Kevin V. Hunt
Scouting Historian, Author, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
Sometimes my camp staff learned the hard way. But, generally they got the message and made the needed behavioral adjustments. Our lessons and experiences are all part of the joy and trauma of Scouting in general and camp staff in particular.
I remember a couple of times at Camp Bartlett when I got huffy over a lousy campfire program or uptight about a couple of unrehearsed skits that were out of taste when they suddenly appeared unannounced on stage. I dramatically walked out right in the middle of a couple of those programs. Staff knew that when I did that I was less than pleased.
Often on occasions such as these I would go back to the lodge and would prepare one of those classy cracker barrels for the staff and then when they’d get there, we’d calmly discuss the disaster over the goodies. That way my anger would be tempered a little through the effect of the goodies.
On one occasion, the fire building patrol used a little shot of “fire water” to ignite a stubborn fire lay. This did not set at all well with me since this was against all BSA and general safety principles.
After using the special “fire water”, the staff involved also got a special reward the next day. I said, “If you guys want to put something on a fire, you can really get into it.” As already mentioned, our Friday Night Campfire Bowl was located majestically atop a large mountain which overlooked the whole valley below. The only problem was that it was nowhere near a water source for extinguishing our fires.
The task I gave those fire builders was to trudge up the hill with water enough to fill the fifty-five gallon barrel located there for fire prevention. After the initial shock they again pulled together and made a fun task of what could have been an unpleasant one. They ingeniously created a yoke type arrangement for themselves by which they could carry a five gallon bucket from each shoulder. We had needed the barrel filled anyway, but now the task seemed to fit the demands of the situation.
There were some days when everything went wrong in camp. Luckily, that kind of day didn’t come every day. One particularly bad day seems to stick in my mind even now, but it is kind of funny as I look back at it now. The setting was Camp Del Well, located in Southern Utah and operated by the Boulder Dam Area Council in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On that occasion, both of the camp trucks broke down at once. Three staff members were off for the day and were pestering me to get them a way into town. The waterfront director cut his foot and could not direct the waterfront programs. I had no choice but to go down there. As Mitch and I returned from there in the afternoon, the rain started to pour down on us. It came down in torrents.
After rounding up all of the ten or so kids who had gone to the lake for practice and classes, we headed back up the hill toward camp. We were caught in a grand hailstorm and had hail of about a half inch in diameter. (And that was a bit of HAIL (and the alternate spelling could apply)!
That day was also the day that we gave the cook a break and extended the Scouts the chance to cook in their own campsites. We had to eat freeze-dried food and the troop I ate it with didn’t do so hot with the stuff.
Then that night’s campfire program got rained out. We decided to hold it under the large Army tent draped with the orange parachute designed to shade the place. In the rain the parachute sagged dramatically onto the tent. Anyway, the program did turn out well. It certainly was a campfire program to remember. Rain or shine, the program must go on …!
Many of the camp staffers used to leave Camp Bartlett on weekends but there were always about twenty or so of us there. Since the cook was off on the weekends, it fell my lot to do the cooking for the guys on Saturdays and Sundays. I loved cooking so it was a fun job most of the time.
Generally the guys who stayed in camp were willing to take their turn and would each sign up and assist with at least one meal during each weekend. A couple times in a row, however, only one or two of them put their names on the helper list.
I like them, had only a few hours of reprieve on the weekends and while I very much enjoyed cooking gourmet things for the staff, I didn’t want my entire time to be taken up by it. I needed some time to spend with my family.
I asked a couple times for helpers but to no avail. After the second meal that weekend with no help, I’d had about enough. I finally got mad, locked the kitchen and posted on the door, the story of “The Little Red Hen”.
The guys were famished by the next meal and for some reason, several helpers showed up to assist. Many of the staff, however, were angry over the incident and refused to come over to help or eat. They then retaliated by setting off a bunch of firecrackers. The experience proved to be one of growth for all of us.
Another time I reacted similarly when several staffers had gradually developed a habit of coming late to breakfast. They had it timed perfectly to arrive after the flag ceremony and staff meetings were over and at the precise moment that chow was served. Their habit was soon cured with a door locked to latecomers. It took only about three days of being locked out to get them up and back into the groove with the rest of us.
My brother Ray was on my staff and he was one of those lie-a-beds who liked the breakfast hour dozing routine. I didn’t cut him any slack for his actions, however. He got cut out along with the rest of the latecomers.
And there is a funny story about him and that situation. I placed all of the staff members into one of five staff patrols. I then assigned them rotating tasks. One week they would do KP duty, another week they would build the campfire, another week they would plan, implement, and clean-up after a weekly staff activity night, etc.
On this one occasion, Ray and his patrol staged their staff activity night. It was a great activity and all went well. But when it came time for clean-up, Ray and his tent mate did not do their required clean-up duties. And then the next morning they were lazy and did not wake up in time to attend the required flag ceremony. By this time, all staffers knew that attendance at the morning flag ceremony (a sign of being prepared for the day) was one thing that I expected with zero tolerance. And if one or two patrol members were not there, then I came down on the whole group.
So, on this particular morning, the patrol members were already less than pleased with Ray and his tent mate. They came to me and as a group asked what I was going to do to my brother and his mate. They were very surprised with my answer. I said, “They are members of your patrol and it is your patrol who needs to deal with them.” And as an inspired second thought, I added, “You can throw them in the lake for all that I care.”
That was the only thing that they needed to take care of the situation. With a rather loud whoop – and now with the help of almost the entire staff, they ran in great haste to the tent of the flagrant lie-a-beds. And in real swift action – before the two lie-a-beds knew what was happening (and remember that this was about 6:30 AM), they extracted them out of their sleeping bags and tents and with a lot of excitement, they pitched the two boys out into the cold lake at Camp Bartlett.
That was a major grow-up day for Ray. He was no longer just “the camp director’s brother” but he was fully a staff member. And he had to rise to the occasion (pun intended) to get on with life. That moment began at least some accountability for Ray. (He was the youngest of seven siblings – and I was the oldest – … so for many years, the B. of his middle name meant “Baby”. So, he had a bit of growing up to do.) I look back now and see early morning lake dip as a major milestone in his life. (But, I’m not sure that he would agree.)
Speaking of Ray reminds me how hard it was to get him to write letters home. He’d once been at camp for at least a month and had not written a letter to the folks. I couldn’t pull the stunt on all staffers (though their mothers probably would have wanted me to) but I told Ray that he would not be eating another meal until after he wrote a letter home to Mother and Dad.
One year, both my brother and sister were on my staff. I had not had girls or women (other than the married cooks) on my staff before so I was somewhat leery about putting even my sister on staff. Some camp directors had told me that “the only place for a woman in camp is no place.” (That was many years ago – and things have changed dramatically since then.)
With Laurie’s urging, I decided to give her a try. I recruited another girl to come up also so that there would be two of them to fill one tent and so that they could keep each other company.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about “company” for Laurie. All of the staff were more than delighted to entertain her. Knowing of this natural attraction, I gave the staff, both boys and girls together, a sound lecture about their male/female relationships in camp. We talked candidly about the effect of moonlight in such situations.
The staff all agreed that neither sex would go into the tents of the other, that they must remain at arm’s length, and that any association together after dark would be at the lodge or other gatherings where a number of other staff were also present. Though they had all agreed in advance to these stipulations, it wasn’t long before they were testing me to see just how far they could go.
I once found one of the boys in a tent with one of the ladies. It was during the day time (as if that is any “safer”) but they had both disobeyed the rules and got to experience the results of their behavior. I also saw one of the boys walking hand in hand with one girl as they strolled down the trail. They looked like a couple of moon-struck sweethearts.
I was adamant that the rules be obeyed. I put out the ultimatum that the rules would be obeyed from that point on or the girls (and probably the boys involved also) would be sent home. Neither gender liked the ruling but they did conform. Years later my sister said that she could finally appreciate my actions and thanked me for them.
The experience with the girls on staff made me reevaluate whether or not I’d ever have ladies in camp again. Actually though, there was another lady on our staff that same year. She was our Nature Director, and I was very pleased with her male relationships. Her performance proved to be a much more positive experience than that experienced with the younger youth. Instead of being so twitterpated as the younger gals had been, she was very professional. She, the men and the boys, all handled themselves well.
I set up the arrangement to have church girls come to Camp Bartlett for a couple of weeks after the regular Scout camping season. I retained only the staff men whom I knew without a doubt that I could trust explicitly and they got to be staff for the young women. That actually worked out quite well. (They came one year when we were building the new Camp Bartlett Lodge. And it was sure funny to see the girls looking around for the “current bushes” for their hair curlers. They had seen a box of electric boxes sitting near the lodge and just knew that the current bushes had to extend also to the KYBO’s in their campsites. And we were happy to accommodate them the best that we could. We took some of the boxes and nailed them to walls in the KYBO’s – and even had a couple of wires that went down from the boxes into the ground. They really looked legitimate. And some girls even gave them a try! What a hoot that was!)
And on another occasion, I actually worked out a plan for an Ogden Bishop to bring his whole group of young women to Camp Bartlett – in a chartered tour bus – for a surprise dance and other activities with my staff. Talk about fabulous fun … that was it! But, that’s a subject for another blog.
Though I demanded perfection, I could empathize with the staff and their feelings. I could remember well the trauma and difficulty I had experienced when I was their age. I could see in each staff boy his own great potential and I worked hard to help him also see that same vision within himself.
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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