Kevin V. Hunt
Scouting Historian, Author, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
Recently I was privileged to read an update of current events and developments in the Trapper Trails Council– as written by Scout Executive, Allen Endicott. In the article, he mentioned that solar power is to be or has been installed at the Jed Stringham Dining Hall at Camp Loll. (Having worked at Camp Loll – a hundred years ago – in 1978, I would have thought that they should instead install a power system based upon the snow – and not the sun! And that could really provide power for the camp and everywhere around.) Anyway, the article brought to my mind, “Jed Work” – the Best Kind of Camp Work”.
As I read of the “new” Jed Stringham dining hall, I was overcome with joy and happiness. And I had a flood of good memories come to me regarding Jed Stringham.
Jed was definitely one of the great legends in the building of Scout Camps. He truly was one of the greatest.
I might add that this material might be duplicated within the council. I have presented some of this to Jacob Olsen, the current director of Camp Bartlett – for future publication in the Bartlett Friends Newsletter which he produces. (Great publication, Jake!) But Jed Stringham is a subject that is worth repeating.
Before I talk about Jed, however, let me divert a bit and talk about the old Camp Loll dining hall. I don’t know if it is still there or not. But, when I worked at Camp Loll, there was an old dining hall at the camp. It had probably been built with wood left over from Noah and the Ark. It seems that it was old and dilapidated then. But, it fit with the camp with its rustic demeanor. It was, in fact, the only structure of any kind at Camp Loll. (Don’t get me wrong though … I loved Camp Loll!) I am sure that things have changed a lot since I was there. I really ought to revisit it and check it out. That would be great fun.
Anyway, when we were starting the camp season, it took us three days to get in there. We had to camp near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That kind of became our base camp. (And Jed was with us. He became the “mastermind” to get us into the camp. And his only daughter, Wendy, was also on our staff and was with us.) We had to cut down 56 trees that had fallen across the road into camp. It took us 3 days to get into the camp proper. And upon arrival, we were greeted with three feet of snow everywhere … and that is why would recommend “snow power”. The amazing or really traumatic thing was that all of that snow melted during the staff week.
And with all of that snow melting, we had millions and millions of mosquitoes. (I quit counting them after the number got too high.) Anyway, we were having a staff gathering in the dining hall. And as entertainment for the evening, the staff guys began to kill mosquitoes. Most of them quickly had about an inch and a half of the dead critters on their paper plates. [I later counted the bites on one arm and came up with 128 bites. And I got bit by so many of the bugs that for literally 30 years, my body was immune from mosquito bites. It has only been in recent years that I have “bugged” by their bites.
So much for Camp Loll, the dining hall, and mosquitoes. I could blog on and on about them … but let’s get back to Jed and “Jed Work”.
After writing my article, I googled Jed. And a blogsite called”Agora” came up. I was pleased to read there about Jed and soon realized that it was written by my old friend, Delose. Read the Jed Stringham memories by Delose Conner. Actually, I am glad that I found his writing after I did mine – so that I clearly wrote my own feelings about Jed. But, our feelings of him parallel well together. It sounds as if we both could be Presidents of the “Jed Stringham Fan Club” – with mutual feelings of this great man.
It was my great privilege to know Jed Stringham well. Back in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s, I was a Scouting professional in the Lake Bonneville Council – now the Trapper Trails Council. Jed was then also a Scouting professional – and had been there many years before my arrival in Ogden. I was young and he already seemed old. In fact, he had probably been in the council camps for almost as long as I had been alive. And he was old enough to be my father. He was, however, the epitome of dedication and commitment. And he was truly the great camp builder.
At first, I was kind of scared of Jed. I don’t know why … He came across kind of stern and demanding. And that fake ear (from a cancer operation) kind of “freaked me out” – me and everyone else who met him. (But is not everyone who can take off their ear and play with it! And the hole without the ear was even more freaky!) And admittedly, it took me a while to learn what Jed was all about. I began to work with him with some trepidation and didn’t quite know how to handle his gruffness. Actually, it wasn’t that he was gruff – just committed to what needed to happen. It took me a while to learn to love the guy. But, after I had worked with him, I loved him. He was awesome!
I soon learned that Jed was literally the builder of all of the camps in the council. His fingerprints were everywhere. He knew everything about camp, the water and plumbing lines, where to get what he didn’t have, and how to get everything done. He had the vision of the big picture. And he went from camp to camp implementing those visions.
That first summer I was in the council, I was assigned to work at Camp Loll – along with Delose Conner – another great legend in Scout Camps. (But Delose’s story is one for another day and blog! Watch for it to come soon!) And I soon realized that Jed Stringham was to be there much of the time. I didn’t know then if that was to be good or bad. I had my reservations.
At first, me – and all of the staff – went into a panic anytime that Jed came around. I knew that he would demand me or a fistful of guys to come to help him. We all knew that “Jed Work” would be long and hard – and probably not real pleasant. I knew that once I was engaged with him, I would be into a project for the long-haul.
Over time, I learned a key to keeping Jed feeling happy and productive: I had to keep a crew of three or four staffers to be available as his “gophers”. I could always hang “Jed Work” over the heads of guys who weren’t performing at par. It was no secret that Jed would work the “tail” off any staffer “unlucky enough” to be assigned to “Jed Work”. And I learned that if I could provide the guys to Jed, great miracles would happen for the camp.
While Jed’s pace and expectations could be traumatic for those not accustomed to work, the guys did enjoy working with him, though they’d never admit it. Jed was kind of like Dad (or Grandpa) to everyone, including me, the Assistant Camp Director for Camp Loll – and then later four years as Director at Camp Bartlett. We developed a great working relationship as I began to catch Jed’s vision and learned to work in tandem with him. I saw him as one of my greatest assets.
I remember only one time that I ever had a disagreement with Jed. Whenever Jed came to camp we were blessed also with his wife (I guess “blessed” is the word). His wife, Charlotte, had many talents: She played the accordion and it was fun to hear her play it to our camp songs. She was the best rifle shooter I ever saw in a camp. And I’ll have to admit that she was a fairly good Scrabble player. (And she found it her ultimate mission in camp to beat me at Scrabble. It didn’t happen often, but she was so happy when she did it.) But, with her strengths, she also brought her challenges. Her main problem was that she had a hard time leaving my cook alone to do her thing in the kitchen.
Cindy was a greenhorn when it came to cooking for a Scout camp, but she was doing very well. I appreciated her efforts. That job is challenging at best with all of those teenagers who haven’t yet been weaned from Mom’s cooking. And while the food may be the greatest, if it is different from Mom’s cooking, the guys will all balk about it.
A staffer, whom I’ll blog about sometime – and whom I’ll then call “Ernie” – caused his share of trauma for the cook at each meal. He teasingly harassed Cindy. Finally she could take him no more and in front of all of the staff one day, she got a gooey plate of food and smashed it into Wayne’s face. That relieved the tension somewhat. And he probably deserved – and needed – that kind of reward.
Anyway, this one day Jed’s wife pranced into the kitchen as another meal was in preparation. She proceeded to tell Cindy that she MUST use more macaroni and cheese. (Scout camps in those days were known to have an abundance of cheese and macaroni since these were generally given as surplus to the camps from the local schools – via the federal government.)
Cindy had used a lot of cheese and macaroni but it had always been in casseroles and such and never as just “macaroni and cheese”. Mrs. Jed had been to the old camp school so felt that macaroni and cheese was the ONLY food to serve in camp. And hers was not just the traditional “mac and cheese”. Charlotte’s cuisine included full-sized stewed tomatoes. (And you can imagine that this went over like a lead balloon with all of the staff members). She proceeded to go about “learning” Cindy how to make it. She made a pot of the stuff big enough to have served all the soldiers of World War I. And on this occasion, she seemed to add an over-abundance of those huge stewed tomatoes. Such a great delight!
Cindy knew our teen boys well enough to know that this new delicacy would go over like – as I said, “a lead balloon” with the guys. She did not fully appreciate the untimely assistance nor the manner in which the help came from Charlotte. Cindy burst from the kitchen in a bath of tears. Only her husband could console her.
I confronted Jed later and told him that he would have to keep his charming wife out of our kitchen. He then got defensive and said of Cindy, “She has GOT TO make more MACARONI AND CHEESE”. Then that set me off. I knew well that Cindy had been using the ingredients in other ways and I personally was not too fond of macaroni and cheese.
I said rather hotly, “I HATE the stuff, and as long as I am the Camp Director we will NOT serve it in THIS camp.” I felt bad about it later. I really did not want Jed mad at me. He had truly helped me in my camps. But, Jed got the message and we didn’t have any more trouble with the missus.
I should say that as I was the Director at Camp Bartlett, it was decided that a grand new lodge would be built there. It was my privilege to see its erection – from ground up to the dedication. And it was Jed who masterminded and directed every detail of the place. It was a great day when the lodge was completed and dedicated. And I note that this is the same lodge that has recently undergone renovations to make the “old lodge” now the “new lodge” that will be rededicated in July. I sure wish that I could be there for that grand event.
Anyway, back to Jed and “Jed Work”. The boys silently admired all that Jed had done for the camp but I’m sure that they never told him so. It did not take me long to realize just how valuable Jed was in camp, especially in light of the fact that I am so unmechanical, and thus I really needed his help in that area of camp administration. I had always wanted to thank Jed for his assistance but I didn’t quite know how to do it.
Jed’s moment came one night at one of our staff activities at Camp Bartlett. At our invitation, Jed came to watch Walt Disney’s classic Scouting movie, “FOLLOW ME BOYS!” with us. I’ve loved that movie each time that I’ve seen it. Talk about “Mr. Scoutmaster”, Fred MacMurray really played the part well.
I could not have planned a better thank you to Jed if I’d tried for a month to do so, but it worked out great. It was totally spontaneous so this made the moment even more special.
At one point in the movie, Scoutmaster Siddons got all his guys wired up to construct a camp. As the boys in the film started working, one of my staffers yelled real loudly, “JED WORK!” All the guys cracked up. They laughed heartily. I panicked momentarily, afraid of what Jed would think of the terminology. But then I noticed Jed had a funny grin on his face too.
Then solemnly, and without prompting, the entire staff rose to a standing ovation in honor of Jed. I saw Jed choke up a bit and I think the others did too. I know that I did. It was a fitting tribute to one who had given his life for the camp, Scouts and staffers. From that time on, the staffers were even anxious to volunteer for “Jed Work”.
I felt real proud to be associated with Jed. And because of Jed being “Mr. Scoutmaster” to me, I was anxious to keep him on my side. I was pleased also on those rare moments when I received some compliments from him.
I might add that I reconnected years later with Jed. We returned to Arizona in 1989 and I was surprised when I saw his daughter as I was shopping in a Mesa grocery store. She got us connected with her folks – who were then living in a retirement resort near us. I was sure glad to see that guy. Then a short time later he and Charlotte were serving as a “Senior Missionaries” In Texas. He took sick there, returned home, and then died soon thereafter – in 1993. For some interesting facts about Jed, check out the Jed Stringham Obituary.
And still years later, I got reacquainted with Charlotte as she was a missionary guide at the Mesa Family History [genealogy] library that I found excuse to visit real frequently. At first, however, she threw me off a bit. She was wearing a black name tag that said other than Stringham. I guess she had remarried a few years after Jed’s departure. And Charlotte too, died a few years ago. (I wonder if they play Scrabble in heaven? And I wonder if they serve mac and cheese with giant tomatoes there? I guess time will tell!)
With the passage of time, I don’t know if anyone at Camps Loss and Bartlett still remember Jed Stringham. And that is real sad. I know that Delose Connor remembers him well. And it was probably Delose who suggested the name of Jed Stringham for the new dining hall. It is too bad that everyone today does not have opportunity to do some “Jed Work” – with Jed himself. He truly was a legend and a really great man who had much to do with the development of Camp Kiesel, Loll and Bartlett. He was one of the all-time greats! And is wonderful that he has a dining hall named for him. Though Jed died a few years ago he will always live on in my memory. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to know him and to work at his side.
“Jed Work … the best kind of camp work!”
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership” and others at Scoutingtrails. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
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