At a recent Boy Scout Troop 7 meeting, a panel of local community leaders enthusiastically shared memories of their own Scouting experiences. The meeting was one of the events connected with the 90th anniversary celebration of the Port Washington-based troop, which is Long Island's oldest continuously chartered troop. The Scouts were eager to listen and to question the alumni about how things were "in the good old days." Rocco Gibaldi, scoutmaster, said, "The boys want to meet and get to know the former Scouts. They want to know how Scouting has changed and how it's the same."
Gibaldi said that this meeting was part of an effort to re-create some of the history of the troop. Through ads and posters (you've probably seen them), telephone calls using old rosters, and word-of-mouth they have reached out to alumni. Gibaldi said that they are very gratified by the response. He said, "We have heard from people as far away as California and Texas, who told us how Scouting has affected their lives." Pat O'Neill, one of the committee members, commented, "A lot of people came out of the woodwork." Many of the alumni sent memorabilia, some of which was on display at the meeting; including an advancement chart, patrol flags (one of which won a "best flag" award), photographs, and old merit badges. A full presentation will be made at a party for present and former Scouts on April 22 at the Port Washington Yacht Club.
The panel began with general recollection of their days in Scouting. All had fond memories of their Scout activities, and felt that their days in Scouting had provided them with life skills that they continued to find useful. The most dramatic was Hugh Stephens' statement, "The skills I learned in Scouting saved my life in World War II." Stephens, who started as a scout in Minneapolis in 1936, was a captain in the Merchant Marines. He said that his ability to tie a one-hand bowline enabled him to save himself. Many in the group continued to be involved with Scouting activities as camp counselors, Scoutmasters, or volunteers in diverse capacities. Art Mittelstaedt, who began in Scouting over 50 years ago, says that he has stayed involved ever since. He currently serves on the National Committee on Health and Safety, and has played a variety of other roles at the national and local level. He also participated in the development of the recently published new field book.
A number of the panelists said that their sons and other family members have participated actively in the Boy Scouts. One panelist, in particular, Stephen Kinkowize, was the subject of a Port Washington News feature article in 1989, entitled "Kinkowize Family: A Scouting One." A longtime Port Washington resident, Kinkowize served as Scoutmaster of Troop 7 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was also a leader of Cub Pack 77. His sons, Sean and David, and his wife, Ruth, have also been very active in Scouting.
Most of the alumni's fondest memories were of camping and hiking. They remembered hiking and camping at Bear Mountain and other sites in upstate New York, in various state parks on Long Island, and in New Jersey, and at regular Boy Scout summer camps. One panelist said, "We just put on our backpacks and went." Another former Scout recalled having a wonderful campout on the beach at Sands Point, with the permission of the resident families. He added, "I don't know if you could do anything like that now." They remembered the campfires and cooking their own food; one individual said, "I can still remember the taste of the fresh-caught bass." Through the haze of time, even a 50-mile hike in the rain became a fond memory. One of the things they learned, said a panelist, was that the individual is responsible for taking care of himself. Another said, "We learned perseverance. You can't give up. That stayed with me my whole life."
The returning Scouts also remembered proudly competing for merit badges and advancement. They pointed out that there is a greater variety of areas in which to earn badges now, and many of the skills are vocationally oriented. Other changes mentioned were that the "adventure" program is now co-ed, and there is a "lone Scout" program for those who don't have a troop.
After the panel's presentation, the young Scouts had an opportunity to ask questions, which they had thoughtfully prepared in advance. A particularly interesting one was, "What was the racial makeup of your troop?" There were a variety of responses, but a number of former Scouts emphasized that Scouting is, and always has been, open to all races, ethnicities and religions. A few pointed out that our community is more diverse now than in the past, and the troop reflects that change. We chatted afterwards with the young man who had posed the question and a few of his friends, asking whether and they thought diversity was important. They all agreed that they wanted diversity in their troop. (Our observation was that the people attending the meeting were a good racial and ethnic representation of the community.) One said, "Diversity is great. When you have a 'court of honor,' everyone brings his own food." Another said, "When we go on a camping trip, we share about each others' religions." A third Scout added, "I don't think we should be segregated. When you're in a diverse environment, you learn other people's culture, you learn to get along later in life, and it helps you to be a better person."
Boy Scout Troop 7 was started in 1914, chartered by the United Methodist Church, whose pastor, the Reverend Henry Du Bois, was its first Scoutmaster. Theodore Roosevelt, who was the first Commissioner of the Nassau County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, recommended that a new troop be started in Port Washington. It became known as Troop 7 in 1917. A big component of Scouting is encouraging the boys to be involved in their community activities, and many of us have observed the enthusiastic participation of Troop 7 in our local community. This writer has had the privilege of working with young men from Troop 7 on trail building and cleanups, beach cleanups, and a number of other Port Washington beautification activities.
The troop meets in the Methodist Church on Monday evenings. For more information, or to share memories, call Scoutmaster Rocco Gibaldi at 516-944-8280, or committee member Pat O'Neill at 516-365-3660. Membership applications, calendars, and other information can be found on Troop 7's web site. (The easiest way to find it is to link through the Port Washington Library site - www.pwpl.org - click on "databases and helpful links," then on "community information.")
Congratulations to Troop 7 on your anniversary. We wish you at least another 90 years of successful operation.