Dedication earns him Md. honor Leader: Peter A. McCabe has taught survival skills to youths for 17 years. Last week, he was named one of the state's Most Beautiful People.

November 09, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Peter A. McCabe, a Columbia resident, never forgot the YMCA counselor who encouraged him to stay out of trouble when he was growing up in Winona, Minn., on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Although the counselor died before McCabe could thank him, he has spent the past 17 years training and leading dozens of youngsters on search-and-rescue missions along the East Coast.

Last week, state officials honored McCabe, one of the founders of Explorer Search and Rescue Post 616 -- the only one in the state -- for his dedication and service. Post 616, which meets in Columbia's Town Center, is affiliated with the Boy Scouts and is a member of the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference.

"This is just my payback for the caring, kick-in-the-butt efforts my [mentor] did for me," said McCabe, 61. "I want them to someday be there for someone else."

McCabe was named one of 24 "grand winners" representing each county and Baltimore in a ceremony in Annapolis honoring volunteers. He was selected from about 40 Howard County contenders for Maryland's Most Beautiful People.

Many colleagues and students credited McCabe with building self-confidence and dependability in youngsters learning how to survive in the outdoors. McCabe spends more than 52 hours a month teaching youngsters backpacking and hiking skills, and search techniques.

"Peter has the ability to reach out and touch just about any kid -- whether he is someone who is struggling with life or from a very affluent family. Peter gets down on their level," said Ken Barnes of Ellicott City, whose daughter went through the Explorer program two years ago.

About once a month, McCabe leads about two dozen youngstersthrough forests, streams and, at times, darkness in search of missing people. In July, he led members of the Explorer post to help search for Chris Bel-knap, the 13-year-old Boy Scout who became lost in a swamp in Dorchester County.

McCabe was paged at 2 p.m. at his job in Washington at the U.S. Department of Education, where he is compliance report coordinator for the Office of Civil Rights, left and drove the group to the Eastern Shore. The boy was found early that evening. The group also helped search for Kristin Lisk, 15, and her sister Kati Lisk, 12, in Spotsylvania, Va., this summer. The girls' bodies were found in a river.

Last week, the group helped find a 34-year-old woman who was missing in western Howard County.

McCabe, who lives in River Hill village, promptly corrects anyone who calls his group of Explorers "kids."

"They're young adults," he said. "We don't just train to go out and play in the woods, we actually do it."

While McCabe's style is to let students take the helm in search-and-rescue missions and at weekly training sessions, he doesn't hesitate to step in. He continually reminds the youngsters: "This is a team sport. There are no superstars here."

Almost like a military drill sergeant, he exhorts the youths to pack lightly, warmly and comfortably on a recent training trip.

"They'll learn that Oodles of Noodles may be easy to pack, but that won't cut it when you're hiking up mountains," he said. "They stumble, they fall down, they get wet and they help each other out."

Bethany Smith, 16, of Columbia describes McCabe as anything but maternal.

"He doesn't take any nonsense," said Bethany, who has participated in the group for three years. "He's rustic, quirky and eccentric -- in his own way."

One of McCabe's fondest memories of the group is the dozen former students who have become rangers at Philmont National Boy Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M.

McCabe inspired Teresa Barnes, who is now at the University of Maryland studying chemical engineering, to apply for a ranger position after she graduates.

"He really encouraged me to do it," Barnes said, "and he doesn't just give out compliments unless he meant it."

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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