When I turned 12 years of age on 1939, I rushed to the place where the Gowanda Boy Scout Troop 41 held its meetings. It was in what had been the old fire hall before they built the new Municipal Building in Gowanda. The old fire hall was moved to a place behind the new building where it still sits.
The Scout Master was a gentleman with a serious demeanor named Joe Rupp - the last name that rhymed with group. As I recall, Joe was always serious, but he provided us with a never ending series of activities that catered to, and satisfied, the imaginations of early teen aged boys. We had plenty of activities to dissipate any wild imaginings that might have led us to whatever.
Energy dissipation was a prime activity of our scout meetings. One of the prime motivations of joining in the first place was the fact that every winter they took the entire troop to Buffalo, to the Buffalo Consistory, where they had a large indoor swimming pool. There we could have a mid-winter swim. It was an unbelievable adventure to a group of young boys from Gowanda.
I remember one day, in mid-winter, when I went with the assistant scout master, Howard Hamilton (that is my best memory of his name, it might have been Hammond) on a hike. We hiked out beyond the civilized portions of Erie Avenue in Gowanda to a forested region beyond, where I set a fire using the fine brush from the lower branches of the hemlock trees for kindling to start a fire and pass my merit badge in fire starting. The thing that strikes me in retrospect, is the fact that this man, with undoubtedly other things he might have been doing, spent his afternoon with a 12-year-old kid to allow him to test his skills, and show his ability to start a fire on a slightly rainy, snow-filled day.
Let's face it, how many of you guys out there would waste an afternoon on a 12-year-old kid's fantasy of being a woods master, especially with no ulterior motives involved which is all too often the case today.
As I previously stated. I joined the Boy Scouts in 1939. I recently had a conversation with a retired gent who also joined the Boy Scouts in Gowanda in the '60s, almost 30 years later. He spoke of the serious tutelage of Joe Rupp, the Scout Master, who was still doing his best to help young boys in their more formative and adventurous years, to find an outlet and a purpose in their energy filled aspirations.
As I recall, Joe had a couple of daughters, but no sons. I truly believe that Joe did more to mold and shape the aspirations of more young boys in Gowanda than a host of fathers, ministers, teachers or whoever, who had more important things to do, in that he consistently gave of himself over many years to help us in our formative years to pursue constructive outlets for our energies. We took him for granted at the time, little realizing the profound influence he was demonstrating for our mutual lives and futures.
I wonder if his wife understood the tremendous influence his personal crusade had. I hope so. There are few people who have given more of their lives and spare time over such a long period of consistent dedication to the youth of Gowanda than the apparently forgotten, self sacrificing Scout Master Joe Rupp. Thanks Joe, and rest in peace, you've earned it if anyone has. May God bless America.
Richard Westlund is a Collins resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org