Merit Badge Counselors

Merit Badge books c 1960sYesterday I ran a list of Boy Scout merit badges available in 1965, along with a gallery of merit badge books my brothers and I collected over the years. Today’s post will have a list of every counselor registered with the Shawnee district in 1971, and a little about the counselor’s role.

It’s interesting to read through the list of counselors. The men who volunteered for the job included some of the top in their field: names like Hal Lehman (Architecture), Jake Wells (Art), Weldon Hager (Athletics), Lawrence Bahn (Atomic Energy), John Seesing (Aviation), Bill Ewing (Music and Bugling), Fred Wilferth (Citizenship in the Nation and Scholarship), Ed Blummenberg (farming badges), Earl Siemers (Dairying), Dr. L.W. Hathaway (Dog Care and Pets), Tom Holshouser (Drafting), Milton Ueleke (Electricity and Electronics), Sheriff Ivan McClain (Fingerprinting),  Henry Ochs (Fruit and Nut Growing and Gardening), John Blue (Journalism), Dr. W.O. Seabaugh (Horsemanship), Claude Foeste (Landscape Architecture), Richard Flentge (Swimming and Lifesaving), Harry Siemer (Personal Finances), Dr. J.A. Kinder (Personal Fitness, Wildlife Management and Public Health), B.W. Birk (Plumbing), Bill Nowell (Photography), Clarence Suedekum (Salesmanship), James L. Garner (Sculpture), Larry Grisvard (Theater), and Calvin Brennan (Wood Carving).

What was a merit badge counselor?

1971 Merit badge counselors 01The counselor was an adult who had a specialized field of knowledge who could determine if a Scout had met all the requirements for a particular badge. The official rules make it clear.

You are expected to meet the requirements as they are stated—no more and no less. You must do exactly what is stated in the requirements. If it says “show or demonstrate,” that is what you must do. Just telling about it isn’t enough. The same thing holds true for such words as “make,” “list,” “in the field,” and “collect,” “identify,” and “label.”

Contacting a counselor could be scary

1971 Merit badge counselors 02The scariest – and, to me, most valuable part of the process – was when you had to screw up your courage to set up an appointment with someone who might be a prominent citizen in the community. When you got there, you were generally pleasantly surprised to meet someone who had a real interest in the topic you had picked, and was more than willing to share that knowledge.

That’s not to say that some counselors weren’t tougher than others. Dad wasn’t afraid to tell a boy that he needed to schedule another appointment because he didn’t meet the requirements. That, too, was an important lesson.

Mass production Eagles

1971 Merit badge counselors 03Troop 8, sponsored by the Trinity Lutheran Men’s Club, didn’t have many Eagle Scouts when I was in it. We looked up at those who had attained the rank with awe. Part of that was that we felt that it was a rank that was best achieved by an individual who was motivated to make those “scary” calls on his own.

There were some troops in the area that we perceived to be “mass-production Eagle factories” that brought in counselors and ran boys through the merit badge process in groups. Even as young boys, we could see the difference. Our perception might have been wrong, but our Eagles were numbered in the ones, and other troops had them by the tens.

Obligatory confession since a Scout Is Trustworthy: I never felt I deserved my Horsemanship merit badge that I earned at Camp Lewallen. I think everybody who signed up for the course and paid for the riding time passed it. I was about as good at riding a horse as I was at dancing. I read everything in the Horsemanship merit badge book, but the horse and I were never on the same page at the same time.

Times have changed

1971 Merit badge counselors 04I met with all my counselors on my own. Generally, my folks would drop me off, and I’d call them for a pickup when we were done. That’s not how it’s done today. The official policy:

You must have another person with you at each meeting with the merit badge counselor. This person can be another Scout, your parents or guardian, a brother or sister, a relative, or a friend.

The list of counselors

Here’s the complete list. Finding a counselor for Citizenship topics, Cooking, Electricity or Photography was pretty easy. I don’t know what you’d do if you wanted to earn Textiles, Skiing, Small Boat Sailing or Pottery. Click on any photo to make it big enough to read, then use your arrow keys to move around.

What’s particularly neat is that the address and phone number of the counselor is listed. That might be fun for some of you who are looking for neighbors.

Rattling the Bones of the Past

Science classroom Central High SchoolWhen I posted a photo of the science classroom at Central on January 27, I wondered whatever became of the skeleton that hung in a corner of the room. There were some spirited discussions in a couple of Facebook groups about the old guy, but the best info came from an anonymous source. Well, he’s not anonymous to me, but I agreed to keep his identity hidden in case he had any other skeletons rattling around in his past. We’ll just call him The Gravedigger.

This is a REAL gravedigger

Ohio GravediggerFrom The Gravedigger: On the QT. he was in bad shape and ended up being thrown out. I rescued him from being put in a dumpster. (It was a human skeleton ) He stayed with me in the school warehouse for a couple of years until I was doing some cleaning out and tried to figure what to do with him. After several calls to other schools and no one wanting a skeleton with a few parts missing, I decided to have a little fun with him. We were having some dirt work done at a friend’s farm by a backhoe operator who was also a friend, so we decided to have some fun with him. The farm is located where the town of Eaglette used to be down near Duck Creek.

“We told the operator to be careful when he was digging because there were several unmarked graves of both townspeople and Native Americans in the area… Any way you see where this went. When we finally caught him and got him calmed down and explained what we had done, he begin to see a little humor in the whole deal. He didn’t see near the humor we did, but he did finish the job for us. He also promised that he could dig a hole deep enough that no one would find us if we ever did that to him again. Any way (Slim) hung out at the farm for a while after that and my buddy that had the farm found a home for in the high school in Zalma. I think he is still there.

[Editor’s note: the guy in the photo is a real gravedigger from Letart Falls, Ohio, not my secret identity Gravedigger.]

I hope I’m retired by then

Ezra McComas - woodcarver - Meigs County 02-12-1969That brought to mind a story an old deputy told me. I was a couple counties north of Palm Beach county working on a story about a serial killer. They were digging up a farm where the guy was thought to have dismembered his victims, stuffed them in drums and buried them. I was being held at the perimeter by an old deputy, several hundred yards away from the dig where I couldn’t shoot anything because of brush and trees, so it was a wait-and-see situation. With nothing better to do, the deputy and I had plenty of time to trade war stories.

“When I was a rookie, there was on old hermit living out in the groves back there with a pet gorilla. One day, he flagged me down and said his pet was ailing and needed to be put down, but that he didn’t have the heart to do it. I wasn’t crazy about the task, but it seemed the decent thing to do, so I led the animal out in the groves and shot him in the head. Afterward, I dug a shallow grave and figured nobody would ever find him. Well,” he continued, “those groves are gradually being turned into a housing development. I hope I’m retired before some bulldozer operator turns up something that looks like a human skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull.”

[Editor’s Note: the gentleman above isn’t my salty deputy: he’s Ezra McComas, an Ohio woodcarver. I just needed a picture of an old guy to break up all the gray type.]

Is “Slim” in Zalma

CHS Principal Fred Wilferth c 1964After scratching my head for a couple days, I decided the best way to track the story down was to call the Zalma High School. Thanks to the wonders of Google, it didn’t take but a few minutes to track down a phone number. When a man answered, I said, “This is going to be your strange question of the day.” I told him a little background of who I was and what I do, then asked, “So, my question of the day is, ‘Do you have a skeleton hanging around in one of your classrooms?”

The voice at the other end was Principal Gerard Vandeven. “Yes,” he said, “and he has a name. I think it’s Jo-Jo.”

“How is that spelled? ‘Jo-Jo’ or ‘Joe-Joe“?”

He wasn’t sure.

[Editor’s note: That’s not Principal Vandeven. It’s really long-time Central High School Principal Fred Wilferth.]

How long has it been there?

“How long has Jo-Jo been there?”

“I’ve been here 26 years and he’s been here as long as I have. He shows up all over campus. Bones hanging from a metal rod. He’s all there. Sounds like him. I’ll see if the science teacher can send you a photo.”

There may be a problem

Gravediggers - Letart Falls, OH, 10-14-1968I’m having some doubts now. The timeline doesn’t sound right. I reached out for The Gravedigger to dig up more information. I told him that if Mr. Vandeven had been at the school 26 years, that meant the skeleton had to have gotten to the school before about 1987. Did that fit with what he remembered?

Gravedigger: “Ok just talked to my friend and to the best of his knowledge he gave it to Zalma schools. Not sure if there is any other school in Zalma.

We moved from the old board office in about 1998 ( I think). We moved it when they did the cleaning out. So it has been longer than I remembered. We cleaned out a bunch of stuff. Gave away some to to teachers and staff – whatever they wanted, and the rest was auctioned off or pitched. I took the skeleton to the new office with me and got rid if him shortly after that. Probably 2000. I had to make a couple of phone calls to get the dates right. So probably 13 years ago. I think the high school got a new skeleton before they moved.”

[ Editor’s Note: this is A gravedigger, not The Gravedigger.]

We’ve hit a dead end

Athens Cemetery 02-18-1969Unless a new Gravedigger comes forward, I guess I have hit a dead end with my search for what really happened to Slim. Did he become Jo-Jo at Zalma High School, or is he rattling around somewhere else.?

One last unrelated skeleton story. I rolled on a report of bones being found in a ditch alongside a remote road. The medical examiner and I got there about the same time. He probed in the muck and ooze for some time, then came up and said, “My job gets a lot easier when you find the skeleton is wearing a dog collar around its neck.”

[Editor’s note: This Athens, Ohio, cemetery photo doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway.]




50 Years Ago – JFK

This is the week when you’ll be seeing lots of stories about the Kennedy Assassination. In fact, National Geographic wanted to use one of these photos on a website dealing with the shooting.

Most of this information came from a story I wrote in 2010 about a flashback I had while visiting Alma Schrader School during a tornado drill.

Since the Kennedy assassination was one of those defining moments for our generation, it’s appropriate that I repost this. Unfortunately, assassinations and attempted assassinations were going be become almost commonplace over the next five decades.

From the 2010 story

My memory is a funny thing. It’s full of old stuff waiting for some kind of electrical spark to flicker between it and something I encounter in Today’s World. When I looked out the door at the gray skies, I flashed back to a stormy Friday afternoon on November 22, 1963.

The American History teacher was droning on. We were waiting for the end of the day and the start of the weekend. The PA crackled to life and we looked out at the threatening clouds wondering if we were going to hear a tornado alert.

Principal Fred Wilferth announced that President John F. Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas, Texas. Not long after that came the bulletin that the President was dead.

The Missourian reported that Central High School “held a period of respect and remembrance [that began] at 2:45, lasting several minutes.”

“All you could hear was breathing”

Shortly after that, a television set with rabbit ears was wheeled into the gym, where shocked students watched the story unfold. As soon as I saw the scene, I called The Missourian and told Editor John Blue that I’d have something for him. That promise would soon come back to haunt me.


He said the paper was going to publish an EXTRA edition, but I’d have to hurry. They wanted the paper on the street by 6 p.m.

I ran up to the school darkroom, grabbed the Crown Graphic 4×5 camera and two holders of film. One side was empty, so that left me three shots. I didn’t see the school’s electronic flash, so I grabbed three old-fashioned flash bulbs on the way out the door.CHS reaction to JFK assassination as shown in Missourian 11-22-1963

Without getting too technical, the camera had to be set differently for each type of light. An electronic flash fires a very short burst of light, so the shutter has to be fully open when it goes off (that’s the X setting). A flashbulb ignites, then it gets progressively brighter until it dims out. That means it has to fire slightly before the shutter does so it is at maximum brightness when the shutter is open all of the way (that’s the M setting).

In my excitement, I didn’t notice that the camera was set for electronic flash. When I pulled the dripping film out of the fixer, my heart sank. It was almost blank. There was hardly any image on it at all. The flashbulb hadn’t had time to get to full brightness before the shutter closed.

Darkroom Magic

I knew I didn’t have time to reshoot the picture, even if the students were still around. I pulled out what meager little bag of magic darkroom tricks I had learned and managed to come up with a shot that made the paper.

It was the last time in my entire career that I ever told an editor that I had a picture before I saw it. You have to remember that my first Missourian news photo was published April 18 of that year. My credibility was on the line. You don’t tell someone to hold space in an EXTRA! unless you can deliver.

By the way, the “pupil” quoted as saying all he could hear was the sound of his fellow classmates breathing was me. The Missourian had this quaint style rule that you were a “pupil” until you were in college. Then you were promoted to “student.” I tried every way I could to get the style changed, but never succeeded.

Here’s a link to the EXTRA! edition. You’ll have to play around with the zoom settings on the page to be able to read it.

Polio Vaccine and Lee Harvey Oswald

I’ll publish all three photos, warts and all. In some ways, the dust spots, fingerprints and bad exposure makes the images feel more “real.” Or, that’s the excuse I’ll use.

My family and I went to Central High School on the Sunday after the assassination to get sugar cubes with drops of polio vaccine on them. When we got into the car to go home, we heard the news that Jack Ruby had shot Lee Harvey Oswald while he was being transferred from the jail to an interrogation room.

A change in the news business

The assassination, Oswald shooting and Kennedy funeral changed the way Americans would get the news. I know the The Palm Beach Evening Times put out an EXTRA! edition when the Challenger exploded. I’m pretty sure that was the last extra edition I ever worked on.

Radio and TV were much better equipped to handle breaking news. (I would argue that the 24-hour cable channels have mishandled breaking news in recent years with their obsession of staying live when there’s nothing going on.) The printed newspaper provided a keepsake and tangible proof that an event happened in a way that broadcasting couldn’t, but the Internet has essentially driven a stake through the heart of traditional media.

The screen shots, by the way, were taken off the Steinhoff family Zenith TV in our basement.

Innocence ended

JFK’s assassination was the first in a wave of killings and attempted killings: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan… Unfortunately, we have continued to add to that list since this piece was originally written.

None of us who lived through that era emerged untouched. If you don’t believe it, look how a tornado drill at an elementary school in my home town can give me a flashback to a Friday afternoon nearly half a century earlier.

1963 Charleston Debate Trophy

1963 Charleston Debate trophy

Looks like the Central High School Debate Club had a good run at the Charleston tournament in 1963.

From left to right, Calvin Chapman, advisor, projecting his JFK persona; Fred Wilferth, principal and co-owner of the Jackson skating rink; John Mueller, my freshman debate partner; Bill Wilson, the other candidate who was beaten like a drum by Jim Feldmier in our run for Student Body President; Rick Meinz and Mike “Dink” Daniels. You can see a tiny, tiny me taking the photo reflected in the window inside the door.

“Meinz would rat me out”

I can remember being at a state student congress in Jeff City and passing a note to Dink that a couple gals from Sikeston or Charleston or somewhere wanted us to go to dinner. “I’d love to,” he responded, “but Meinz would rat me out to Bunny [his girlfriend].”

You can tell by the mischievous expression on Rick’s face that he would have done it in a heartbeat, too.