Boy Scouts continue to have youth ‘prepared’

Bob Henderson, longtime Dunkirk resident, submitted this photo from when he was a Boy Scout.

After viewing several pictures of Boy Scouts in the newspaper, I was compelled to write an article about my experiences in the organization. This is very timely with Boy Scout Week in the month of February. “Be Prepared” remains the motto of the Boy Scouts.

I was 11 years old and my friend Jimmy Erick informed me about his fun times with the Boy Scout Troop 4 in the city of Dunkirk. Troop 4 had its meetings at the National Guard Armory on Main Street Extension. Meetings were Monday nights from 7 to 9 o’clock. Upon listening to Jim’s involvement I had to join as soon as became 11 years old.

My first meeting was exciting; I only knew a few youngsters and they were mostly one or two years older than me. The only kids I knew were from my neighborhood David Kubinski and Roger Fabich. It didn’t make any difference the meeting was fun with details involving many things I would enjoy.

All outside activities, hiking, camping offered opportunities to earn merit badges for completing a series of written and hands on tasks.

The adults in charge would never be forgotten. Scout Master Orville Washington, Assistant Scout Master Peter Baldwin and several Councilors naming a few. George Washington, Orville Brother, David Johnson, Gene Szymanowicz, Lucius Palmer were some of the others. Thinking back, these wonderful gentlemen spent so much time attempting to make a youngster a better person for the future.

Meetings began with a Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath, Scout Laws, Scout Motto and the Scout Slogan. Attendance was taken and broke up into groups for either merit badge or scout rank advancement.

Upon joining the scouts, one became what was called a Tenderfoot. Next rank was Second Class Scout that included knowledge of scouting laws and activities. First Class Scout was a little tougher with compass degree reading, knot tying and first aid. Star Scout included more knowledge of outdoor activities and something like six merit badges.

Merit badges were earned by completing a series of written and hands on tasks — actually A to Z, meaning Astronomy to Zoology. Life Scout was much more in-depth with specific merit badges. Finally, the highest rank was and still is Eagle Scout. This included a variety of written, verbal questioning and several merit badges in again a very specific area. An individual scout project was included to obtain this highest award.

Troop 4 consisted of well over 50 scouts. Also, there was an explorer group that I remember but they were older boys and did older boy things. I do remember some of their names; Joe White, Tom Douglas, Bob Barnes, Dave Cronk, Jim Stearns and a few more.

Our meetings ran from September to June and the summers included weekend camping adventures at Camp Gross in Cassadaga and a week-long period at Camp Metz in Mayville. I remember us cooking over a campfire and either eating things raw or burnt.

Nighttime was a treasure and mosquitoes had a feast. Only two boys had cheese-cloth nets and I wasn’t one of them. We even did a winter camp weekend.

After the meetings we played a game called British Bulldog. The Scoutmaster lined up all the scouts and place two boys in front of them. Everyone then ran across and tried not to get captured by actually getting lifted off the ground. Those lifted would continue on until no one was left to run across the line. The last scout would be the winner. One time a scout by the name of Johnny Panek tried to capture me and lift me off the ground. It ended up with me getting a nose bleed. Couldn’t do any of this today!

During Boy Scout Week 1957, I wore my uniform to school. When we wore uniforms at this time it had to be complete. Boy Scout hat, shirt with neckerchief and slide, pants with boy scout belt and brown socks and shoes. If you had a partial uniform it wasn’t worn until it was complete. Surprising enough during this time span scout items were kind of expensive but only a very few did not have a complete uniform. I think eventually those that didn’t quit scouting or maybe they just didn’t like it.

Anyways, wearing the uniform to school made me feel proud and different. I was the first Boy Scout in my class at school. It didn’t take long before almost the entire class of boys joined Troop 4 when they became 11 years old.

Dunkirk in 1958 didn’t have any swimming pools around. During the winter of that year the Troop had permission to use the swimming pool at Gowanda High School. We had to obtain our own transportation and thanks to my brother, Ben, went with a car full of boys to enjoy the swimming pool and earn the swimming and life saving merit badge.

Just think these were on school nights during the late1950s. We did have to get parents signatures. What a responsibility taken by these Scout Masters.

Another event was the Memorial Day Parade in Dunkirk. I remember the scout masters trying to instruct 50 to 60 young boys how to march and look presentable. We looked nice with our uniforms and carrying flags but looked more like a mob coming down the street until we got the act together.

It makes me sad when I see such small groups of youngsters involved with today’s scouting activities. Wonder if anyone knows what Morse Code is or semaphore flag signals. I guess it’s not necessary with cell phones.

The friends I made will never be forgotten. They include: Jerry Wilwmski, Tommy Guziec, Eddie Mikula, Jimmy Miga, Jimmy Pienta, Dave Palmer, Dave Johnson, John Panek, Ron and Rich Pachol, Richard Szymanowicz and especially Joe Skubis and Jim Erick.

Bob Henderson is a long time Dunkirk resident.