designed and organized the acquisition and building of our cross-country trail system at Pownal road athletic facility,” said Mr. Heathco. “He has donated time and resources from his timing company, as well as thousands of dollars from races to the boosters program to benefit the student athletes who run for Freeport High School. He does this modestly and unselfishly.”
As a result of Mr. Berkemeyer’s countless hours clearing and building the trails, RSU5 has realized its vision of hosting their own cross-country races. Mr. Berkemeyer continues these efforts by encouraging students and athletes to contribute time to maintaining the trails through Senior Projects.
Mr. Berkemeyer’s life has taken him coast-to-coast. He faced challenges throughout life, but making the most of life and being successful is the result. He has encouraged students and athletes to excel in the classroom, as well as on the track and trails. His advice for students is, “Never make your dreams bigger than your reality. Make your own reality.”