In memory of ‘Bo’ Gempp

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 3:45pm

Just a couple of hours before the big event, Pat Hoyt said: “It’s a little more hectic than usual.” But they pulled it off in grand fashion. The event was the fourth fundraiser for the Bo Gempp Memorial Shellfish Restoration Fund, held on Sunday, Nov. 17 at Old Island Pub.

Pat and her husband Bob live in Maine for most of the year, but every April and November for the past 16 years they have headed south to Block Island for a few weeks, staying in their timeshare at the Neptune House. It was during the early years that the Hoyts met Hermann “Bo” Gempp. And they became fast friends.

After Bo passed away, Bob wanted to not only pay tribute to Bo, but to further his dream of making the Great Salt Pond more sustainable for shellfishing. Bo had spent many years on the Shellfish Commission and one of his last acts on that board was to push forward a five-year — Bo always said it was more like a 10-year plan, for stewardship of the pond. It was Bo who pushed for the acquisition of the town’s upweller now located at the Block Island Maritime Institute’s dock. So far, the upweller has been used to grow quahog seed to a size sufficient for placement in the pond where the juvenile shellfish can grow to harvestable size. It’s hoped that eventually the upweller may be used for additional species.

In true Block Island fashion, an army of volunteers pitched in to help organize, cook, and serve a seafood feast on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, and an even larger army showed up to eat. In preparation, Bob goes out at every possible low tide the week before, digging for clams for his volunteer cooks to utilize.

During the fundraiser, Bob and helpers manned a grill outside, battling the wind and protecting the precious stuffed clams made by Maura Cousins, warming up, from the blowing sand. Inside, Scott Cooper and Chris Warfel, who along with Perry Phillips supplied countless oysters, shucked the bivalves that were served raw on the half-shell, and cooked as oysters Rockefeller.

Diners of all ages were treated to clam chowder made by Bo’s daughter Lisa Sprague according to her award-winning but secret recipe, venison Bourguignon, seafood mac ‘n cheese, swordfish, baked haddock, a myriad of sides and salads, and an entire table filled with apple crisp, cakes, and cookies for dessert. No one left hungry.

To date, the four fundraisers have raised just over $10,000, money held under the umbrella of the not-for-profit Block Island Economic Development. Initially the idea was that the money raised could serve as grants for small projects proposed by other organizations in the town, but Bob’s thinking has evolved. Over time new challenges have arisen, such as the growing problems with the invasive green crabs, predators that are stymying the Shellfish Commission’s goals, especially in bringing back soft-shell clams. He is currently discussing plans for potential projects with Harbormaster Steve Land.

Merely “giving out money would have been throwing it to the wind,” Bob told The Block Island Times. And he believes Bo would have been the first to agree. “We need partners in all directions. That’s my vision for the Bo Fund – collaboration in funding and implementation.”

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the fund may do so by sending a check, made out to “The Bo Fund,” to P.O. Box 818, Block Island, R.I. 02807.