During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jill Bearman called Camp Louise in Cascade, Maryland, her happy place. As a camper, Jill was able to put all worries away and be herself with her peers and nature, despite her battle with cystic fibrosis.
Though Jill died from her illness in 1986 at 15, she will forever be part of Camp Louise history as the namesake for its new $2 million, 700-seat outdoor amphitheater called Jill’s Place.
On July 14, Camp Louise will hold a grand opening for campers. The event will include addresses by Camp Louise director Alicia Block Berlin, Camp Airy and Camp Louise Foundation board president Lee Coplan and Jill’s mother, Arlene Bearman. The Shehecheyanu will be said and there will be a formal hanging of the mezuzah by Rabbi Elisa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Campers will put on a folk-dance performance and do a song from their production of the musical “In the Woods,” which they will perform in full the next day.
“We are beyond thrilled with the final product,” Berlin said. “The kids have been so excited to see it. I heard a lot of campers talking about the dedication, and they’re so excited about that as well and they really feel like they are now part of the history of Camp Louise.”
Berlin was a camper with Jill for several years in the ’80s and hasn’t forgotten her enthusiasm: “Cystic fibrosis never stopped Jill from enjoying all there was at camp.”
Because of her condition, Jill needed to be supervised in order to attend Camp Louise. Both of Jill’s parents ended up playing roles at the camp while their daughter attended.
“The only way she could go to camp was with me or a different camp doctor,” said her father, Dr. Sheldon Bearman. “She and I went up together the first two weeks of camp one year, and I did it for the next five or six years.”
Arlene remembers that despite Jill’s malady, campers and staff alike treated her with the utmost kindness and respect.
“She coughed a lot, and huffed and puffed, but they made her feel like an absolutely normal child,” said Arlene. “She was never made to feel like she was different or sick. She was a regular camper.”
Jill’s Place was able to be built thanks, in large part, to a $500,000 gift from the Herbert Bearman Foundation, a philanthropic organization named after Jill’s great-uncle that funds projects to benefit communities in Baltimore, Palm Beach County, Florida, and Israel.
Although the foundation typically funds programmatic needs rather than construction projects, when the camp made it known they needed a new amphitheater, Jill’s father thought it was a great fit.
“We wanted to do something that was a memorial to Jill,” said Sheldon, who along with Arlene represents the board of trustees for the foundation.
Camp Louise staff shared Sheldon’s desire that the amphitheater serve as a tribute to Jill rather than just a functional structure.
“We really wanted it to be called ‘Jill’s Place’ and we wanted campers around camp to call it ‘Jill’s Place,’ and not just ‘the theater,’” said Lauren Perlin, director of development at Camp Louise. “Hearing everyone call it ‘Jill’s Place’ feels really special. Having seen the campers using the space has made it all real.”
On what is sure to be an emotional day, Arlene says she’s looking most forward to “thanking the people who were so kind and playing such an important role in making this possible.
“The nurses, the camp administration and the campers themselves. Those girls seemed to know to protect her and be kind to her.”