And that’s certainly a story worth telling as the Boy Scouts this week mark their 100th anniversary, and today churches across Northwest Georgia and America celebrate Scout Sunday.
That publisher was William D. Boyce, who was visiting England in the early 1900s. Scouting had already started in Great Britain then.
As Boyce was trying to make his way through a dense fog, a boy approached and offered to guide him to his destination. He explained he was a Scout and was doing a “good turn.”
So Boyce returned to America with the basics of scouting in hand and the memory of the “unknown Scout,” and on Feb. 8, 1910, he founded the Boy Scouts of America that focused on teaching self-reliance and character.
Since that day more than 110 million boys have been involved with Boy Scouts.
Some of them had that experience here in Northwest Georgia. Others were Scouts elsewhere and brought their scouting devotion with them to leadership roles here.
Scouting in Rome is synonymous with the name Joe Gittings. Time and time again in conversation with scouting alums or officials, his name comes up.
That’s because for 20 years, he headed a local troop and helped shape the lives of young men.
In celebration of the Boy Scouts centennial, we talked to Gittings and other men about scouting through the decades, their time as Scouts and what it has meant to their lives.
Today some 4 million boys are involved in scouting and live by this motto: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
That’s a 100-year legacy of which Mr. Boyce would no doubt certainly be proud.
Charlotte Atkins, Editor
A lifetime of scouting
Joe Gittings has spent his entire life living by the Boy Scout oath. And he spent 20 years as the Scoutmaster of Troop 28 at West Rome Methodist Church, helping to foster a moral compass into the hearts of dozens of young men over the years.
By his own count, 20 boys achieved the rank of Eagle under his tenure for 20 years as the head of Troop 28, first formed in 1953.
His own history in the Scouts began in his youth, where he was a member of Troop 22 in Roanoke, Ala. He received his Eagle ranking on Dec. 7, 1941, on that fateful Sunday night after listening to the news all day about the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
“It rained all that day, then we went to church, and I got my Eagle ranking pinned on me by my mother,” he said.
After he served a few years in the Army during World War II, he went off to learn the skills of a watchmaker and then returned to Rome, where he has been a fixture at Ford, Gittings & Kane Jewelers downtown.
One of the things he brought with him to Rome was a love and dedication to the Scouts.
He calls the Scouts that he shepherded on camping trips and canoe paddles his “boys,” who he has kept track of throughout the years.
“I could spend all day talking to you about my boys and what they’ve done,” he said.
A number of the Scouts from Troop 28 went on to great careers and even stayed in scouting: Jerrell McCool and Jim Manis are just a few that were in his troop.
Gittings said that he still loves scouting and still loves being a part of the organization. And his devotion was rewarded in March 2009 when he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, the first such honor to be awarded to a Scout in the Northwest Georgia Council.
“I know this: Scouting has a meant a great deal to me. It’s been one of the joys of my life. In fact, those years that I was involved in Scouting meant more to me than anything else in my life,” he said.
Scouts back in the day
Ed Edmondson grew up in a time when Scouting was a little different than it was today. He first joined the Scouts in the 1930s when he was 12 years old and lived in Polk County.
“When I was a kid over in Cedartown, there wasn’t any Little League ball or Boys & Girls Club or anything like that,” he said. “All you had was schools and Scouts.”
He loved the outdoors as a child and the camping trips that went along with being a Scout.
He earned his Eagle ranking in September 1940 and later studied at Clemson University. For a while, Edmondson fell away from the scouting community. But he came back into it with Joe Gittings, who led Troop 28 in Rome.
“The outdoor stuff and working with the kids is what I’ve always enjoyed,” he said. “And this coming summer will be my 25th year serving at the Scout camp.”
Edmondson said he doesn’t do as much as he used to at the camp, but he is happy to be involved still. He said his primary role at Camp Sidney Dew this summer will be helping Scouts earn their woodcarving merit badges.
His favorite memory of his time in Scouts came in 1941 where he was honored along with three other Scouts in Rome at the annual meeting.
“Being from Cedartown coming to Rome and going to the Forrest Hotel for the big banquet there was great,” he said. “That was really living.”
Overall, he said he feels the Scouts made him into the man he is today.
“It’s made me a better person I’d say. The oath, law and 10 commandments made me straight and proper,” Edmondson said.
Scout memories of all kinds
Jim Manis might have grown up in the time of scouting’s heyday, but he hasn’t lost his love for the organization.
The former Northwest Georgia Council president still holds the organization dear in his heart and said that over the years some of his fondest memories have come from the organization.
But there is one in particular that he remembers the most.
Manis, who was in Joe Gittings’ Troop 28 out of West Rome United Methodist Church, said that on one particular trip he and his fellow Scouts caused some mayhem on the river.
“We were canoeing down the Tallapoosa River out of sight of our scoutmaster and throwing firecrackers at one another,” Manis said. “One of the canoes floated over an M-80, it blew up, and aluminum shrapnel went into the leg of one of the boys. We damaged the canoe, we had an injury, and it wasn’t very Scout-like of us at all.”
But Manis ended up being one of the local leaders in the scouting community. All grown up, he ended up serving on the council board and then as council president. But he still remembers those cold nights in a lean-to at Camp Sidney Dew and spending time in the outdoors.
“It was a wonderful experience for me,” he said.
Another fond memory for Manis was his trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, where he hiked to the top of Baldy Mountain and looked out on a beautiful vista.
Manis earned is Eagle ranking in Troop 28 in February 1972.
From Scout to Scout Executive
Matt Hart has literally been around the world in his scouting adventures.
The Rockmart native who is now the Scout executive in Valdosta for the Alapaha Council grew up with fellow Scouts in Rome and even began his career at Camp Sidney Dew.
“Some of my fondest memories as an adult come from there,” he said. “We literally lived at camp as a staff all summer and had hundreds of Scouts come through each year. These are lifelong friends who I share these memories with, along with Scouts from all over the nation.”
But in his role as a professional Scout over the years, he’s also seen the organization as it has changed by adding “hundreds of different things over the years to keep kids involved.”
“The activities that scouting provides are something you can’t get in a classroom, and those are tools that young people are going to need to succeed as adults,” he said.
Scouting might have added new types of merit badges — for instance, there was no SCUBA merit badge when Hart was growing up — but Hart said what hasn’t changed is the core values of the organization.
“The Scout pledge and oath haven’t changed,” he said. “And that’s probably the most important thing about the Boy Scouts.”
Hart earned his Eagle ranking out of Troop 23 in Rockmart and is now watching his own sons make the journey through the Scouts.
“It’s interesting how the cycle continues,” he said. “You do it for years and years as an employee, and now I see them going through the same things I did.”
Like father, like son
Jerrell McCool was an 8-year-old in the Cub Scouts in Joe Gittings’ Troop 28. And 69 years later, he’s still involved with the organization.
“I was the second Eagle Scout to come out of his troop,” McCool said. “When Joe Gittings started that new troop and I went to church with him, it was just a given for me to get involved, and I’ve never slowed down since.”
He said he’s been involved with several district councils over the years and for more than 20 years has been involved and volunteered with the Northwest Georgia Council.
McCool said he was also a fill-in scoutmaster in a number of areas, including Cedartown and Chattooga County.
He earned his Eagle ranking in October 1956 from Troop 28 at West Rome United Methodist Church. He was also a member of the Order of the Arrow and is one of 21 founders awards recipients locally in the Order of the Arrow’s Waguli lodge.
Joel McCool is one of his three sons who earned their Eagle ranking under their father.
Joel, now an ALFA insurance agent with an office located in Central Plaza, grew up fully engaged in the Boy Scouts. He said he wouldn’t have been the man he is today without his father, and he hopes to continue that legacy when his 2-year-old son David is old enough.
“I want to be there like my father was there for us,” he said. “I want to be there in service for other kids in the community so they can grow and be well-rounded and hopefully get their Eagle as well.”
Joel McCool, who was also a member of the Order of the Arrow and worked at Camp Sidney Dew for three summers, said his favorite Scouting memories were formed at the camp, especially when he was a lifeguard.
“That would be one of the biggest highlights of my life is that summer on the shoreline,” he said.
He plans to continue to serve in scouting and hopes one day to achieve the same scouting status his father has reached.
“I see myself transitioning from camp Boy Scout age to adulthood to service role helping our local council,” he said.
Joel McCool was 16 when he earned his Eagle ranking in 1990 with Troop 101 out of Cedartown.
Scouting’s history goes back to the turn of the 20th century to a British Army officer, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. While stationed in India, he discovered his men didn’t know basic first aid or how to survive outdoors. He realized he needed to teach them frontier skills, so he wrote a small handbook called “Aids to Scouting” that emphasized resourcefulness, adaptability and the qualities of leadership.
Baden-Powell returned from the Boer War to find that his handbook had caught the interest of English boys, who were playing at scouting.
That’s when Baden-Powell’s vision was formed. In 1907, he gathered about 20 boys and took them to an island off England’s coast where they set up a makeshift camp for 12 days.
The boys had fun hiking, dividing into patrols, playing games and learning skills like stalking and cooking outdoors without utensils.
Scouting started on that island with a handful of chaps and within a few years began sweeping the world.
American Origins 100 years ago
About this same time, the seeds of scouting were growing in the United States. On a Connecticut farm, a naturalist and author named Ernest Thompson Seton was organizing a group of boys called the Woodcraft Indians; and Daniel Carter Beard, an artist and writer, organized the Sons of Daniel Boone. In some ways, the two organizations were similar, but they were not connected. The boys who belonged had never heard of Baden-Powell or of Boy Scouts, and yet both groups were destined to become Boy Scouts one day soon.
But first, an American businessman had to get lost in the fog in England.
Chicago businessman and newspaper publisher William D. Boyce was groping his way through the fog when a boy appeared and offered to help guide him to his destination. When Boyce tried to tip the young man for his help, the boy refused and explained that he was a Scout and could not accept payment for a Good Turn.
Intrigued, the publisher questioned the boy and learned more about scouting. He visited with Baden-Powell as well and fell in love with the notion of scouting. Boyce returned to America with a suitcase filled with information and ideas.
So on Feb. 8, 1910, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America.
The “unknown Scout” who helped him in the fog was never heard from again, but he will never be forgotten. His Good Turn is what brought scouting to the United States.