Above & Beyond

Jack Fortin had invited Jim Beré to Castaway to get his financial support for a pair of hot tubs. The camp had seen remarkable growth in recent years, and with more kids on property, the infrastructure needed to grow, particularly around the pool. Beré, however, wanted to talk about a fence.

“What in the world does he want to talk about the fence for?” Fortin thought. The fence, Fortin explained, was reinforced with specialized, weatherproofed railroad ties planted six feet into the ground. “I wanted a fence strong enough that if a car went around that curve it wouldn’t kill a kid while he was playing soccer,” Fortin told Beré.

Beré nodded, and quickly turned their talk back to the hot tubs. “Jack,” Beré said, “if you build lives as strong as that fence, it’s worth it to me to give you the money.”

This small snapshot captures only a portion of the legacy Jim and Barbara Beré built within Young Life for more than 40 years. Jim died in 1992, and with Barb’s passing this past April, their light of faith and generosity continues in the lives of their five children and 16 grandchildren.

Leading by Example

Jim Beré Jr., their oldest child, remembers how much the practice of faith played a role as they grew up in Hinsdale, Illinois. “If there was anything that looked like a Christian organization, smelled like a Christian organization, we were going to be involved,” he said. “Mom would be the one to make sure we all went. We all loved doing it.”

The Berés soon began holding club at their house. “Seeing the impact Young Life can have on others added to their spiritual lives,” recalled Jim Jr.’s brother, David. “They were [already] very committed to the faith, but Young Life brought it more to the heart.”

Sue Beré, who married Jim Jr. in 1976, remembers Barb’s care in particular when she attended club at the Beré home as a young woman herself. “Barb was so cheerful and gracious and loving,” said Sue. “I would go into the kitchen and sit on the stool and just talk to her.”

Watching the mission play such a powerful role in their children’s lives inspired Jim and Barb to take a more active role.

“Chicago has benefited extremely from their leadership and involvement both in the city and suburbs,” said Brett Hersma, senior vice president of the Midwestern Division. “They have been extreme advocates for work in the city, and kids in multiethnic communities.”

Jim Beré built his professional career as a strong leader in many businesses, most notably as president and CEO of BorgWarner. Exposure to Chicago’s needs and resources required to keep ministry alive in urban centers inspired the Berés in 1982 to create a fund that could help sustain multiethnic programs. Since 1982, the Beré Fund has given out more than $2 million to multiethnic areas in need.

Jim’s service eventually led him to serve on the Young Life Board of Trustees from 1971 to 1990. “We just watched them give themselves as a family so completely to the mission,” said Fortin, who served as vice president of the Midwestern Division during much of that time. “It was Jim who said, ‘If you would help my kids understand their role philanthropically and just being young people ... whatever you could do to support them, I in turn will give you my number to my desk at BorgWarner, and I will teach you everything I know about leadership.’”

Carrying Onward

In 1992, Jim Beré died of a sudden heart attack. While the loss shook the entire family, Barb took great care to ensure the work he began would continue.

“Barb and Jim operated very much as a couple,” Sue said, “but it became her story too.”

“His death was a tough transition,” David remembered. “But boy, [Mom] really came into her own after Dad died. She continued the attitude of giving. She talked about it a lot not only to us, but also her grandkids. She loved to see how the ministries were doing, and she loved to give.”

As the years progressed, Barb’s involvement with Young Life continued in a variety of supportive roles, inspiring two generations in the meantime. “Several of their kids have served locally on the committee,” said Hersma. “Many of their grandkids were involved in Young Life in Chicago and Wisconsin.”

Sue, who today serves on the Young Life Board of Trustees, considers Barb a primary influence. “One of the biggest privileges of my life is to be on the board and see the global vision of Young Life, and I am grateful to her and the Lord for that privilege,” said Sue.

​“When I became regional director in Chicago in 2003, she was one of the people I got to know and developed a great friendship with her,” said Hersma. “The theme of our conversations were always related to how she could help Young Life in the city. She was always asking about our staff — are they being taken care of, how’s ministry happening there? As she got older, she trusted me to care for them well and was always happy to support.”

“Giving was very important to Mom and Dad, and Mom continued it up to literally a few hours before her death,” David remembered. “About five or six hours before she died, she pulled me aside and said, ‘I want to make sure all the giving we’ve planned happens. I want you to make sure it happens.’ So her dying words were that she would fulfill her commitments.”

“They have had a multi-generational presence of ministry in Hinsdale,” Hersma said. “[Jim and Barb] were proud of the Beré Fund. She was happy it was designed to be a gift that kept on giving.”

Barbara Beré died April 24, 2018. The torch she and Jim carried together keeps cherished memories warm with affection. “You always knew you were loved,” Jim Jr. said. “You always knew what you wanted to pursue or do, they would support. And in the context of family, everybody was successful. They loved everybody, and they loved the paths we chose. That gift is pretty neat.”