I-House Berkeley

Sunday 6th of January 2019

After a long and delayed flight arriving in a rainy San Francisco, determined to ensure the weather made us feel at home, arriving at I-House Berkeley with the fire roaring and the Christmas tree still up in the great hall, was a welcome sight.

The House is far more beautiful than I had imagined it largely due to all the many details and patterns woven into the structure of the building. From the patterned tiles on the stair risers to the wonderful painted ceiling in the main hall there is plenty to appreciate.

This morning before the event I had the huge privilege of spending some time with Sherry Warrick, who was Executive Director of the House for 28 years from 1961 to 1988. He is now 97 and very frail but both him and his wife Betsey still have lots of I-House stories to tell. Sherry talked of floods streaming through the House, managing the turbulent 60’s, and travel to promote I-House, whilst Betsey fondly recalled trips with students to the IH cabin and hanging out with the swimmers in the pool as well as the Christmas parties that she and Sherry held for I-House staff at their home up above Berkeley. Sadly the torrential rain today prevented us seeing the view. Both Sherry and Betsey had met Harry and Betsey talked about the twinkle in his eye and how charming he was!

The afternoon event at the House was in the Home Room and we had a lovely mix of I-Housers from Berkeley and NYC as well as staff and board members. Joe Lurie the Executive Director who followed Sherry from 1988-2007 joined us with his wife Donna and also the current Executive Director Hans Giesecke. We also had the most wonderful piano playing by Kelvin Sianzwi.

There was a lovely reminder that there is a World Wide group of International Houses when Joe Lurie gave me the T Shirt from the 2006 gathering of the group in Melbourne. A very special gift.

The candle relay also started and I am looking forward to taking the Berkeley candle to Hawaii and the NYC candle is staying here in Berkeley.

Story Snippets…

New York Alumni – remembered that during her time in the NYC House there was a lot of conflict going on between Palestine and Israel and that in the House of an evening there would be very heated discussions involving raised voices and table thumping between residents of those countries. And how in the midst of the fray someone from either group would suddenly look at their watch and say ‘pubs open’! The discussion would end abruptly and they would put an arm around each other and walk off for a drink.

Sherry goes to London – Sherry Warrick was telling me about his travels around the world on Berkeley House business and how one day he arrived in London at International Student House in the middle of the night and the doors were locked. He was exhausted and so he just sat down in the corridor by the door and dozed until he was found by a resident of the House who let him in.

Good home cooking – Joy from the I-House Berkeley team shared how much the Berkeley Executive Chef loves to collaborate with residents on creating really special food events. Recently he took on the challenge of an Albanian night of food and was to be found cooking in tandem by Skype with the mum of one of the residents to learn the recipe.

The doors came down – Even though both men and women lived in Berkeley House from the start, the sexes were housed in separate accommodation areas and there were some single sex areas in the House too. Betsey Warrick related, with a twinkle in her eye, how during the time that Sherry was Executive Director of the House, one night the students removed the doors between the living quarters. They never went back up again. “It was time” she said to me.

Continents dilemma – Susan Klee was the Executive Assistant to Sherry Warrick and told a lovely story about a time when she had to allocate residents to different continents for some event. She did well until she came to the Turkish residents. They were discussing the options with her of being part of Asia or Europe and Susan was getting a bit exasperated about how to decide when she had a thought. ‘Who do you represent in Football (soccer)?” she asked them. “Europe” they replied and so it was decided.

With Hans Giesecke Executive Director of I-House Berkeley