The Boberg family: Charles, Julia, Peter and Einer. Circa 1993. (Photo supplied)
What started as a chance meeting in a hot tub at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Columbia Valley, BC has now resulted in a world-renowned stuttering treatment facility.
The Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) was founded in 1986 by Dr. Einer Boberg, a stutterer himself, who vowed to help other sufferers. In honour of Dr. Boberg’s legacy, wife Julia Boberg, together with her son Dr. Peter Boberg and his wife Sunwoo Kahng have created the Dr. Einer Boberg Memorial Endowment Fund, which will provide approximately $150,000 to help with the institute’s operational costs.
Since its inception, ISTAR has garnered thousands of clients, making it a huge success. But the journey to establish ISTAR wasn’t as simple as one may think. In fact, Julia Boberg remembers her husband’s journey as a quite remarkable story filled with perseverance, dedication and passion.
The story of the runaway groom
“Einer and I met in Vienna in 1960 when he was a music student carrying on a career as a violinist,” Julia says. “Shortly after, we were engaged. And that’s when his stutter started to flare up.”
Dr. Boberg’s trouble with stuttering dates back to his childhood, when he was living on a farm with his family. His speech issues dissuaded him from speaking to people, so he spent most of his time conversing with the animals, which acted as soothing and non-threatening outlets for practice.
“When I met him, I wouldn’t have known he was a stutterer,” Julia explains. “It wasn’t until he started feeling the stress of wedding planning that the issue started to re-emerge.”
The stress of wedding planning and also the stress of meeting his future wife’s family continued. When Dr. Boberg arrived in England, he wasn’t able to speak to anyone. On top of that, he was expected to read out an excerpt from the Anglican Church during their marriage ceremony. So he did what he thought was best—he left.
“After our wedding, Einer left me a note saying that he was leaving and he wouldn’t be back until he had his stuttering under control,” Julia remembers. “After some time, we met. He told me that he had re-thought his whole life. He had quit music and was going to make a career in speech-language pathology to figure out why people stutter.”
And the most crucial part of his realization was that this was going to be his mission for the rest of his life. And it was.
An ISTAR is born
In 1986, with the help of co-founder Deborah Kully, ISTAR was founded. What happened after that was nothing short of a miracle.
In a hot tub at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, the Bobergs’—and ISTAR’s—journey had taken an unexpected turn.
“When Einer went to take a soak in the hotel’s hot tub, another gentleman was also there,” Julia explains. “They got to talking, mostly about ISTAR, and as it turns out, the man was Don Fowler, a member of the Alberta Elks Association who said they were looking for a project to fund.”
After many meetings with the Elks, the national Elks Purple Cross Fund offered a start-up grant, while the Alberta Elks Association agreed to make an annual pledge for five years. This pledge agreement turned into a relationship that is still going strong to this day, much past the five-year agreement.
“Without the help of the Alberta Elks, ISTAR wouldn’t be where it is today,” says Julia.
As ISTAR grew, so did the Boberg family. Einer and Julia welcomed two sons, Charles and Peter. Peter, who is now a successful economist living in Boston, helped create the ISTAR endowment fund in hopes of sharing some of his success with the institute his father cared so dearly about.
“He was very driven to help people—that was always his thing,” Peter says. As a young boy, he remembers watching the natural growth of his father’s passion for stuttering treatment.
“I remember the first time I was truly exposed to my dad’s work,” Peter says. “My eighth grade science class took a field trip to his office. This was before the institute was formed and my dad was conducting clinical research out of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the U of A.
He showed before and after tapes of stutters, and I remember being so happy to see how impressed everyone was by my dad’s work with stuttering and the efficacy of the treatments.”
After that, Peter knew that he also wanted to help those who were suffering from speech issues. He went on to become a volunteer with ISTAR, conducting interviews with clients, both during the pre- and post-treatment stages.
“I conducted interviews and was an interview subject myself, for them to practice on,” he smiles. “Those interviews had a very deep and lasting impression on me. It really taught me to understand and respect what my father had accomplished.”
Peter’s deep respect for his father’s achievements and all the good that comes out of ISTAR gave him the motivation he needed to continue his involvement with the institution, and to keep his father’s legacy going—to keep ISTAR within the family and support the institute and the clients as a whole.
“Setting up an endowment fund in my dad’s name was a way to both celebrate and contribute to the future of the institute, as well as a way for me and my family to remember the dedication he had to treating stuttering.”
And Julia’s sentiments are much the same.
“I want to make sure his legacy goes on and that ISTAR continues to thrive.”
“I know how deeply the institute affects the lives of individuals—whether they’re stutterers, family members, or the clinicians who are out there in the field,” Peter adds. “So I sincerely hope that ISTAR continues its mission of research and treatment. If one man’s dream has already made it this far, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”