Freeport High School Assistant Principal Charlie Mellon and math and social studies teachers Brian Berkemeyer and Geoff Dyhrberg were among school staff who participated in a beard-growing contest to raise money for a local heating fund. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

FREEPORT — Last week, Brian Berkemeyer “won” the right to shave his beard – the first time he’d put razor to face in more than a decade.

Walking to school in frigid single-digit weather the next morning, the clean-shaven math teacher likely missed his whiskers. But given that the beard-growing contest in which he and 14 other Freeport High School staff had participated was a fundraiser for the Carol Kaplan Fuel Assistance Fund, the cause of getting shorn was just, he said.

“I’ve been teaching with you 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen your face,” a still-bearded Geoff Dyhrberg told Berkemeyer. “I won’t have a razor on my face for awhile,” Berkemeyer responded.

Brian Berkemeyer, a Freeport High math teacher, was the top choice among students to shave his beard since he hadn’t been clean-shaven in more than a decade.

It’s the second time in about seven years Dyhrberg, who teaches social studies, had organized the campaign for the Kaplan fund, which is facilitated by Freeport Community Services. The fund so far this year has helped more than 30 households – 58 adults and 39 children – meet the need for oil, propane, wood, and electricity, according to Sarah Lundin, the Freeport organization’s director of services.

“This year, thanks to the incredible generosity of the Freeport and Pownal communities, we have a healthy budget of $20,000, which should allow us to assist approximately 60 households with fuel one time during the heating season, which we are on target with doing,” Lundin said.

The fund is bolstered by community donations and occasional support from grants. “Every year it is such an honor to be able to use the generosity of those who provide funding for the program to fill the tanks of their neighbors in need, (and) donations from caring residents make it possible for people to stay warm during the cold, winter months,” she said.

The need, and budget, were similar last year, with 61 households aided once in the season.

“In 2017, after helping 70 households a total of 103 times during the extremely cold winter, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce the number of times we can help families and individuals to once per heating season so that the program would continue to benefit as many as possible,” Lundin said.

She said she was excited by the school fundraiser, adding, “(W)e greatly appreciate the community continuing to watch out for one another and help those in need have access to resources that are truly life-changing.”

Each of the high school’s four grades “adopted” a staff representative who was growing his beard. The class that raised the most money would “win,” and the students’ representative would be publicly shaven, Dyhrberg said. Berkemeyer was chosen by the sophomore class, and his jar received the lion’s share of the total $119.49 raised since so few people had ever seen him without his salt-and-pepper beard. The shaving was to be done during a Spirit Week pep rally that was twice snowed out, so Berkemeyer took razor to face at home.

While this fundraiser didn’t raise as much as the $400 accumulated several years ago – when Dyhrberg was “the public shavee” after a longer campaign – the Kaplan fund has “$120 more than they had two days ago,” he said.

And, as Lundin told him, that pays for half a cord, or 64 cubic feet, of wood.

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