Friday, April 30, 2021

The Boy Scouts of America History of the Waukegan Council (1918–1924) and Waukegan Oak Plain Council (1940–1971)

Since the history of the Boy Scouts is well known and documented, it is not appropriate to repeat it in this more localized history except as a backdrop or as scene-setting for what happened in the suburban area north of Chicago.

By 1908 the “Hero of Mafeking” (1900) had become a hero to boys in England who were devouring his little book “Scouting for Boys” based on his experience as a British military officer and his concern for the character development of British youth.

Borrowing heavily from various youth movements in England at the time, Robert Baden Powell had published his book in serial form. It was being taken seriously throughout the British Empire and beginning to be noticed in the United States. Independent “Boy Scout” units were being formed based on the content of the book.

The following year, 1909, a Chicago area publisher, William Boyce, was introduced to the Boy Scout model while on a trip to England. He brought the idea back to the United States and legally incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in February 1910 in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

That same year, Baden Powell, now a Lieutenant General and peer of the realm, retired from the Army and began to concentrate his time and efforts on the Boy Scout movement full time.

In May 1910, the well-known and politically connected publisher, William Randolph Hearst, formed the more militaristic American Boy Scouts (ABS). He incorporated the organization in June in the State of New York. Thus ABS became a serious rival to the BSA and they began to compete for membership and support national wide. Wherever Hearst had a newspaper, including Chicago (The Examiner & American), there was an ABS office. Before the year was out, Hearst had resigned from the presidency of ABS in a dispute over financing and the use of his name. ABS continued under various names until around 1920.
Early History of the Waukegan Council (1918–1924)
The Waukegan Council was incorporated in 1918, but as was typical of the times, individual troops were organized before councils were formed. By November 1918 it was reported by The Lake Forester that “rapid strides” were being made in the vicinity with twelve troops having been formed (no troop numbers or sponsors were indicated). The area included North Chicago and Winthrop Harbor. In 1924 this fact was recognized by the formation of the Waukegan-North Chicago Council which lasted until 1928 when it expanded its horizon and became the Lake County Council. Both names changes better reflected the geography covered.

The formation of a new Lake County Council was not without some contention. The Libertyville Independent reported in January of 1926 that the Waukegan-North Chicago was “split” on forming a “County Council” and voted to stay in existence for another year (until 1927) due a “failure to agree” on whether Lake Forest and other towns on the North Shore would be included.

According to the cited undated article, “Records at the national scout office show that the first troop to organize in Waukegan was at the Methodist Episcopal Church." The charter was granted in November of 1914 for Troop 1 – Waukegan. The next year the number was changed to Troop 2.

A charter was issued in December 1915 for a Troop 1 sponsored by a “Group of Citizens.” Fred C Morey was the Scoutmaster, leading sixteen boys. Mr. Morey later became a “Field Scout Executive” for the Council.

New troops continued to be organized:
Troop 3 in 1915 Sponsored by the YMCA
Troop 4 in 1918 Sponsored by the First Congregational Church
Troop 5 in 1918 Sponsored by the York House Church
Troop 6 in 1918 Sponsored by Christ Church

The undated article reports, “In the spring and summer of 1919, the local (Waukegan) council organization was completed.

The formation of the council seemed to spur the founding of troops in 1920:
Troop 7 Sponsored by the First Methodist Church
Troop 8 Sponsored by the Mother of God Church
Troop 9 Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus
Troop 10 Sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church
Troop 11 Sponsored by St. John’s Reformed Church

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. It wasn’t long before the Boy Scouts were called upon to help in the war effort. While it may be safely assumed that the entire movement was asked by the government to help, Boy Scouts in Waukegan and all along the North Shore were requested to provide fifty Scouts to assist in the training of officers at the nearby Fort Sheridan, Illinois. The Scouts were to be paid, trained, and provided with meals. The boys may have been excited and ready to go but many mothers objected and the superintendent of Schools, William C. Knoelk, supported them feeling that the boys should not neglect their studies. It is not clear from the newspaper accounts if the Scouts ever reported to duty.

The war effort inspired the community and various troops to begin to look at strengthening the movement locally. In April 1918, seventy Scouts representing all the Waukegan troops met for the first time in one place to organize a coordinated Liberty Bond Campaign. E. T. Sargent of Troop 1 was elected chairman to provide leadership for the campaign.

The war ended with the armistice on November 11, 1918. After the war, the government had discovered the power of the Boy Scouts, set aside September 17th as “National Constitution Day” and asked the national headquarters to take leadership of the campaign. Waukegan Scouts responded enthusiastically.

In October 1919, C. L. Alling, Scout Executive, and E. C. Morgan organized a Council-wide campout at the Libertyville, Scout Cabin for adult leaders and prospective leaders. Fourteen automobiles full of men showed up and had a “wonderful night in the woods.”

The Council continued with combined events from 1919 to 1922. A Pow Wow was sponsored in 1919 at North Beach with Scott Peters, a Cherokee Indian, as the star attraction. In 1920, a Scout Leader Training School with 21 adults and 11 Boy Leaders was held at Third Lake. Later that year Troop 6 hiked 100 miles west to Lake Geneva. The Council Executive Board began to plan for a long-term campsite.

According to the “Souvenir Program,” in the fall of 1920, the Council sponsored its “First Annual Circus.” bringing together at the Waukegan Armory all the Council Troops (300 Scouts in 15 units) in a reenactment of a typical Scout overnight with the Scouts displaying various skills, such as camp set up, Indian dances, wall scaling, knot tying, bridge building, and a clown show. Advertising for the circus touted, “…not a dull moment in the program” and ”no intermissions.” C. L. Alling was the Scout Executive, Dr. C. S. Ambrose was Council President and T. H. Hurst was Council Commissioner at the time.

In the same year, troops gathered at the Waukegan Armory to hear the report from Tenderfoot Scout George Fisher of Troop 10 about his adventurous trip to the First World Jamboree in London, England. It was a long journey by boat and railroad. Fisher left home in June, traveled by train to New York City where he waited ten days for 300 other Scouts to assemble before sailing for England, arriving on July 16, 1920. As they waited for the contingent to form, they camped at the Army base at Fort Hamilton off the southern tip of Manhattan. After the Jamboree, they traveled to France leaving that country on August 25 and arriving by Steamship in New York on September 2, 1920. Quite a sojourn for Tenderfoot Scout about 12 years old.

In 1922, nineteen Scouts from the Council camped at Loon Lake near Antioch for two weeks. The new Scout Executive, B. F. Edgar, (appointed in April) was in charge.

In February 1922 a 'Mass' meeting was held at the Waukegan Armory to drum up interest in Scouting. Various community organizations were invited to hear Dr. Kelly, the Scout Executive from Evanston, who had “...organized the Boy Scouts in that city until they became one of the most important the country.”

Later in the year, it was reported that Waukegan and North Chicago Scouts had camped at Loon Lake near Antioch and heard B. F. Edgar, the Scout Executive, speak at their evening campfire as they pursued their “quest for adventure.”

In January of 1925 the Waukegan – North Chicago Council organized one of the first reported training events for Scoutmasters and encouraged leaders from adjoining councils to attend.

Walton Wadell became the first Eagle Scout in Waukegan in 1926. He was a member of Troop 3. The big event of the year (according to an article in the Waukegan News-Sun on May 5, 1930) was a baseball tournament held at Bairstow Field. The article does not say where Bairstow Field was or is.) Teams from troops in Waukegan (Troops, 1, 5, 15, 18, and 19), Gurnee (Troop 77), Antioch (Troop 81), and Lake Bluff (Troop 42) competed over a three-day series.

The Waukegan Council changed its name in 1924 to the Waukegan-North Chicago Council which lasted until 1928 when the consolidated Lake County Council was completed.
History of the Waukegan Oak Plain Council (1940–1971)
The Oak Plain Council was organized in December of 1940 with Charles T. Ross as President and A.V. Neuman as Scout Executive. Five hundred and forty-two Scouts were registered supported by 118 adult volunteers. The Council was headquartered in Waukegan, Illinois, and had units in Great Lakes, Gurnee, Gages Lake, North Chicago, Wadsworth, Waukegan, Winthrop Harbor, and Zion, Illinois. The Council owned and operated Camp Oakarro, near Rosecrans, Illinois, and a remote camp near Iron Mountain, Michigan. The Council included some of the oldest troops in the area, most notably Troop 1 in Gurnee organized according to troop history in 1913. The Troop has undergone several number changes and is now Troop 677 sponsored by the Gurnee Community Church. As was typical of the times, the first eight scoutmasters (spanning the first 25 years) were the pastors of the sponsoring church.

As of this writing, the available documentation of the history of the council is scarce. Northeast Illinois Council files show evidence of the formation of new units in the area from this early period through the 1920s. Units in the area were grouped in the Lake County Council in 1928.

In 1931 Milton H. Wright was awarded the first Silver Beaver in the Oak Plain Council.

In 1942 Darrel F. (“Doc”) Kirk became Scout Executive and the Noo-Ti-Mis Ok’ke Order of the Arrow Lodge 215 was chartered.

When “Doc” Kirk became Scout Executive, his first order of business was to set the Camp Committee looking at the property owned by Mr. Harry Hall (then Lake County State’s Attorney) as a possible site for a council camp. Hall had offered 40 acres in Rosecrance, Illinois, at $40 per acre. Rosecrance was an unincorporated area within Lake County on Old Mill Creek Road south of Route 173. It was a nicely wooded area right in the middle of the council. The minutes of the Camp Committee of February 22, 1945, concludes, “The property has been inspected by each member of the committee and it is their concurred opinion that it is a desirable property for the development of overnight and weekend camping.

H. M. Fisher, the Council Finance Chairman, promptly organized a fundraising campaign among major local business concerns who responded quickly and generously. Among them were Johnson Motors, Johns-Mansville, Abbott Laboratories, American Steel & Wire, and Fastneal. The camp opened for the first campers in 1945. During that year a lodge in a nearby forest preserve was offered and dismantled log by log for transport and reassembly in 1946... all accomplished by volunteers. A fireplace was added, built from local stones collected by various Scout Troops. A bell tower was added, and a local railroad company donated an engine bell.

The camp name came as a result of a contest sponsored by the local Scout Distributor at the time, Durkin & Durkin. “Oakarro,” the winner represents the melding the Acorn and Arrow totem of the Oak Plain Council. The “w” in the word arrow was deliberately left off.

The current campsites are well populated by sturdy lean-to shelters, the first ones being built by Troops 7, 11, and 77. Additional lean-tos were constructed by volunteers so eventually there were a dozen. Latrines were added in 1957 and more wells dug, again all by volunteers and with company donations of money and materials. Protestant and Catholic worship areas were established also. About 1949, 15,000 seedlings of Norway and White Pine were furnished by the State of Illinois for planting.

In 1962 the United States Navy 946th Construction Battalion based at Great Lakes Navel States dredged a sizable lake on the property. The estimated cost was $3,863; however, the Navy considered this a “training exercise” for the reserve unit and the Council paid only for feeding the sailors... $65.00! [1]

In 1948 Troop 1 in Waukegan was reorganized and sponsored by the Homer Dahringer Post 281 of the American Legion. A letter from the National Headquarters Boy Scouts of America addressed to D.F. Kirk, Scout Executive, dated July 13, 1953, credits Troop 1 with existence from December 1925, giving it a total tenure of 27 years as of that date. The Troop claims it was originally formed in 1911 and continued until 1922 when it lapsed for four years.

By 1955 the Council was able to report, “... the number of boys coming of Cub and Scout age is greatly increasing every year and that (in) the area served by Oak Plain Council, is increasing at a rate much faster than the national or state average.” The Council claimed 29 Cub Packs with 1,174 Cubs and 24 Troops with 705 Scouts plus 214 members of 14 Explorer Posts. Thirty-four percent coverage of TAY (Total Available Youth) was claimed.

It was about this time that the Navy at Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago presented the Council an excess fire engine. A “Waukegan News-Sun” photograph dated March 3, 1955, shows “Doc” Kirk and others inspecting the vehicle. William “Bill” Gregory, a long-time Scouter, believes the fire engine eventually ended up at the Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation after the Councils merged.

The big news in the Council in this period was the construction of a new, free-standing, headquarters building to replace the third-floor downtown offices dubbed the “Crows Nest” by Scouts.

In 1953 the Waukegan Park District agreed to lease for $1.00 a year to the Council three lots in Powell Park for 99 years as a “memorial to the military and naval forces of the State of Illinois and the United States.” The Council agreed to build a one-story building and a campaign was launched to raise money and secure donated supplies, equipment, and labor. Regular operating expenses together with the building expenses forced the Scout Executive to notify the Council leadership that the Council was “$600 in the red” and would have to raise money to “keep operating.” An aggressive campaign of support was initiated and the Council did keep operating.

The building was completed in 1957 at an estimated cost of $40,000 of which $30,000 had been donated. The new headquarters would serve 75 units and 900 adult volunteers.

In 1960 the Council was represented at the Fifth National Jamboree by 18 Scouts under the leadership of Dr. Hugh Vincent, Scout Master of Troop 63 in Zion.

By 1969 the Council had 1855 Cubs in 46 Packs, (37% of the “total available youth), 1434 Boy Scouts in 48 Troops (32% of TAY), and 214 Explorers 6.6% of TAY) in 15 Posts.

Ralph S. Kroehler had become Scout Executive. Fred H. Geiger was Council President and Donald Davis as Commissioner.

In November 1970 the council was requested by the National Headquarters to “consider the possibility of a merger” with the Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin Councils. The Council Executive Board appointed a committee to study this proposal and a separate one to study the possibility of extending the Council operating area to include those communities not covered by the then Evanston-North Shore Council in Lake County. Region 7 agreed to work with the Council on this possibility.

The Council was not diverted from serving youth by these happenings. It held a Council-wide Pinewood Derby in February, created a separate Explorer Division in June, held a “real smash” of a canoe race with 287 participants, planned a co-ed car rally for the fall, and received a donated powerboat for Sea Scout use.

The Council's operating budget was to move from $54,687 to $63,421 to support its planned program for 1971.

Also in 1970, the Long-Range Planning Committee issued its report projecting council growth to 1976. They estimated that by that year the council would reach 35% of the boys 8-7 in its service area. The report said, however, “a greater effort is going to have to be made to reach more of the inner-city boys.” Further that “Unit leader recruitment and training... must be given top priority...”

The report also recognized a need to enlarge (double) the size of Camp Oakarro (40 acres), add camping opportunities for Cub Scouts, and a “base” for Sea Scouts.

The committee studying merger possibilities decided to recommend that the Oak Plain and Evanston-North Shore Council consolidate to form what is now the Northeast Illinois Council. (Note: “merger” means one council gives up the charter and joins the other; “consolidation” means both give up charters and form a new council.) The council newsletter, “Oak Plain Talk” reported that the Oak Plain Council Executive Committee overwhelmingly (30 to 3) voted on March 25, 1971, to merge effective July 1, 1971. Alban Weber of Lake Forest became the President, Al Hughes the Scout Executive of the new council, and Ralph Krockler became Director of Field Service of the new council.

Follow-up meetings were held between the two councils in April, May, and June to work out preliminary details.

It is interesting to note that in a letter to George Myers, Regional Scout Executive, that Ralph Krockler reports his surprise that the consolidation actually took place and that Oak Plain Council President had said in 1970 “he wasn’t going to be president to preside over the end of Oak Plain Council.” Krockler signs the letter as “Ex Scout Executive and Director of Field Service.” The consolidation was not without some wounds that now are healed. Two strong councils saw what was best for youth and came together to form a stronger council.

NEIC History Project Committee
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] Almost all of the commentary is based on an undated interview with “Doc” Kirk conducted by the Scout Master of Troop 14. Kirk retired in 1974 and died in 1976. The interview contains the names of many volunteers, companies, and governmental agencies that contributed to the development of the camp... it would not be inappropriate to call it “Camp Volunteer.” In November of 1976, the Northeast Illinois Council rededicated Oakarro as a “training center” in memory of “Doc” Kirk. 

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