A century of campfires, warming a century of leadership

January 29th, 2021


(published in The Daily Memphian)

This is going to be personal, so ... Be Prepared.

Grace-St. Luke’s Troop 34 is 100 years old.

Change is inevitable and the Boy Scouts like everything and everybody else have to face it. It was a big deal to many when the Boy Scouts finally determined that women who are involved in the Boy Scouts should be involved in every aspect, and that includes camping, and that includes girls in the program. It was a big deal when the Boy Scouts finally determined that the positive skill sets and experiences of scouting should be open to all, and that includes all.

Now the Boy Scouts are under siege because of unreported if not completely ignored instances of sexual abuse nationally. The organization is finally addressing the reality of that at every level, increasing awareness, intensifying and requiring training of all adults. What was done was inexcusable and criminal. To call it the acts of a few in the past or ignore the possibility of it in the present is equally inexcusable and possibly criminal.

Face it. The survival of scouting depends on it. To those who would say, well then, if it has to be that way ... if I have to accept those changes ... then I’m out, please leave your good tents behind. While they won’t need anything else from you, new scouts will still need those tents.

You see, the Boy Scouts have survived all of those changes because the program, done the right way, creates the right kind of memories for a lifetime. The smell of bacon on an open campfire hasn’t changed, or the value of a square knot, or taking responsibility.

That hasn’t changed in a century.

Several thousand campfires ago, Troop 34 was chartered at “Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church” on November 16, 1920. After a few years there and a short one-year stint at Bellevue Baptist Church, the troop pitched its tent at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, now Grace-St. Luke’s, on the corner of Peabody and Lemaster in 1933 and has been there ever since – the longest continually chartered and operating troop in the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

The first scoutmaster at Calvary was Gwynne Lockwood. The current scoutmaster at Grace-St. Luke’s – in his eighth rock-solid year in that role – is Jim Martin. There have been 22 scoutmasters. Some served briefly as interims in time of transition, some were legendary.

Alvan Tate served for 13 years. George Clarke, Sr., served three times for a total of 12 years. His son, George Clarke, Jr., served twice for a total of six years. I followed George after he asked me to join him for a beer. “Guess who the next scoutmaster is,” he said. Dan Eason followed me. I only had the job for two years. Dan had it for seven years – the first time – and another seven years the second time.

All of them, from interim to legend, would tell you the same two things: One, as tough as the job is there is none more rewarding. Two, the job has nothing to do with your leadership and everything to do with growing leadership.

Scouts lead. Adults point the way, and get out of their way.

As a scout, it’s up to you.

If the food you make is inedible, you and your fellow scouts don’t eat. If you pitch your tent in the wrong place, you and your tentmate are going to get wet. When you do those things, you don’t do them again.

If you don’t pull together and with purpose, canoes – and patrols, and troops – don’t get where they’re supposed to go. If you don’t reach down to help, no one else climbs up.

From those things and a thousand others you learn to do, you learn to work together, and you learn to lead.

That principle and the application of it in principle has earned Troop 34 the nickname of Eagles Nest, in recognition of the hundreds of Eagle Scouts who wore 34 on their sleeves – my son Gaines being one, just about everyone in his patrol being several more.

There is no better example of what Troop 34 has meant than a memorial article in The Daily Memphian by my colleague Tom Bailey about Bill Deupree who died just before Christmas. Bill was on the founding team of Morgan Keegan, a nationally known and respected financial mind, and a generous Memphis philanthropist.

When asked about Bill, his lifelong friend Henry Turley – who has led the way in shaping and changing Downtown Memphis into what we see today – cited their time together in Troop 34 and the Flying Eagles Patrol. He remembered Bill’s fierce performance in the patrol’s water boiling competition against other troops. He said the dedication and innovation he saw in Bill then was indicative of what he would become and inspire.

Just another couple of Troop 34 scouts building a fire, just like they have for 100 years.

Just like boys and girls will use that light to build the next 100 years.

The Scout Lodge on Peabody east of the church is a living, working museum of Troop 34 past and present. If you don’t know where it is or you’d like to know what you can do to help them in what they do, just ask a 34 scout – boy or girl.

They’ll lead the way.

I’m a Memphian, and an Eagle Scout.

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