Winter Camp has freezing temperatures
Over 200 boys ranging in ages from 10 to 18 spent a chilling week at the George W. Pirtle Scout Reservation braving the freezing temperatures and learning what it takes to be a Boy Scout. While most of us were ‘nestled all snug in our beds,’ these boys and 75 adult leaders were camping in sleeping bags and tents, braving the sub-freezing weather that hit the area the week after Christmas. It was called “Winter Camp.” Boys from all over the East Texas region gathered to practice their scouting skills as well as to work towards earning several of the 45 merit badges offered for the week. The leaders were all volunteers. Most took vacation time to teach the boys the value of being a Scout--to honor God and country, to help others, to be trustworthy, loyal, friendly, kind, and brave.
“The Boy Scouts is a youth run organization,” says Aaron Deason, camp director for Pirtle. “As adults, our main objective is to see that they’re safe and to help them stay on track and focus on advancing their skills. That’s pretty much the difference between Scouts and other organizations. Parents turn their kids over to the coach for training, but in Scouts the kids run it themselves. It doesn’t matter if they have any natural talent at all. If they stay focused and do the work, they can reach the rank of Eagle.” Scouts meet weekly and have monthly campouts to learn the necessary Scout skills. At the campouts, they are required to cook their own meals, clean up after themselves, wash their own dishes, and learn things that will make them good citizens in the future. The merit badges are more in-depth training completed at winter or summer camps. Some of the badges that could be earned at Winter Camp included public speaking, pottery, woodworking, farm mechanics, first aid, geocaching, search and rescue, astronomy, crime prevention and finger printing, archery, rifle and shotgun. Ken Shide, leader from Gilmer, has been teaching at Winter Camp for 12 years. He has two sons that are Eagle Scouts. “I take vacation time to come here. There’s no better way to spend your Christmas vacation. Sleeping in tents is one of the great parts of the whole experience.” Another instructor from Rusk, Texas, says he spent years as a Boy Scout, but never achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. One of his favorite stories is from a Marine in Vietnam who tells of “auto-rotating” to the ground and crashing into the trees. He said, “Of all my Marine Corps training, I got back to base from my Eagle Scout training and it saved my life.” Another leader, Wesley Marsh, says that through all his travels, he has not found a more diverse camp than right here in our own piney woods at Camp Pirtle. Samuel Dean, an assistant Scout master from Spring, Texas, claims to be the ‘oldest Boy Scout around.’ His group comes up to get away from the big city. “I’m 72 and I take my arthritis medicine and get up and go. It’s a real joy. My kids and grandsons have Eagled out, and I do this for fun. When we were doing first aid and preparedness, a little fawn jumped out and stared at us. The kids don’t see that kind of thing at home.”
From the Scouts themselves:
· I’ve been coming to camp since I was 9 years old and now I’m 15 and a Star Scout. I like coming out here and getting away from the people at home. Everyone has a lot in common.
· I am 14 from Lafayette, Louisiana and I’m working on electricity, drafting, welding and chess merit badges. If you don’t have the right gear, you’re in trouble!
· I’m from Forney, and this is my first year here. I plan to come back again.
One of the highlights of the Winter Camp is getting to eat at the Dining Hall. Because the Scouts are working each day on earning Merit Badges, cooking is not a required task. Not only is it warmer inside, but the food is great. That’s all thanks to Chef Jose. Jose and his wife Juanita Lopez have been in charge of preparing meals for the hungry Scouts for 14 years. In his real life, Jose is the head chef for Centenary College and lives in Longview. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1979, and has cooked for both President Bushes and President Clinton, personally. Another “regular” is Brother Tom. From Ben Wheeler, he leads chapel service every morning at both winter and summer camps. He’s been on staff since 1983.
While the Scouts are working on Merit Badges, a group of 13-17 year olds are attending the National Youth Leadership Training for six days, also at Pirtle. Gene Lewis, a 17 year old Eagle Scout from Tyler, has organized the entire training. By the end of the course, all the young men and women will have learned leadership skills and how to become effective leaders. Jeff Duran, adult leader from Palestine, says, “Kids come from 17 counties. I’ve been in Scouts since 1958 and this is the same training you get if you go to corporate training seminars. Before yesterday, none of these kids knew each other, but by the end of the week, they will be working effectively together. They’ll know how to do that in other groups when they leave here. A guy who is a business trainer said that his company pays $10,000 to a group that puts the members through the same training these guys are doing. It’s not just a Scout thing, although we use Scout principles, it’s also for life, for school, working toward college.”
The 700 acre facility is managed by Camp Ranger Ken Skinner. “I think as far as morals and citizenship, you can’t pick a better program for boys. I’ve got a house out here, but I slept at a campsite just like everyone else. I call this my backyard. What better classroom can you ask for? It’s a fun job and it’s very rewarding. When those boys come and they go home with a smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about. When they walk up to you and tell you ‘thank you for what you did, it means a lot.”
Cub Scouts: (Boys 7—10)
· Pack 268 Southside Baptist Church
1501 W Sabine St
Meeting: Contact Kevin Cook, 903.693.6397
Pack 21 Murvaul United Methodist Church
380 County Road 1241
Meet: Camp Pirtle, Tuesdays, 6:30pm
Boy Scouts (Boys 11-17)
Troop 693 St Williams Catholic Church
4088 NW Loop
Meet: Wednesdays, 6:30 pm
· Troop 268 Southside Baptist Church
1501 W Sabine St
Meet: Tuesdays, 6:00pm
Troop 244 New Hope Baptist Church
PO Box 137
Meet: Mondays, 6:30 pm
Troop 216 First United Methodist Church
201 S. Shelby
Carthage, TX 75633
Meet: Tuesdays, 6:30 pm