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Jack Zaleski, Published February 14 2010

Zaleski: Nearly 50 years since Camp Kemosabe

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I was a Boy Scout. I rose through the ranks from Tenderfoot to Eagle and beyond. Those were great times.

As the Boy Scouts of America observes its 100th birthday this month, I find the skills and values I learned as a Scout have stayed with me; not perfectly lived, of course, because the Scouts set the bar high. We all fall short.

I was reminded of my Scouting days last week by a commentary from North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom, who earned his Eagle rank in 1965. (See Friday’s Forum.) Sandstrom wrote about prominent North Dakotans who had been Eagle Scouts, among them Ed Schafer, who became governor and served as U.S. secretary of agriculture. The column took me back to my own Eagle ceremony in 1960 in New Britain, Conn.

It was an unprecedented event because three of us from Troop 100 were honored: Freddie Cassella, Mike Tanguay and me. Our dads were present, along with Charter Oak Council Scouting officials, our troop leaders and fellow Scouts.

We gathered in the auditorium of Slater Road School as our dads and Scoutmaster pinned the silver Eagle pin on our pressed and merit-badge-festooned uniform shirts. A photographer from the local newspaper (where my dad worked) snapped a photo that appeared on Page One the next day.

It had been a memorable journey to that evening at the school. My friends and I were immersed in all aspects of Scouting, including three summers of two-week camps at Camp Kemosabe in the woods of northeast Connecticut, where we earned most of our outdoor merit badges and other requirements on the road to Eagle Scout.

It was there we learned how to handle a canoe, rowboat and sailboat. It was there we lashed together poles to build a king-post bridge as part of the Pioneering merit badge. It was there several of us took on the challenge of the mile swim in Crystal Lake and earned the patch. It was there I first really understood the power of teamwork, camaraderie and mutual respect.

It stays with you. Even the small stuff. For instance, when I routinely sharpen an ax these days, I’m calling up a skill I learned in Scouts. When I returned to sailing a few years ago at Devils Lake, N.D., the knots, sail-trimming techniques, the language of sailing and sense of the wind were resurrected from Scout camp’s memory bank. I can still handle a canoe with

J-stroke and sweep. And the most basic of all, when I set a fire in our fieldstone fire pit on the river bank, I retrieve Scouting skills.

After Eagle, I met requirements for Order of the Arrow (a tough test of alone, overnight, primitive survival skills, among other things) and several palms (more merit badges). It was a great run with good friends and inspirational Scout leaders. Wonderful memories.

Today, when I heft an ax or cleat a sheet on a sailboat or knot a towrope on the grandkids’ toboggan, it’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 50 years since Camp Kemosabe.

Contact Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at 701-241-5521.