Building Character

Like my parents, my Dad’s parents had a huge influence on who he was to become.  Like mine also, both were active in the Church.  His dad could take shorthand because he was trained as a stenographer so he was immediately asked to be secretary of the church council because he could do the minutes.  His mom was leader in the women’s group – she loved poetry and planning worship services.  Based on their faith following Jesus, their character and integrity modeled honesty and truth.  These qualities were mirrored in his teachers at vacation Bible school, Sunday school, and at Fratney Street School.

He would sit on the floor in front of the “console” radio and listen to the series of after-school radio programs.  The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, Tom Mix, the Shadow (the weed of crime bears bitter fruit – the Shadow knows mmmrrraahh), etc., all bore the same message – good over evil.

When their church decided to sponsor a boy scout troop, his dad and older brother moved from troop 78 at Fratney to Troop 14 at Grace Church, and his dad became scout master.  An active scout master, Tom Terry, who was not a member of the church, became assistant scout master.  Tom had a vast background in scouting and made a tremendous impact in leading the troop. 

Dad learned how to paddle and sail a canoe at Boy Scout Camp Indian Mound Reservation.  One of the committee men in his scout troop had an old town wooden canoe in his garage.  Dad happened to notice it needed a new canvas.  The man wanted it for his son but Dad asked him if he could re-canvas it, would he let him use it until his son grew up.  The man agreed.  This was when Dad lived on Humboldt so it was easy to carry the boat from the garage to the Milwaukee River.  He would tie the paddles to the thwarts, turn the boat over so it would rest on his shoulders and take it down to the river.

Dad and his canoe

Dad and his canoe

He liked to get it out when things started to thaw in the spring because there would be big sheets of ice on the river to maneuver around and a strong current from Estabrook Park.  –Debbie

Dad on the Milwaukee River

Dad on the Milwaukee River


Your grandpa asked other men to serve as leaders of the troop and, incidentally, they all knew how to play Sheepshead.  After we were all in our tents at night, the leaders would gather around a makeshift table and play Sheepshead.

I learned a lot more than canoeing at Boy Scouts.  The first level is tenderfoot, followed by second class and first class when enough proficiency is achieved.  As you accumulated merit badges, you could advance to Star, Life, and finally, Eagle.  The members of the troop took the oath and law seriously and tried to live by it.  Here’s the Oath:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

And here’s the Law:

A Scout is —

  • Trustworthy,
  • Loyal,
  • Helpful,
  • Friendly,
  • Courteous,
  • Kind,
  • Obedient,
  • Cheerful,
  • Thrifty,
  • Brave,
  • Clean,
  • and Reverent.

So the first part of the Oath is duty to God; the last part of the Law is to be reverent.  Lastly, the motto:

Be prepared!

At this point, I was still physically quite short but even so I was elected by the hawk patrol to be the leader.  I very well remember one of our camp-outs when my asthma flared up. When that happened I had a product called Asthmador which was a powder you’d dump on a plate and then light with a match.  It would sizzle and burn and give off a great amount of smoke.  Needless to say, my patrol wasn’t overjoyed with my treatment.  Recently, I ran into one of the members of our patrol at my brother’s funeral and the first thing he said to me was, “Do you remember that stuff you used to burn for your asthma?”  I found out later it was a hallucinogen so at times I was slightly high.  Maybe the whole patrol was too as a result, I don’t know.

For two summers I went to the Boy Scout Camp at Indian Mound.  The camp had counselors for most of the merit badges and it wasn’t long before I made Eagle Scout when I was 16.  I remember so well the court of honor which was held at Atwater School.  It was the custom to have your mother pin the Eagle Scout badge on you.  My mother came to the court of honor to pin my badge on me.

One summer, I was accepted to participate in the Eagle Scout Forestry Camp at Boulder Junction in Vilas County, Northern Wisconsin.  We would be assigned to work in the tree nursery at State Forestry Tree Nursery in Boulder Junction every morning.  The first afternoon we were trained in participating in fighting forest fires. There were several small fires we were involved in and I remember one major one where the state employees plowed a “fire line” ahead of the fire.  Our job was to keep the fire from spreading across the fire line.  This camp gave the state a substantial increase in manpower in case of forest fire.

The next year, I was accepted again to participate in the Eagle Scout camp.  I was asked to become the driver of the stake truck (a big flat truck with steaks around it) that the camp used.  The road into the camp was just gravel with grass and weeds.  I was careful to not use the same path every time I drove it – the result being, instead of having two lane ruts, I had a very smooth, flat drive.  I was given special recognition at the end of the two weeks for the way I handled driving the truck — the leadership had noticed.


2 thoughts on “Building Character

  1. I was an Eagle scout too. Went to Indian Mound once in a while but our main summer camp was Long Lake. My brother and I went to the World Jamboree in Japan when I was 15 or 16.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s