Feb 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Boy Scouts of America!

On February 8th, 1910, Chicago publisher W.D.Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. He had gone to England in 1909 and witnessed the scouting movement that had been founded there by General Robert Baden-Powell.

St. John the Evangelist Church today.  The Boy
Scout "barn" was behind and to the left of the
church, an area long-since converted
to parking space.
In February of 1951, almost exactly 41 years later, I joined Troop 72 in Schenectady, New York.  We met every Wednesday evening in a barn behind St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. It was a big deal. My brother had joined the scouts four years earlier and was about to become an Eagle Scout. Many of my friends were members of the troop. I wanted to be part of this organization.

Our Scoutmaster was a wonderful man named Ray Rokovich. He was a World War II veteran who had been paralyzed during the Pacific campaign. After spending a period in a wheel chair, "Rocky" as we knew him, had made a remarkable recovery and regained use of his legs. He was assisted by Assistant Scoutmasters Jack McGowan and Don Cassidy, also very dedicated, hard working scout leaders. Another adult leader I remember was Carl Schaefer, whose sons Peter and Carl Jr. (known as "Buddy") were active in the troop.

This was a dynamic energetic organization. We had constant activities. Some, such as boxing matches (I got the living snot beat out of me by Jimmy Sorrentino) could probably not be done today because of liability concerns. Others, such as hiking, canoe trips, ski weekends at North Creek (where Carl Schaefer owned an old cabin), and toboggan trips were memorable in a young boy's life.

One area in which Troop 72 led the district was fundraising.  During the Korean War, scrap newsprint reached the astounding value of 1 penny per pound.  We realized we could get paid $1.00 for 100 pounds of something that most people were eager to get rid of!  Our leaders mapped out the entire city into areas that we could cover in a single 8-hour day of collecting.  We would go into a neighborhood with station wagons, vans, and pickup trucks.  Each pair of scouts had a wagon to carry our booty.  The mail would have saturated the area about our upcoming paper collection drive.  Many homes would have already tied the newspaper into bundles to make our jobs easier.  We'd collect from a few houses until our wagons were full to overflowing, then we'd return to the adult vehicle to unload and then resume where we had left off.  This went on all day with perhaps two dozen collection teams of eager young scouts.  And the vehicles were running back and forth to the church yard to unload the treasure into a giant trailer that the salvage dealer had left for us to load.  In a couple of weekends, we could fill up an 18-wheeler.  We made enough in one Summer and Fall to completely replace every bit of camping gear used by Troop 72!  It was a very good year.  Not long after, the bottom fell out of the scrap paper market.  Our timing had been perfect.

I went to Boyhaven Scout Camp on at least two summer encampments. I still remember the Camp Doctor, Jim Early, whose younger cousin went to school with me. I nearly drowned trying to earn the lifesaving merit badge (which I never was able to complete) in the freezing waters of Kayderosseras Creek. I never made Eagle, but I did earn enough merit badges to become a "Life" scout.

Years later I went to work in Pascagoula, Mississippi. I was approached one day by a colleague, Bill Clancy, who asked if I might be interested in becoming a Scout Leader. Before I knew it, I had new uniforms, including a Stetson "Smokey-the-Bear" hat and I was an assistant district training commissioner of the Singing River District. That meant I did anything Clancy asked me to do. Our mission in life was to get more black youngsters involved in scouting. This was not necessarily popular in Mississippi in the early 1970's, but Bill Clancy was a force to be reckoned with. By the time I left Mississippi, a significant percentage of Boy Scouts in our part of the state were from minority families.

Shortly after I arrived in Huntsville in 1978, I was recruited again. Margo and I became scout leaders of a faltering troop and nursed it back to health, after which we took on a co-ed explorer post at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. That's a topic for a later blog...

Happy 100 years birthday, Boy Scouts of America!!!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I don't have your email so I'll have to say happy birthday in this comment. Happy birthday, Uncle Bob!