Badges of friendship S'more good times: 60 years later, a group of Girl Scouts reunites at Camp Whippoorwill.

October 01, 1995|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

It was 60 years ago that a group of young Girl Scouts from Baltimore first went to Camp Whippoorwill on the shores of the Magothy River in Anne Arundel County. The girls, then 10 or so years old, paid $19 for two weeks of camping, eating, swimming, hiking and boating.

But, as many are recalling this weekend, they also cemented lifelong friendships and began to develop the beliefs and values that would guide them in their personal and professional lives.

Starting Friday afternoon, through yesterday and continuing today, 25 of the former Scouts are back at Camp Whippoorwill for -- in any aspect of life -- a rare 60th reunion. They're sharing memories, talking about the lives they've lived, and eating some "S'mores," the famous Girl Scout snack of melted marshmallows and chocolate on graham crackers.

"Camp meant a whole lot to all of us, and you get to a certain age and think, 'We should really get together,' " said Betty Cooke, 71, of Baltimore, one of the reunion's organizers.

"We wanted to talk over all the old camp memories, but also talk about why that experience meant so much to all these people," said Ms. Cooke, a jewelry designer and owner of The Store Ltd. in Baltimore.

They're uncommon women, many of whom went on to have successful careers in fields that weren't considered appropriate for girls growing up in the 1930s and 1940s. Among them are a former president of Barnard College, an Episcopal priest, an obstetrician, a college dean and a computer analyst.

"At a time when women were either expected to marry and have a family or become a secretary, nurse or teacher, Girl Scouting showed us that wasn't necessarily so," said Celeste Ulrich, 71, retired dean of the School of Human Development and Performance at the University of Oregon.

"It gave us the opportunity to know that we could fulfill our dreams, and that it's OK to have a career as well as children," said Ms. Ulrich, who traveled from Eugene to attend the reunion.

The idea for a Camp Whippoorwill reunion grew out of discussions between several former Girl Scouts who had stayed in touch over the years. The women contacted their former scouting mates, got an enthusiastic response and began planning a year ago for the reunion weekend.

Many of the former Girl Scouts still live in the Baltimore area, but in addition to Oregon, others came from as far away as Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

"I was just absolutely moved. I remembered every smell, every texture, every kind of tree," said Jackie Anderson Mattfeld, 70, upon seeing Camp Whippoorwill again. Ms. Mattfeld was president of Barnard College from 1975 to 1981 and now teaches at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

"I really believe that being at this camp was the place where I felt most completely myself," Ms. Mattfeld said. "We found soul mates here -- other young women in love with the outdoors who had strong personalities and were willing to have dreams about becoming professionals."

Their first night back at Camp Whippoorwill, the former Girl Scouts indulged in two favorite camp activities -- eating and talking.

Portia Bowers, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, brought her special lasagna and zucchini cake with her on the train from her home. After dinner, the women stayed up until midnight, telling their life stories.

Yesterday, after a pancake breakfast, some walked the campgrounds, pointing out favorite spots and stirring up old memories in the process. The women revisited the banks of the Magothy River, where they used to swim, and some of the old campsites -- Timberline, Holly Hill and Sleepy Hollow.

"Remember old Mrs. Perch? She taught me about nature," Frances Green asked a former scouting friend. "She had black bloomers and was very, very strict. You didn't get a merit badge from her unless you earned it, babe."

The former Scouts spent a good amount of time at the reunion poring over memorabilia from their scouting days. Everyone brought old camp pictures, Hilda Cohen Fisher brought her old uniform covered with merit badges, and someone even dug out the 1934 edition of "The Girl Scout Proficiency Badge Requirements."

Many of the women say their lives were greatly influenced by the principles espoused in Girl Scouting, such as accepting diversity and respecting the environment.

"Scouting alerted us very early on that we had certain obligations to country and community," Ms. Ulrich said.

An example of this sense of duty inspired by scouting was the formation of the first Senior Service Girl Scout Troop during World War II. Many of the 10-year-old girls who had met at Camp Whippoorwill formed the senior troop in their teens to do their part during the war years.

They prepared first-aid kits, volunteered at hospitals and baby-sat for war wives who had to go to work.

"It was a wonderful time," said Mrs. Fisher, who taught chemistry at Goucher College for 28 years, "It was something we did as a group and it taught us how to organize."

When the Camp Whippoorwill 60th reunion ends today, the former Baltimore Girl Scouts will leave knowing that years may pass, but Girl Scout camp never changes.

"I always loved the bull sessions, sitting up at night and talking in the dark about what we wanted to do," Ms. Mattfeld said. "And here we are in our early 70s, still talking about what we're going to do when we grow up."

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