Better prepared Scouts Gift: A local couple do a good turn, donating $328,000 to help Central Maryland Boy Scouts retain a grant.

January 31, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

The slogan is still "Do a good turn" and the motto remains "Be prepared," 88 years after the founding of Boy Scouts of America.

Lately, the sentiments have paid off in Central Maryland.

The Baltimore Area Council said a local couple, Lee and Maidie Podles, have done an outstanding turn by making a surprise gift of $328,000 just as it appeared the Scouts might lose a $375,000 foundation grant.

The gift rescued plans to hire a director and strengthen an expanding program for 4,000 disabled Scouts in the area. It was needed to put into effect an earlier grant. The larger total becomes a "special needs" endowment whose income will help those Scouts.

The council has succeeded in its goal of increasing enrollment. Membership jumped 13.3 percent last year. Nationwide, that was second only to the New Orleans area, Baltimore officials said.

"All of this is pretty exciting, but we still have a lot of room to grow," said Erik Nystrom, Scout executive.

Nystrom and his staff honored 265 new Eagle Scouts at an annual dinner Thursday night. Among the guests was Plummer Wiley, 85, who lives at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. In the 1920s, he became the nation's youngest Eagle Scout, and he strongly recommends Scouting today, saying, "It's still relevant."

News of the unexpected gift arrived at the 701 Wyman Park Drive headquarters before the Christmas holidays.

The story goes back to 1994.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation provided $375,000 contingent on other donors' matching the amount. Unmatched, the grant was extended. But the Boy Scouts' intensive efforts did not yield enough. By last month, they had raised $75,000 from about 10 sources.

"It was beginning to look bleak, and we were concerned that this opportunity could be rescinded at any time," said John Kline, council endowment director.

Then the council received $328,000 from the Podles family of Roland Park and Naples, Fla.

Lee Podles is an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 1000 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. Three of his sons -- James, Thomas and Charles -- are Scouts there. Maidie Podles is soon to be honored as a "Scout mom" when son James, 17, becomes an Eagle Scout. The Podleses teach their six children in their home.

The gift was from Mrs. Podles' inheritance after the sale of part of a pharmaceutical company, Ben Venue Laboratories of Bedford, Ohio, which her grandfather founded. She is a former curator of Renaissance and baroque art at the Walters Art Gallery. Mr. Podles is a writer and former investigator for the Office of Federal Investigations.

"The Podleses came to the rescue," said Kline. "Their interest in special-needs Scouting and Scouting as a whole enabled us to reach our overall objective of $775,000. This is a fairy tale happy ,, ending."

Said Mr. Podles, "Scouting is so important. It helps boys become men."

The Podleses are specifically interested in special-needs funding. Mr. Podles has a mentally retarded sister and has worked with Scouts with disabilities. "It enables those with special needs to have a chance to enjoy a variety of activities. I hope they become more fully integrated in Scouting."

The Scouts' special-needs program provides activities for 4,000

disabled Scouts, boys and girls, from ages 6 to 20. They are described by the council as learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, physically disabled, and mentally, visually and hearing impaired.

"There are over 25,000 youth with disabilities in Central Maryland," said Laura Seefeldt, special projects program director. She said most of the 4,000 disabled Scouts are integrated into the area's 965 units but that some make up 29 units for the disabled. "The need for money to fund this program is very obvious."

Nystrom said it might surprise some people that about 6,500 of the 43,313 members of the Boy Scouts in the area are girls in Learning for Life Scouts or Explorer Scouts. They are considered part of the Boy Scouts.

Another local campaign, Scoutreach, is a subsidized program for 3,400 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts who live in the inner city.

"Scouting is more meaningful today than ever, especially in the inner city, because there are so few role models or mentors for young people," Nystrom said. "Our program specialists from Morgan State and Coppin State work in Scoutreach."

The council, which covers Baltimore and the counties of Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard, ended last year with 8,400 traditional Boy Scouts (ages 11 to 17); 20,898 Cub Scouts (first grade through fifth grade); 1,402 Explorer Scouts (boys and girls ages 14 to 20); and 12,444 members of Learning For Life (a Scouting subsidiary for boys and girls in school "character-building" programs).

Nystrom said the council's goal is 50,000 members by the end of 2000. It hopes to increase its endowment from $3.5 million to $6 million by 2003, including $225,000 to make a total special-needs endowment of $1 million.

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