Howard Dill

Howard Dill HOF 2005

Hugh Wiberg

Hugh Wiberg HOF 2005

Hugh Wiberg was a founding member of the GPC (Great Pumpkin Commonwealth) along with Howard Dill. As you can see he loved gardening, nature and hand feeding birds. Hugh authored several books. Hand feeding backyard birds (in paperback or hard copy), Hand feeding Chickadees, Hand feeding wild birds, Backyard vegetable gardening and Backyard vegetable growing for the beginner. You can find his book for sale on Amazon.

Hugh Wiberg taught his children patience, perspective, humor, generosity, and the appreciation of nature, and not to sweat the small stuff, said one of his daughters.

From his obituary:

At the first cold snap in October, it seemed the nuthatches and chickadees in the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield expected him to be in place, his hands providing a perch from which they could feast on walnuts and sunflower seeds.

They had become so familiar with the tall man in his old cloth coat and scaly cap coming year after year that all the birds of the forest would fly tree to tree following us, the mans son recalled.

Hugh Wiberg, a legendary and beloved figure along the North Shore, famed for his All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Topsfield Fair, frequently took his children or grandchildren on annual visits into the sanctuary. He would give them nuts to feed the birds, said his son, Hugo the 3d, of North Reading, so they too could experience the magic.

Mr. Wiberg wrote of that in his book, Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds. He also authored another book, Backyard Vegetable Gardening for the Beginner.

Mr. Wiberg, who also was known for his annual 42-mile Patriots Day hike from his home in Wilmington to his summer cottage in Greenland, N.H., and for playing second baritone horn in the New England Brass Band, died Oct. 2 at Wingate Nursing Home in Reading of diabetes and Lyme disease, which his family believes led to dementia.

He was 76 and had lived in Wilmington since 1961.

Mr. Wibergs wife, the former Barbara Larson, described him as a very warm and caring person. Everyone was equal as far as Hugh was concerned.

In profile, she said, he looked like New Hampshires Old Man of the Mountain. He had a quick sense of humor and could laugh at himself, she said.

Mr. Wiberg set an example for his children, they said. Dad taught me patience, perspective, humor, generosity, and the appreciation of nature, and not to sweat the small stuff, said one of his daughters, Heidi Hastings of North Reading.

Another daughter, Wendy Wiberg of North Reading, remembered him as a very calm and peaceful man who never raised his voice. He really enjoyed the simple things in life, never chased the things money could buy. He was very much a giver.

Mr. Wibergs interest in growing large cucurbits, gourds that include squashes and pumpkins, began in the 1960s, his longtime friend Craig Weir of Newburyport wrote in the newsletter of the New England Pumpkin Growers Association in March. He then pollinated them with either a blue Hubbard or Hungarian squash and produced a 280-pound cucurbit.

Hugh called this odd-looking fruit a squmpkin, Weir wrote. He continued planting the squmpkin seeds through the 1970s, pushing weights into the high 300s. He became a regular on a gardening show on WBZ-AM.

In 1979, Hastings said, her father stopped growing squmpkins to grow true pumpkins. In 1984, he persuaded Topsfield Fair sponsors to take on the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off.

The fair also has an inside-vegetable show that includes pumpkins of lesser weight, and in 2007, the Hugh Wiberg Award was inaugurated for that winner.

On Oct. 3, a day after Mr. Wiberg died, a pumpkin weighing 1,471.6 pounds was the winner in the giant pumpkin category. His son said many at the fair told him how they had become hooked on growing giant pumpkins because of his father, who gave away countless seeds from his crops.

At first, Mr. Wiberg grew his pumpkins in his backyard in Wilmington, visible from a busy street. Once, a 650-pound pumpkin was stolen, but the culprit was soon tracked down.

In the Wilmington Town Crier, Hastings said her father never won a contest at a fair, but once placed second in 1992 with his gardening partner Tom Cone.

Mr. Wiberg and Cone, a biology teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover, were at first competitors in growing the biggest pumpkins, then teamed up, growing their gourds at an old Victory Garden at the academy. I think our biggest was in the mid-800 pounds, Cone said. Hugh loved the spirit of competition, but it wasnt cutthroat.

Once the contest ended, he said, the pumpkins were sent to hospitals, the needy, restaurants, and to children for Halloween.

He was born Hugo William Wiberg Jr. in Newark, the third oldest of eight children of Salvation Army-ordained ministers. He preferred being called Hugh.

All but one of his siblings played in the Armys band. Young Hugh played the euphonium, said his youngest brother, Peter, of South Portland, Maine.

Their parents work required frequent relocation, so the family lived in Worcester, Pittsfield, Hartford, and Watertown. Mr. Wiberg attended Trinity College in Hartford and Northeastern University.

Hugh was the kind of person who always talked to you with some clarity and with a little color and pizzazz, Peter said. He and I shared secrets no one will ever know. He was very involved with life and treasured every day. He taught me to see my glass as half-filled.

When he was a teenager in Worcester, Peter talked his mother into letting him join his brother on his Patriots Day walk to New Hampshire. They ended up walking the route together for 20 years. En route, they talked about everything and to people we met along the way. On my 50th birthday, we walked 50 miles.

In 1952, Mr. Wiberg married Dorothy Jackson. That marriage ended in divorce. He and Barbara married in 1987.

Most of Mr. Wibergs business career was spent as a sales and marketing manager for Carters Ink in Cambridge and for Dennison Manufacturing in Waltham. He retired in 1987 and had since worked for Mahoneys Rocky Ledge Nursery in Winchester. At 54, it gave him time to write and pursue his naturalist interests.

In addition to his wife, son, two daughters, and brother, Mr. Wiberg leaves two other brothers, Sven and David, both of Wilmington; two sisters, Mary W. Long of State College, Pa., and Margaret W. Reid of East Hartford, Conn.; his former wife, Dorothy, of Wilmington; and six grandchildren.