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Preparing for adventure: Boy Scouts celebrate 100 years

POSTED: February 7, 2010 12:16 a.m.

Preparing for Adventure

Watch as longtime Boy Scouts leader Gene Bobo talks about his years in the organization.

Tom Reed/The Times

Boy Scout merit badges, from the top, Indian Lore, Camping, Fishing, Wood Carving, Life Saving, Canoeing, First Aid, Archery and Swimming

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American as apple pie and baseball? Well, almost.

Boy Scouts of America was founded 100 years ago Monday, three years after a British Army officer founded the worldwide Scouting movement with an encampment in England.

Still, though, Scouting spread rapidly through the United States, accounting for an estimated 110 million members over its history.

“Scouting is more important than it ever has been,” said Dr. Trevor Hooper, assistant Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 26 in Gainesville. “The values that Scouting teaches are very important for youth to learn today.”

These days, however, hiking hills, starting fires and earning merit badges compete with video games, satellite TV and MP3 players.

 “I feel like it’s more difficult for us, as leaders, to teach those skills, simply because there are so many more distractions,” said Hooper, a Gainesville physician. Boys “don’t feel like they need to get dirty or play in the woods.”

Boy Scouting arrived in Northeast Georgia 75 years ago. Today, the Northeast Georgia Council is based in Jefferson and comprises 26 counties. Hall, Jackson and Barrow counties are in the council’s Chattahoochee district.

The council has 24,402 Scouts, including 2,387 in Hall, as well as more than 6,000 adult volunteers spread out among 611 troops, including 57 in Hall, said Trip Selman, the council’s Scout executive.

The council plans to hold a commemoration ceremony around a willow oak tree planted last week at its service center off U.S. 129.

“Over the course of our centennial year, we expect to plant trees, build and clear trails, partner with schools, honor longtime Scouts, seek out past Scouts, and do many other good deeds for our communities,” said Tom Ferrin, the council’s Centennial Committee chairman and a Gwinnett County resident.

Pinebush Nursery of Madison County donated the oak tree and has donated others that will be planted in the council’s districts.

“A tree’s growth and maturity are symbolic of how a boy develops in the Scouting program,” Selman said.

Nationally, “the whole purpose of this celebration is to re-engage people with Scouting and not just a one-day typical birthday,” he added. “Our objective is to make an impact.”

Richard Leet, a Gainesville retiree who served as the Boy Scouts’ national president from 1990 to 1992, said the organization hasn’t made any changes to its oath, law or motto since 1910.

“However, we have made enormous changes to the program itself,” he said.

“My grandsons, who are Eagle Scouts, laugh at some of (the older merit badges). ‘You got “bird study” as one of your required merit badges for Eagle? We don’t even know what that is,’” Leet said, laughing.

“And they talk about the newest merit badge, which is in scuba diving. Well, we never heard of that in my time,” said Leet, a Scout since 1952.

Scouting “has had an ethical and moral reputation for leadership for young men, and that hasn’t changed, despite the fact we have needed to change the program as society changes, what kids are interested in and what they need to know changes,”  he said.

Leet went on to note that many successful men in America were Eagle Scouts or were in Scouting in general.

“That says that people who were capable of doing good things in their life — being in business, profession or government — frequently were attracted to the Scouting program and the challenges it presented to them, in terms of learning in their leisure time,” he said.

Gene Bobo, another Gainesville retiree, didn’t have boyhood roots in Scouting but would end up having a rich career in the program.

A South Carolina native, he arrived in Gainesville in 1938 as a laboratory technician and engineer.
One year later, he was approached about serving as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 26.

Bobo first rebuffed the offer, saying, “I was never a Boy Scout and I don’t know how I’d handle it.”
He was told he would be given a manual and shouldn’t have any problems.

Bobo, now 92, decided to give it at a shot.

“I found out early on that Scouting is 80 percent outing,” he said. “I had no transportation ... except for my two feet to carry me. We had some (Scouts) whose fathers were in business, and we were able to (convince) them to carry us wherever we wanted to go on camping trips.”

The troop met in a cabin made out of wood gathered after the tornado of ’36 had shredded structures in Gainesville.

“We learned how to do things like cooking a coffee-can casserole and meals in a paper bag,” Bobo said. “Those were interesting things and we were able to develop an effective program in the troop.”

Bobo stayed with Scouting until he went to serve in World War II for three years. He resumed the work upon his return and later, after his business career took him away from Gainesville.

He now serves as an executive board member.

Troop 26, which meets in a building behind First Baptist Church of Gainesville on Green Street, will be participating in services Sunday at the church.

“The boys plan to do some demonstrations ... and set up a few tents to show what Scouting is about,” Hooper said.

The troop plans to hold a banquet in November featuring all of the troop’s Eagle Scouts.

“That’s the big event for us,” Hooper said.

Troop 15, which meets at St. John Baptist Church off E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville, was to hold a ceremony Saturday marking the Boy Scouts’ 100th anniversary.

“One of our main (activities) has been going over the history of the Boy Scouts. We’ve been (working on) that for about two weeks now,” said Tracy Mize, committee chairman for the troop.

“We give them a quiz on it and reward them with gifts and things like that.”

The goal of that exercise is to keep the boys interested in Scouting.

“There are a lot of doctors and lawyers who are in the Boy Scouts. That’s one of the things we teach them — that (Scouting) is good for their resume,” Mize said.

He, for one, said he appreciates the organization’s influence in his life.

Starting as a Scout at age 12, “I’ve loved it ever since,” Mize said.

“I’m glad I got back into (Scouting), to be able to be a good role model to kids coming up.”

Boy Scouts Michael Cochran of Flowery Branch and Elliott Johnson of Buford, both of Troop 228, said they have learned about the organization’s anniversary — and its history up to this point. Cochran wears a special centennial patch on his uniform.

The two boys spent a few moments talking about their Scout participation, moments before ushering in flags for the start of Thursday night’s Flowery Branch City Council meeting, then leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“It’s surprising,” Elliott said of the 100-year mark. “I didn’t think Scouting was that old.”

“I’m glad it’s lasted this long,” Michael said. “I’ve had a lot of fun in Scouts so far.”



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