By Mac Gardner
- George Simmons's Rules for Successful Scoutmastering
- Why a Minister Wants Scouting
- 'Opportunity Fund' Helps Pay for Camp
From Watts in Los Angeles to the inner-city areas of Portland, Ore., this veteran Scouter has been building discipline and self-respect.
Approaching a vacant lot across from a church, the black-and white police car slows as the driver spots kids running around in the grass and trees. Then he spots a tent or two and a familiar khaki-clad figure.
He immediately pushes his foot on the gas pedal and moves away down the road. "It's O.K.," he says to his partner. "That's only George and his boys."
"Only George" is an understatement. This George has a very unusual history.
For more than 30 years, George Simmons worked as a patternmaker for the Dennis Manufacturing Company in Portland, Ore. He would design and make patterns for clothing. The garments came in various sizes, but Simmons could cleverly put the various pieces together to make patterns for the complete garment.
For more than 45 years, Simmons has been doing the same thing as a Scoutmaster--adjusting patterns (read "boys") and putting them together.
And, remarkably, 32 years of this outstanding service have all been in the same place--Troop 152, chartered to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in the inner-city neighborhoods of northeast Portland (Cascade Pacific Council, BSA).
"When my twin brother Alonzo and I started Scouting in 1939 in Watts (Los Angeles Area Council)," Simmons says, "we were on a waiting list of 48 kids trying to get into a nearby troop. I've always been thankful that there was finally room for me. We had a great time camping, hiking, helping the war efforts (World War II), and generally having fun. I have tried to keep the same activity and adventure in Troop 152."
Simmons is a youthful 72 years of age now, but does admit to slowing down just a bit, at least in the camping area. The key factor came last year when one kidney was surgically removed, leaving the remaining kidney with only eight percent efficiency.
As a result, Simmons needs daily dialysis. However, Assistant Scoutmaster Fred Thompson quickly smiles and wags a finger.
"Don't worry about George," he pipes up. "The Simmons spark and spirit are still there. Our troop won top honors again at the Big Thunder District camporee last spring, and we still do well at summer camp."
Organization and discipline
Such positive records in the Troop 152 tradition come about because of good organization and good discipline.
"Discipline was the single biggest benefit of my Scouting days in Watts," Simmons muses. "You always need discipline, especially with today's boys, but you don't have to be a meanie to do it. You need to build mutual respect. The boys need to know you trust them and that they can trust you."
Part of that "mutual respect" shows up in troop meetings and outings. The Scouts always address George as "Mr. Simmons."
In return, all troop members have Simmons's phone number and know where he lives, not far from the church. Lilli, George's wife of 31 years, says (with a smile), "I know the boys almost as well as George does."
While the basic Boy Scouting program hasn't really changed much over the years, Simmons thinks boys have.
"It's tougher to run a troop than it once was," he says. "I think that it's harder to get close to a boy than it used to be. Many boys mistrust leaders of any kind. There are also many more outside attractions than there were when I first became Scoutmaster. We have to plan our program better and run more challenging activities to keep boys interested."
Help and support
Troop 152 has many helpers and supporters, especially the Rev. Dorsey McCullough, pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church since 1991.
"I'm fairly new to Scouting," he says. "This is the first church I've served that uses the program."
However, he adds that "it didn't take me long to notice the benefits of Scouting and to be grateful for such a solid Scoutmaster. The boys gain knowledge and responsibilities that they would normally miss without Scouting. Best of all, because of Scouting's emphasis on service--to God, others, self--I think it makes our boys better church members. And all Troop 152 members do not belong to our congregation. George's reputation attracts boys from all over northeast Portland."
One of those boys is Scout Shepard Penick, who puts a peppy 75 pounds on a 4-foot-5 frame. He has a brother in the troop and another brother in Cub Scout Pack 152.
"Mr. Simmons is a nice man, the one who invited me to join. I like our troop because we camp, make new friends, and there are no bullies."
Mark Thomas, district executive of the Cascade Pacific Council's Big Thunder District, spotlights one more big factor.
"George is a mentor and father figure for many kids," he says. "Many members of the troop are from one-parent, or even no-parent, homes. George is a stable leader who is always 'there' when and where he is needed."
Mark adds that Simmons does a solid job of involving businesses and businessmen in Scouting. "The troop, as well as the council, has an Opportunity Fund to help needy boys, and George is effective in raising money for the program."
Honors well earned
Respect for Simmons carries well beyond the inner-city neighborhoods of northeast Portland. A couple of years ago, he and 99 other community leaders from throughout Oregon were honored by the Volunteers of America.
He has also been recognized with the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award, named for a past executive director of the National Urban League.
Of course, Simmons highly values his Scouting recognitions. He holds the coveted Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor a local Scout council can bestow on a volunteer leader. He also has received the National President's Scoutmaster Award of Merit.
He is also proud of something he earned as a Scout in Watts--the Eisenhower Award, for supporting the World War II efforts in gathering paper, metal, and other recyclable materials.
Why does a man persevere in a tough job for 45 years?
Answers come easily.
"I like to help, and I enjoy the worth of the program," Simmons says.
Then he smiles. "One of my goals has been to serve Scouting in seven decades. I missed the 50s, but I plan to keep going into the 2000s."
'Do you remember me?'
Finally, he explains, "My biggest satisfaction is seeing the fruits of my labors--boys who stay away from trouble and then return to say, 'Thanks!' What a thrill it is to have a grown-up stop me somewhere, grab me in a hug, pound me on the back, and ask, 'Do you remember me, Mr. Simmons?'"
Simmons chuckles. "Those hugs are what make me so small." (He's 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds.)
This "small" man has affected a distinguished group of alumni, including five ministers, numerous lawyers, business owners, policemen, and insurance executives. Several former troop members served in the Vietnam War. "I'm proud of them all," brags Simmons.
The future of Troop 152 looks good, too. Understudying Simmons is Assistant Scoutmaster Fred Thompson, who looks like the former U.S. Marine he is.
A husky man with a hearty laugh, Thompson is an Eagle Scout and active in the Order of the Arrow. He runs his own civil engineering company and, from all indications, loves Scouting as much as Simmons does.
Now if Thompson can also master the art of making "patterns," he will continue putting good things together as the current Scoutmaster has done so effectively for so long.
A retired professional Scouter and former Scouting magazine staff editor, Mac Gardner lives in Eureka, Calif.
George Simmons's Rules for Successful Scoutmastering
Why a Minister Wants Scouting
The Rev. Dorsey McCullough, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Portland, Ore., lists these reasons for his strong support of a Scouting program in the church:
'Opportunity Fund' Helps Pay for Camp
For many years, Troop 152 has had an "Opportunity Fund" to help underprivileged boys. Scoutmaster George Simmons reports that the money in the fund is used mainly to get boys to summer camp.
"This long-term camp is usually the most costly single expense we have all year," he adds.
While the troop's chartered organization, Bethel A.M.E. Church, adds to the Opportunity Fund, local businesses contribute most of the total.
"We have made many friends over the years who keep track of us and want to help," Simmons points out. "By word of mouth, these friends recruit others each year who like the Opportunity Fund idea." Troop members are also expected to add their own financial efforts to get to camp.
November-December 1998 Table of Contents
Copyright © 1998 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
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