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Celebrating 100 years of helping boys learn, grow through scouting

Date: 2/8/2010

Feb. 8, 2010

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

Larry Bystran knows first-hand just what scouting can mean to a young boy.

"I grew up in Lakawanna, N. Y. on the southern border of Buffalo . it was an old steel mill town, an urban area," he told Reminder Publications. "As an urban kid, scouting gave me some great opportunities to learn and spend a lot of time doing different things."

Especially, he remembered fondly, when he got to go to scout summer camp.

"[It] gave me a lot to look forward to in the course of the year," Bystran said. "[There were] different activities that I didn't have at home ... the swimming, the boating the camping, the camaraderie with the other troop members."

Even that first summer when it rained, his sneakers and sleeping bag got wet, and his mother wanted to take him home on Parents Day.

"I had no desire to go home, I just wanted a few dollars for the trading post. I wanted to stay," he said

"I didn't realize at the time how much I was learning, how much I was growing," said the 40-year scout.

This year Bystran, who is now council executive for the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), along with 50 million alumni, hundreds of thousands of current scouts and countless volunteers will be making fresh -- or reliving their fondest - scouting memories as the BSA celebrates their 100th anniversary.

According to material provided by the national organization, the BSA owes its start to a chance meeting between American newspaperman and entrepreneur William D. Boyce and an anonymous scout on the streets of London, England, in 1909.

Boyce was lost. The scout helped him find his way, then refused a tip for his service, saying he was doing his "good turn as a scout."

Boyce was so impressed by the actions of the young man he visited the English headquarters of scouting to learn more about the organization. When he returned to the U.S., Boyce filed incorporation papers for the BSA in Washington, D.C.

"The official birthday [of the BSA] is Feb. 8," Bystran said, referring to the date Boyce filed papers in 1910.

That makes 2010 "a big year, a real milestone in scouting history," Bystran said, with events planned both nationally and locally.

The Western Mass celebration

On the local level, the year-long celebration kicked off with a recognition dinner for key volunteers from the four counties of the Western Mass Council on Feb. 6. At the dinner, five local volunteers -- Mark Albert of Ludlow, Robert Dionne of Northampton, Frances A. LaMountain of West Springfield, Robert Walz of Belchertown and Gail A. Wojtkowiak of Pittsfield -- received the National Silver Beaver Award for service to youth of an exceptional nature.

In addition, two volunteers, Harris M. Tanner of Chicopee and Maurice "Jim" Lavoie of Ludlow, were presented with special service awards for 70 and 75 years of active service to scouting.

On Feb. 13, expect to see lots of scouts at your local mall.

"We're going to have groups of Cub and Boy Scouts and Adventurers at Eastfield Mall, Holyoke Mall and Berkshire Mall [to] show the public some of the different aspects of scouting," Bystran said.

He said the displays will show how scouting has changed and adapted -- "there are merit badges like computers and crime prevention and emergency preparedness and nuclear science and personal management involving budgeting and financial planning" -- as well as the old standbys such as camping, swimming and first aid.

But some things, he said, haven't change, such as "duty to God, country and self, doing a good deed daily, and the Scout Oath and Law."

"The key thing for the public to know is that the mission of scouting is [still] to help young people to grow up and be productive adults and family members," Bystran said. "We use programs that are fun in striving toward character development, leadership training, mental fitness, physical fitness and the learning of skills."

Local scouts will then get the opportunity to put all of the things they have learned to the test the weekend of May 21 23 when the Western Mass. Council will host a camporee for Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Adventurers on the campus of UMass Amherst.

And the Western Mass. Council has something very special planned for current and alumni scouts during this year's Big E, which will take place on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition Sept. 17 through Oct. 3.

"We're in the planning stages for the 100th anniversary of scouting booth and the alumni reunion booth,"Bystran said. "We'll be trying to reconnect with the tens of thousands of [New England] scouting alumni from over the years."

He said the council is hoping to talk to these alumni and "get some of their stories."

National BSA events

On the national level, Bystran said the BSA will be offering an awards program for scouts, leaders and alumni though which they can earn a commemorative patch called "A Year of Celebration, A Century of Making a Difference" based on the five core values of scouting -- leadership, character, community service, achievement and the outdoors.

"There's also another aspect of the national celebration called 'get in the game,'" Bystran said. "this will be a geocaching program that scouts can participate in."

According to Wikipedia, "Geocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called 'geocaches' or 'caches') anywhere in the world."

Bystran said the scout geocaches will contain messages and items which "reinforce the values of scouting."

And on July 31, the BSA organization will host an Internet broadcast from the national 100th Anniversary Jamboree in Virginia called "The Shining Light Across America."

"The entire scouting family can come together for this event via the computer," Bystran said.

In addition, he said the U.S. Mint is recognizing the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouting by striking 350,000 commemorative silver dollars, and the U. S. Postal Service is issuing a special Scouting postage stamp this summer.