Boy Scouts to the Rescue

April 6, 2009 - 1,132 views

There were times in my early seminary days when I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Intellectually and spiritually I was plowing new ground. My self esteem and ego were sometimes low. I needed a lift and accepting the position of Scoutmaster for a new Troop of rural boys in Alfred Station gave me that lift.

My memory is that there were ten or twelve boys in this new Troop. Leighton Austin was the assistant Scoutmaster with me. Outdoor activities were what the boys liked most. We bought material for a fire-by-friction tool and experimented with it ‘til we could light fires with it. From that time on all our campfires were lighted with fire-by-friction. A dramatic achievement.

I recall a winter snow hike on Hartsville hill when we built a fire and hung a large pot of hunter’s stew over it to cook while we chose up sides for a snow battle. If you were hit by a snowball from the enemy, you went over to that side. So the game went on and on until the stew was ready. It was good.

In the summer we found an ideal campsite on the bank of the Filmore Valley trout stream. Our overnight camps there were great fun.

It was a turning point in my life when I attended a Steuben Area Boy Scout Council training course in Bath, New York. There I met Percy L. Dunn, the Scout Executive for the Council. Neither of us knew then that we would impact each others lives in many important ways for years to come.

The summer of 1936, following my first year in seminary was coming up and 1 I didn’t know what I would be doing. So, on an impulse, I asked “Chief” Dunn if there were any job openings for the Council summer camp–Camp Gorton. He answered that they needed a craft director and wondered if I could qualify.

The truth was that I had little experience with crafts but I believed I could learn quickly and the craft projects the Boy Scouts did were mostly from kits that required minimal skills. I was promised the job that night and left that first meeting with Percy Dunn with mixed emotions–elation at the prospect of a Boy Scout camp summer and anxiety over my ability to do the craft job. Chief Dunn arranged for me to attend a two day workshop in Rochester where I learned to braid “boondoggle” and other craft skills I would be working with.

My employment at Camp Gorton began a month before the Scouts came. Chief Dunn took me and Floyd “Beef” Crane to camp where we lived and worked doing the many maintenance jobs needed before the opening of camp. “Beef” was the camp cook and a friendly, easy-going young man. We got along well, had good meals, and accomplished the necessary work assignments. Our pay was $1.00 a day.

Camp Gorton, owned by the Steuben Area Boy Scout Council, was located on the shore of Lake Waneta, east of Hammondsport and Keuka Lake–a finger lake. Waneta was a twin lake with Lamoka, joined by a channel. The farm land bordering on the channel is an ancient Indian site, called the Lamoka site, dating back to five hundred years before Christ—the oldest Indian site in York State. One-hundred-fifty Scouts were in camp for one week periods during the summer. The adult and junior staff numbered about twenty. During the 1936 camping season we had three directors: an Alfred University dean, a retired army captain and a Presbyterian District Superintendent.

Serving on the Camp Gorton staff was an ego-builder for me. The staff were all high quality men with whom I related happily. In addition to being craft director, I assumed a number of roles including leading songs and conducting church services. I supervised the construction of an attractive outdoor chapel. I enjoyed participating in the campfire programs, too. My status as craft director would have been in jeopardy but for the talent and excellent performance of James Wymant. He was a high school senior, skilled in crafts and dedicated to Scouting. I could not have had a better assistant.

My relationship with Percy Dunn strengthened during the camp season. He asked me to go with him and his wife, Clara, when they took their son, Larry, to the Doctor to have stitches in his head from a wound inflicted by a golf club swung by brother, George. (Percy was prone to fainting at the sight of blood.) The Dunn family, who lived in the “Chief’s cabin” by the lake, were: wife, Clara; daughter Ruth and sons, Larry, George and John.

Imagine what a shock it was, not long after the end of camp in 1936, to receive an announcement from the Scout Council office that Randy Randolph would be the director at Camp Gorton for the 1937 season. I had not been consulted before this announcement and my first thought was that the Chief was only using my name until he could recruit a qualified camp director. It was a bonafide appointment that catapulted me into a role of high responsibility when I was twenty-three years old.

1937 certainly was a BANNER YEAR in the unfolding of my life story. The Scouting experience gave me a strong sense of direction and worth, enhanced by the trust Scout Executive Percy Dunn placed in me. My involvement in Scouting was to take on even greater importance for me in the years to come.

Entering my second year in seminary, I moved into the Gothic with my classmates, Luther Crichlow and Marion Van Horn. We each had our own room and shared the kitchen and bath. It was a really good living arrangement that bonded us and brought our friendship to a deeper level.

I made friends with a ceramic student named Davidson. We cooked and shared our meals at least for a semester. Davey went to his farm home weekends and brought wonderful canned food and meat back for us week after week. remember finding a large puffball on campus that I fried for us. Davey was skeptical about this mushroom and may have refused to eat any of it. I confess he caused me to worry that evening over whether the puffball was safe. English steak was a favorite with us–hamburger mixed with egg and chopped green pepper.

Miss Creighton headed the women’s physical education department for the university. She made archery an important part of the program and I worked out a deal to repair arrows for us. For ten cents an arrow I replaced tips, glued on feathers, straightened shafts, etc. It was a good spare time activity.

Crich was a city boy, having grown up in Washington, D.C. It was fun introducing him to the natural world around us. One day as we were hiking on pine hill I spotted rabbit tracks going into a brush pile. I said to Crich, “There’s a rabbit in that brush pile and I’ll scare him out for you to see.” Crich laughed in disbelief until I jumped on the brush pile and the rabbit came out. From then on he appreciated what to him was my superior out-of-doors knowledge.

It was somewhere in this time frame that Marion (Van) and Erma Burdick began a serious relationship. Erma was an Alfred girl who lived with her Mother. Crich was a great “kidder” and the two of us gave Van a difficult time as he carried on his courtship with Erma.

It’s fun to remember when Crich decided to trap the mice that frequented the Gothic. Finding a mouse in one of the traps he had set, we tied it to the end of a light cord in the hallway where he would grab it in the dark. We were not granted the satisfaction of knowing how he reacted on lighting the light.