To Maine with the Boy Scouts and Percy Dunn

April 6, 2009 - 1,214 views

A surprise letter came from Scout Executive Percy Dunn in the spring of 1943. He had become the Executive of Pine Tree Council in Maine and needed a Field Scout Executive to be Chief of Staff at Camp William Hinds beginning in June. Would I consider joining him again in this new assignment?

The offer was attractive since I was looking for a new and greater challenge in this time of national crises. It was not my intention to leave the Christian ministry. A war time commitment interested me. At Percy Dunn’s prompting, I flew to Portland, Maine for a job interview. It was always inspiring to be with P.L. Dunn and this visit convinced me to team up with him again in Pine Tree Council and Camp William Hinds. Percy introduced me to Maine lobster at Boone’s Place on the wharf in Portland. How delicious!

There were many decisions to make and arrangements to settle before leaving for the Scout camp in early June. Madeline was expecting our third child the first of June so the church agreed for her to stay in the parsonage until I would come for her and the children in August. Clora Harris volunteered to take Madeline to the hospital when the time came. John Preston—named for his two grandfathers–was not born until June 30, 1943, a month later than expected. Through all the stress of this transition period Madeline demonstrated remarkable courage. Looking back, I marvel at her faith and stamina. The ensuing weeks were perhaps the most trying of our lives.

Camp William Hinds, owned and operated by Pine Tree Council Boy Scout of America, was located on Panther Pond with the Tenney river running through the camp and emptying into the lake. Pond was a misnomer. It was a four mile long lake, half a mile wide. The water was clear and refreshingly cool. Most of the camp property was wooded. I was enthralled on my first visit to the camp.

As camp Chief of Staff, I worked with thirty-five adult and junior staff men and two-hundred-fifty Scouts for two-week periods through the summer. Soon after camp began problems with some veteran staff members developed. We learned that the former Scout Executive had in effect turned over the camp program to a few men whose ideas of camping and personal behavior were unacceptable in Scouting. The fact that I was a newcomer to Maine, and a minister, were like two strikes against me with these renegade staff men.

In the course of time we learned that a ring of men on the staff were gambling far into the night and some of them had women on the lake. The junior staff also had their own ring perpetrating activities bad for camp morale. Keep in mind that Percy Dunn had come to Pine Tree Council too late to evaluate and recruit camp staff. He once said to me, “Next summer we’ll be in control”.

It is hard to believe that these adult staff men took all of the dining hall benches out into the woods one night and hid them. Another night these men paddled our canoes down the lake to a women’s camp and exchanged them with that camp’s canoes. Percy and I were waiting for them when they paddled back to our dock so they had to return those canoes and bring ours back. They were unhappy “campers”. It the end of camp this ring of staff men went on a drunken bash, destroying a dory boat and convicting themselves beyond recovery.

I do not want to give the impression that the 1943 camping season at Camp William Hinds was a failure. Five or six adult staff members, and perhaps as many junior staff personnel, created the problems. There were a number of talented and dedicated men who were loyal to me and who helped to make the camping experience memorable for the hundreds of Boy Scouts in camp. However, had it not been for the unwavering support of Percy Dunn, I doubt if I would have survived the summer.

Immediately after camp was over I drove the camp truck to Alfred Station to bring our family and household goods back to Auburn, Maine. Because it was war time, special arrangements to purchase gasoline for the truck and our V8 Ford had to be made with the proper authorities.

Returning to Madeline and the children after the trauma of the summer was an emotionally happy experience. What a thrill to see baby John, now eight or nine weeks old, for the first time. He was a beautiful baby! I could only guess at how difficult the summer had been for Madeline. She was a “survivor”.

Tears were shed as we drove away from Alfred Station in the loaded truck and our Ford car. Madeline had Anne, Daniel and John with her as she drove. The more than four years with Second Alfred church, our first pastorate, had been fruitful and happy. We were leaving our first home, after the Gothic in Alfred, and many friends dear to us were being left behind.

The trip to Maine was arduous, especially for Madeline. We were fortunate to be able to spend the first night on the road in Berlin, New York with our friends, Pastor Paul and Ruby Maxson. It was difficult to find a motel the second night. No lights were allowed outside places of business because of the war so we literally groped our way into a motel kind enough to take us in.

It was heartwarming and reassuring to have Percy and Clara Dunn help us settle in to our rented apartment on Beacon Avenue in Auburn, Maine. Lewiston Auburn is the twin city that was headquarters for the Pine Tree Council district I was to serve as Field Scout Executive. Our first floor apartment was on top of a hill that overlooked the city of Lewiston and the Androscoggin river. Remodeled from an elegant home, the apartment had hardwood floors and a beautiful fireplace with a ceramic arch decorated with a woman’s face, oak leaves and acorns. It was pleasant to come home from night Scout meetings and sit with Madeline in front of a cheery fire. I often brought home a huge Italian sandwich or a lobster sandwich to enjoy together. We paid $30.00 a month for the apartment. A coal furnace was our heat source and, because of war time restrictions, we brought coal home, one bag at a time, in our car. I foolishly used kerosene one morning to relight the furnace fire. The kerosene exploded in my face, singing my hair and burning off my mustache. It could have been a major tragedy but it was an embarrassment for a Scout Executive.

Because washing machines were not available during the war, Madeline was forced to wash all our clothes by hand until the Irish lady next door saw her predicament and gave her a working old electric washing machine. We were thankful for it and did not replace it until after the war. The washing was done by putting the clothes in a revolving basket with wooden slates. The war caused restrictions and inconveniences that are now forgotten.

Being Field Scout Executive for the Lewiston-Auburn District of Pine Tree Council was interesting and demanding. The district covered the communities from Lewiston-Auburn north to Rumford. More than four feet of snow the winter of 1943-44 made travel sometimes hazardous. Days found me in the district office much of the time and most week nights I was visiting Troops or conducting committee meetings relating to Scouting. A number of Troops were made up of French-Canadian Scouters and Scouts whose meetings were conducted using the French language. I remember Freddie LeBranche who was the Scoutmaster of an excellent Troop. He and his wife became close friends.

The British had a base at the Lewiston airport for training British pilots to fly Grumman aircraft. A number of the pilots were English Boy Scouts and came to our office to get acquainted. We had Norman Bleers, a charming British Scout, for dinner several times. We wonder, “Did he survive the war?”. Those were the terrible days when England was being subjected to devastating bombings day and night. “The Happy Gang”, a Canadian radio program we heard almost every day, often sang, “There’ll always be an England, and England will be free, As long as there’s a cottage small beside the crystal sea”. When there was a movement under way to send English children to the United States to escape the bombings, Madeline and I applied to host one. We corresponded with the father of the child scheduled to come to us and he sent us a burned out German fire bomb. It was decided not to evacuate the children.

Madeline and I participated in a number of church and community activities in Lewiston-Auburn. Madeline sang in the Congregational church choir and was active in a Baptist Women’s organization. I preached many Sundays in rural and small town Baptist churches. My “barrel” of sermons was made use of often.

An experience with birds deserves telling. I came home from the office for lunch one day to find a flock of beautiful birds eating the seeds on the ash tree in our front yard. The markings on the birds were yellow and black and a search of our bird guide led us to believe they must be Evening Grosbeaks. One hitch was that the guide said this species was seldom seen east of the Mississippi river. This flock of birds couldn’t have been farther east than this. When I telephoned Dr. Sawyer, a Bates College biology professor and a member of my District Board, he assured me that we were seeing Evening Grosbeaks. They had been observed in Maine for several years.

It was intellectually stimulating to meet monthly through the winter with Peter Bertocci, a Bates College professor, and the local Unitarian minister. We met in our home and took turns presenting a paper on some issue and then discussing it. I believe sociology was Dr. Bertocci’s field. He later became a professor at Boston University and authored one or more books. I can’t recall how the idea of our getting together originated. We enjoyed it.

I joined a group of people interested in target archery in forming the Orumby Archery Club. “Orumby” was the name of a renowned Indian in the history of the area. We established an archery range on which we could shoot the York round requiring a number of 100 yard shots. In the archery club I met Harold A. Titcomb (Uncle “Hat”). His name was prominent in target archery circles and he was most helpful to us in organizing our local club. Madeline and I were honored to have him as a guest in our home and I was in touch with him later.

Our family life in Maine sometimes was lonely, especially for Madeline. We missed our families and friends acutely and were thrilled to have cousin Vida Randolph Barrs bring her three children from Boston to visit us. Christmas Eve we attended the very large and beautiful Saint Peter’s Catholic church Midnight Mass. The priest was active in our Scouting program.

Anne was five years old in June of 1943 and so went to kindergarten in Auburn in September. It was exciting to follow her progress and enthusiasm in school. One winter day Daniel, who was not yet three years old, wandered away from our house causing Madeline to call me at the office greatly alarmed. I rushed home to receive a call from the nearby fire station that a little boy was there who might be ours. Baby John made us all happy as he grew. He was caught one day with a caterpillar in his mouth as he sat on the front lawn.

Before camp began in 1944 we were surprised to receive word from Rabbi Karl and Eva Weiner that Karl was going to be on the staff of a private camp not far from Camp William Hinds. Arrangements were soon made between us to have Eva and their baby, Danny live with Madeline and our children for the camp season. It worked out well for Karl and me to have the same day off each week from our camps and be at home together with our families. Madeline and Eva enjoyed being together. They had religious discussions in which they compared Old and New Testament scriptures. Eva was pleased to learn how to sew from Madeline. After the camping season the Weiners moved to Colorado Springs, CO.

Serving as Chief of Staff for Boy Scout Camp William Hinds on Panther Pond was sheer joy in 1944. Percy Dunn and I recruited the entire staff and we were in full control of the management and program for the camp. I was happily surprised to be inducted into The Order of the Arrow, a national Scout organization, in an impressive Indian ceremony. I supervised the construction of an outdoor chapel and an archery range for the camp.

Blueberries grew in abundance on the camp property and one week we sent the campers out, by tents, with #10 cans to pick blueberries. The winning tent got a watermelon as a prize. Our cook baked blueberry pies and blueberry muffins enjoyed by everyone.

One unique program event during the camping season stands out in my memory. The father of a camper was a talented camper, fly fisherman, canoeist and general outdoorsman. On our invitation he took a day at camp to set up a model camp and demonstrate axmanship, fly casting and poling a canoe. His relating of fishing and camping experiences kept the Scouts spellbound at evening campfire.

An Indian council fire I led at Camp William Hinds one evening when the “Old Timers” from Portland, Maine were our guests is unforgettable. The “Old Timers” were affluent business men who were supporters of the camp and who came to visit every year. The fire was laid in the campfire ring and the Scouts filed silently into the arena with blankets over their shoulders and wearing single feathers on their heads. I wore a full Indian headdress and opened the ceremony by invoking blessings from each point of the compass. Facing north with arms outstretched I intoned, “O north wind, bring us FIREI”. At that moment flames burst out of the wood laid for the fire. It was awesome!

As you may have guessed, the burst of fire was brought on by a mixture of chemicals that were activated by a staff man in the edge of the circle who pulled on a black thread attached to the neck of an open bottle at the base of the firewood. I had never seen it done before but it worked perfectly.