With the Boy Scouts of America set to celebrate its 100th anniversary in February, local men are looking back on their memories of growing up in scouting.
“All the great memories are of being outdoors, whether it was a weekend campout or at summer camp,” says Roger DeSanti, district chairman of the Bogue Tuchenna District, which covers west St. Tammany Parish and Washington Parish and includes some 1,300 Boy Scouts. “That’s where so much of the fun happens, and that’s where the boys get to learn independence. It’s a great opportunity for boys to interact in different age groups and different ability groups.”
DeSanti, who grew up in New York and has been involved in Boy Scouts for 25 years, says the scouting experience greatly influenced him growing up.
“I just got back from Atlanta, where I helped train scout leaders. I talked about what a significant impact my scout leader, Tony Pinnavaia, made on my life,” he says. “Second only to my family, scouting, thanks to my scout master, was the greatest influence in my life.”
De Santi is one of many Boy Scouts who remember the hilarious situations that seem to arise when a group of kids spends time outdoors. “We were on a whitewater canoeing trip. [One] canoe flipped, and it happened to be the one with the guys carrying the watermelon,” he recalls. The others weren’t as concerned about their troop mates as they were their snacks. “The first thing that came up from the water was Harold holding the watermelon.”
Ed Miltenberger, vice president of business development at Gilsbar, Inc., remembers the time he spent at the Avondale Scout Reservation in Clinton, La.
“I’ll never forget as a young kid at night just hanging out, talking ’til 10 or 11 o’clock, yucking it up with a bunch of other guys,” he says. “There were various rituals you’d put the other kids through—rites of passage as young men that were all in good fun. It was a great group of guys, some of whom are still active in the community.” Miltenberger says he’s still friends with some of the men he met through scouts. “There were lots of great memories. A big part of it was just having an organized setting where there were lots of great activities that build relationships.”
Miltenberger, who grew up in Covington, is quick to point out that Boy Scouts is a great American tradition. “I tell you, scouts represent everything that is best about America,” he says. “People commit themselves to mentoring young men and investing extra amounts of time and energy to give them experiences they probably wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been in scouts.”
He served as a committee chairperson of the district for two years. “What probably prompted me to get involved was my son working towards getting his Eagle. I was busy at work and not able to be an assistant or a scout master or be that active with him,” he says. The next best thing was to become involved as a chairperson, helping to raise money for the executive arm of the Boy Scouts.
Miltenberger did accompany his son, with some of his troop mates and their fathers, on a backpacking trip to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M. Philmont consists of over 100,000 acres of mountainous wilderness and is the largest youth camp in the world in both sheer size and in the number of scouts it attracts. “It’s one of the most amazing pieces of real estate in the United States. We hiked probably 80 miles over the course of about eight days. You see everything from bear to elk to deer and snakes. It’s a great experience,” he recalls. “And of course, doing it with your son makes it even more special. Any time you can take a kid out on an adventure like that, it’s an amazing experience.”
St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis also has fond memories of his days as a Boy Scout. “It was fabulous from the standpoint of a young man—the activities, the camping. But mainly, it instilled responsibility, because certainly we were taught [that] as we went through all the different programs,” Davis says. He recalls learning archery, going canoeing and attending Jamborees, the large gatherings of Boy Scouts typically held every four years. He also enjoyed going to Camp Salmen with his troop. “We’d have to go out to the parade grounds in the morning, and they’d tell us our activities for the day. We learned a lot of history, too, [of the northshore]. I remember the amphitheater at night, when the leaders would tell stories at the campfire” and they’d make s’mores. “It was just a real fulfilling part of our lives. I think it’s a great organization for young men to get involved with.”
Many local scouts have already celebrated the organization’s anniversary. “We just finished a monster celebration at the council level called the Centennial Campout,” says DeSanti. The event drew more than 6,000 people to the Avondale Scout Reservation. “The neatest thing about it was seeing thousands of boys and their families with smiling faces.”
Though DeSanti has seen some of the activities the Boy Scouts participate in change over the years, the essence of being a Boy Scout has not. Both DeSanti and his son are Eagle Scouts, the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve. Part of the lengthy process of becoming an Eagle involves organizing and performing a service project. DeSanti’s Eagle project involved developing a drug awareness project in cooperation with the New York City Police Department. “It was the late ’60s and drugs were everywhere,” he says.
A lot of the equipment has changed. Camping gear was much heavier then. DeSanti says, “Everything weighed a ton and a half. Now, everything has gotten so much smaller, easier and lighter.” In the past, the scouts even had to waterproof the seams on their canvas tents. And he claims the older uniforms were better. The socks were made of cotton rather than today’s synthetic materials; he remembers scraping the fuzz off new pairs to use as fire starters.
This year, three new technology-driven merit badges will be introduced. Robotics, Inventing and Geocaching are indicative of how scouting is adjusting to prepare young people to become leaders and participating citizens in an increasingly technological world.
But, as DeSanti says, “The core values, the core purpose, the idea of developing people that will make ethical choices throughout their lives as adults, as leaders, have stayed the same.”
“Boy scouting and the scouting movement are so much more than Pinewood Derby and camping. It’s also teaching life skills and leadership,” says Dorothy Garcia, district executive of the Bogue Tuchenna District. “They take a lead role in the areas they’re in. Some troops have been around 60 years, and that’s something they can take pride in.”
The Boy Scout allegiance runs deep. Garcia says she occasionally receives a phone call from a former scout who wants to volunteer even if he doesn’t have a child in the organization. And parents get involved, too. “It’s just amazing to see the level of dedication of everyone involved,” she says. “Everyone is doing it because they love their kids and they love this community. At the end of the day, it’s the best thing for the boys.”
DeSanti agrees. “What we are really doing is helping each other raise our children.”Filed under: Front Page News, Giving Back, January-February 2011, Natural Resources, Northshore History, Northshore Notables, St. Tammany Life