The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 10, 2013

Leaders make difference in Scouts’ lives



Feb. 3-9 was National Scouting Anniversary Week, which marks the founding of the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910. We always wore our uniforms to school that week. We were brothers in olive green, and proud of it.

The Boy Scouts have been in the news lately because of the national organization’s historic — now controversial — ban on participation by openly gay men and boys.

I am from another era. If I belonged to a bigoted, discriminatory organization, I didn’t even know it.

I was in the Scouts from 1963 until 1971. As a Cub in Pack 13 at old Washington School, I earned my bronze Bobcat pin (which I still have), then moved on to Wolf, Bear, Lion and Webelos. When I was 11, I joined Troop 34, sponsored by Westville American Legion Post 51. I earned my Tenderfoot pin, then Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle. I still have my Eagle pin, too … it’s real sterling silver.

Back then, nobody could even imagine an “openly gay” scoutmaster. Our troop leaders were World War II veterans, and most worked at the General Motors Central Foundry in Tilton. They were just regular men, like our own dads … “openly heterosexual,” I guess.

I rarely see a Boy Scout in uniform these days, but they were everywhere in the 1960s. Little Westville had two good-sized troops and Danville had some gigantic ones. We Baby Boomers were of Scout age. There were no computers, so most boys still loved being outdoors, doing fun stuff.

Our lives revolved around hikes, campouts, patrol activities, troop meetings, merit badge projects and devouring the latest issue of Boys’ Life magazine.

Our troop was run by Scoutmaster Joe “Pooch” Chmielewski and his assistants, Johnny Shapuras and Catty Serpinas. They were wonderful men who, without pay, took an unruly mob on camping trips when they could have been sipping beers at the Legion.

Pooch, Johnny and Catty — that’s what we called them — would haul us and our gear in pickup trucks to Westville Lake, east of Westville; to Raccoon Lake, east of Rockville, Ind.; and to parks near Paris and Marshall. We’d pitch tents, gather kindling, fish, swim, go sledding, cook over open fires, tie knots, hike, use compasses, identify trees and animal tracks, practice proper flag etiquette, look for the North Star, learn survival skills, practice Morse code and play flashlight tag. We loved it.

Our adult leaders were models of volunteer service, and I appreciate them more now than I did then. They loved the kids, and they loved Scouting. They led us in the Scout Oath, which reads:

“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;

“To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

Pooch, Catty and Johnny made a difference in lots of lives. God bless ‘em.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at