The Boy Scouts celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2010, and Forest Park’s Cub Scouts are celebrating some of that century of history at their second annual pancake breakfast, held in partnership with the Historical Society of Forest Park this Saturday, Feb. 23.
Local Cub Scout Pack 109 will serve both regular and blueberry pancakes, as well as orange juice, coffee and sausages from 8:30 to noon at the Historical Society’s space in the basement of St. Peter’s Church, 500 Hannah Ave.
“Bigger and better,” is how pack leader Jill Wagner described their main fundraiser of the year. Scouts will bring their Pinewood Derby cars for proud display to the breakfast, Wagner said.
As part of the breakfast, Forest Park cubs and the Historical Society will display the special traveling Boy Scout exhibit prepared for the centennial by the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest.
Boy Scouts was founded in Great Britain by Lord Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) who was a soldier during the Boer War. Baden-Powell was known for loving the outdoors and the forests around his family home in Gilwell, and for being an expert mapmaker and wood carver. He also wanted to bring the discipline of the armed forces to boys. The Boy Scout concept quickly spread across the British Empire and to the U.S.
“Boy Scouts began in Chicago in 1910 and Troop Number One was started in River Forest,” said Asst. Scoutmaster Tom Wetzel, who is affiliated with River Forest Grace Lutheran Scout Troop No. 16.
Wetzel said scouting quickly caught on with troops in what was known as the Oak Park Area Council, which included Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. In the 1920s and ’30s, the Twin Lake District emerged with troops in the neighboring towns of Bellwood, Broadview, Elmwood Park, Forest Park, Franklin Park, Leyden Township, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, Oak Park, River Forest, River Grove, and Stone Park. That became the Thatcher Woods Council, which later morphed into today’s Des Plaines Valley Council.
Wetzel will present a special traveling mural exhibition that explores the history of local scouting.
“The mural shows the close relationship of the history of scouting and the communities where they operate,” Wetzel said. “Boy Scouts started in Oak Park and River Forest and expanded quickly to Maywood and Forest Park.”
The first area scout executive was Dr. Thomas E. Roberts, who founded West Suburban Hospital, Wetzel said. Roberts is buried in Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park under an impressive monument, he added.
The cubs pack found themselves in Forest Home earlier this year, Wagner said, when Pack 109 took a special field trip to the cemetery with Diane Hansen Grah, the Historical Society’s director.
“We’re working on a geo-challenge history tour,” Wagner said. The pack is compiling GPS coordinates of historic sites in Forest Park, including Forest Home and Woodlawn cemeteries, part of bringing awareness of the area’s history to Cub Scouts, she said.
A portion of that history is told in the mural when the Oak Park Rotary Club donated funds to buy the first Boy Scout summer camp, Camp Wilderness, on a 40-acre plot near Indiana Dunes. That camp lost momentum during the Depression, Wexler said, and was sold to the state of Michigan in the 1940s. In 1947 the Rotary Club once again stepped up to donate funds for the Des Plaines Valley Council’s current campground, Camp Shin Go Beek, outside Oshkosh, Wis., which thrives today.
Local service organizations still help today’s scouts in Forest Park, Wagner said. The Forest Park Kiwanis Club has donated $500 this year to the Cub Scout pack and the pack partnered with Kiwanis for the annual peanut sale.
Over the century, interest in scouting has waxed and waned, with membership dropping significantly in the ’80s and ’90s.
But Wagner is excited that Pack 109 is growing — it was rejuvenated four years ago and now boasts 35 Cub Scouts.
“Parents are realizing the importance of scouting and how it can help their kids,” Wagner said.
Boy Scouts of America was recently in the news for re-examining its stance on gay scout leaders, Wexler said.
“It was basically a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy,” he said. “But as society changes, we change. Our core principles don’t change, but the leadership changes and rules change.”
Wexler pointed out that Boy Scouts once were limited to only white boys and that women were not involved. Today, there are scouts of every race and the head executive of the Des Plaines Valley Council Boy Scouts is a woman, Irene Szinavel.
“There’s no question that society is evolving and the Boy Scouts are evolving and that’s a good thing,” said Wexler, adding that there’s plenty to be learned about the history of scouting in Forest Park. He hopes local residents with scouting memorabilia will consider donating it to the Historical Society of Forest Park.
“The history of Boy Scouts is really the history of the region,” Wexler said.