Monday, January 25, 2010

[The following is likely to be printed in the Feb. 4, 2010 Granville Sentinel; my Feb. 6, 2010 Newark Advocate companion piece for the Scouting 100th birthday is a bit further down the page -- Pax, Jeff]

Notes From My Knapsack 2-4-10
One Hundred Years of Adventure, Safely Guided
Jeff Gill

To be perfectly candid, I can’t be in any way unbiased or objective about the Boy Scouts of America.

Anyone who knows me knows that right behind my faith and my family is my love of Scouting, the World Scouting Movement, and the BSA. It has been the biggest single influence on my life outside of my parents, and yes, I’m including the church I grew up in as taking second place, which may be unfair because they were the chartering organization for Troop 7, the Boy Scout troop I joined in 1972 in which I earned Eagle, and my Court of Honor for that was held in First Christian Church, Valparaiso, Indiana, which still is the chartering organization for the unit, and which still has the same Scoutmaster, Mr. Bill Eckert, and long may he hike.

But before that I was a Cub Scout, starting in 1969, and I’ve been registered to one Scouting unit or another from Pack 20 at the Presbyterian Church to Troop 65 today as an assistant scoutmaster at Centenary United Methodist Church, though the charter for our troop and Pack 3 which my son and I just moved through is held by the Granville Kiwanis, long may they wave!

Scouting in the United States began right on the heels of the development of the Scouting Movement by Robert Baden-Powell in the summer of 1907, at Brownsea Island off the southern coast of England. The legend is that William Boyce, just two years later, met a young Scout in London and got help in finding an address, as a foreign businessman far from his Illinois home, but the lad would take no tip. “I’m a Scout, sir,” said the boy, still the Unknown Scout to this day, but his Good Turn held in honor by American scouts throughout the years since.

Boyce was a magazine publisher, and saw a business opportunity and also a need that could be filled, as industrial cities and boys cut off from nature might find a structured way to get back into the outdoors. He quickly found YMCA allies like Edgar Robinson, other youth group organizers like Dan Beard of Cincinnati and Ernest Thompson Seton of New York, and they got a Congressional charter in Washington, DC on February 8, 1910.

For lack of a better date, the BSA continues to celebrate the charter date as our “birthday,” even as some copies of Baden-Powell’s book had already crossed the pond and some scout troops claim to be older than the BSA itself, which may be.

Scouting in Licking County was born at Trinity Episcopal Church and perhaps a dozen other places, but Rev. Franklin and others had units and camping and activities in full flower by the close of the 1920s, so strongly that even the Depression couldn’t end it.

The Licking County Council is now a district within the Simon Kenton Council, the umbrella organization for 40,000 scouts from Maysville, KY up through Delaware, OH, and down in Chillicothe we’ll have a centennial camporee this spring.

But on Feb. 7th, which is traditionally a “Scout Sunday” for congregations that have a chartered unit, Cub Scout pack or Boy Scout troop or Venture crew, this will be a special year and time for some special acknowledgements. One hundred years of American Scouting, and a century ahead that looks pretty inviting.

This is my 41st year as a Scout, now a “scouter,” an adult leader for a movement that has inspired young men, and now young women 14 and up in Venturing, to go on in life as leaders and doers and citizens with a clear sense of their place in the world, and in their nation. Friends of mine in Scouting over the years have gone on to be liberals and conservatives, religious leaders and spiritual skeptics, avid outdoorsfolk and committed scholars with an aversion to getting their feet wet – but they are all engaged, and hopeful.

Look back over the last century, and ask the question: what other organization has grown and responded and survived and maintained its core values, while also maintaining relevance to the needs of youth in a new era? Not too many other candidates come to mind. Plenty have started and grown and crashed and vanished over those 100 years, but today, Baden-Powell and Boyce and Beard and Seton would recognize much of what makes for a troop meeting or campout. (They’d also love Thinsulate and Goretex!)

Here in Granville, and around Licking County, a salute to all my fellow Scout leaders who make the program possible, and a prayer for all the young leaders who really do run most of the units above the Cub Scout level, that they may feel our support and affirmation as they learn by doing, and see themselves making a difference that might just last for a hundred years . . . or more.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s a holder of the Silver Beaver award for volunteer service to Scouting. Tell him your Scouting story at or follow Knapsack

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