By Steve Jones
12:46 PM EDT, September 18, 2012
In 1911, America was a much different place. President William Howard Taft was in the White House, and baseball was the national pastime. There were no National Football League games on Sunday, Monday or Thursday, because there was no NFL.
That same year, a Boy Scouts of America troop was founded in Catonsville.
On Sunday, what is believed to be the oldest Scout troop in the nation will celebrate its 100th anniversary when current and former members of Catonsville Troop 306 gather at Patapsco Valley State Park. There is no admission charge for the event, which is scheduled for 1-5 p.m.
"We are the first troop ever to request 100-year identification bars from the national office," said Dennis Gray, chairman of the committee that planned the Sept. 23 100th anniversary picnic celebration. "The troop actually lapsed for a year, so that's why we're celebrating in 2012 instead of 2011."
Gray expects more than 200 former members of the troop, which is based at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, to attend the celebration.
"The alumni have been very enthusiastic about it," he said. "This program has withstood the test of time. It will be an afternoon of memories, social interaction, and stories being exchanged. "
Gray, a 65-year-old resident of Ellicott City, witnessed firsthand the benefits of Scouting through his two sons. Jason, now 33, and Brian, now 24, spent many years in the program and both earned the rank of Eagle Scout. They are among more than 100 members of the troop who have attained the highest rank in Scouting, beginning with Dick Kiefer in 1929.
"Being with my sons and sharing their experiences was one of the best segments of my life," said Gray, a real estate portfolio manager who is still involved in Troop 306 activities. "The camaraderie and the opportunity to see kids develop into solid citizens have kept me involved."
Ted Johnson grew up in Troop 306 and became an Eagle Scout in 1956.
Johnson, who later became a Scoutmaster, remains active in the organization after 65 years in the program. He said he is excited about the prospect of seeing so many faces from the past at Sunday's event.
"I haven't seen a lot of these people, and will get the chance to renew old friendships," he said.
He and his wife, Glenda, are both members of Catonsville Presbyterian and have served as the liaisons between the church and Troop 306.
Known as CORs (Chartered Organization Representatives), the Johnsons are responsible for all communications from the troop to the church's ministers, the Rev. Kenneth Kovacs and Dorothy Boulton.
The couple have also helped raise more than $11,000 for a scouting scholarship fund in memory of two former Scout leaders.
"We believe in the ideals and values of scouting," said Glenda Johnson, a former Girl Scout.
"Without Catonsville Presbyterian, there wouldn't be a troop," she said. "The church not only provides a place to meet, but also gives the troop an opportunity to sell Christmas trees on the grounds during the holiday season. That's very helpful to the troop, because the tree sale is our major fundraiser."
More than camping trips
Though no longer an active Scout, Catonsville native Andrew MacLeod plans to attend Sunday's celebration.
MacLeod joined the program in 1991 at age 6. He moved through the program, and at 18 earned the rank of Eagle Scout. His uncle, Richard Decker, is also an Eagle Scout from the troop.
MacLeod said he is grateful for the role Scouting played in his personal growth.
"It's all about skills training and service to the community," he said. "Scouting took you outside of your box. It gave me perspective on what I could do to help others and be a better member of society."
MacLeod also cited the way those experiences increased his self-confidence as an important part of his development.
"We did a lot of hiking while I was there," he said. "I finished the C&O Triathlon, and I never thought that I could do anything remotely that hard."
The active nature of Scouting has enabled Gray to maintain his enthusiasm for the organization.
He points to the high-adventure component, which includes experiences such as the annual C&O Triathlon, as proof that Scouting is more than camping trips, projects, and merit badges.
The triathlon begins in Cumberland and ends in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Scouts hike 11 miles, then canoe down the Potomac River for 50 miles before finishing the arduous trip with a 120-mile bike ride.
"Usually, it's the first trip for our 11-12-year old age group," Gray said.
"That's the first high adventure," he said. "But we've also sent groups to Isle Royal in Michigan, the northern tier of Minnesota, and the Alaskan wilderness. Those are the kinds of trips that keep kids involved in Scouting."
Sunday, the state park will be an opportunity for young and old troop members to talk about their experiences.
For most of its existence, the Catonsville Presbyterian Church has been the home of Troop 306. The connection started when the Rev. John Nesbitt, the church's pastor in 1911, went to Mount Washington to hear talk about the organization by Ernest Thompson Seton, a naturalist, author and wildlife artist who was the first Chief Scout on the founding board of directors of the Boy Scouts of America.
Troop 1, which eventually became Troop 306, was officially chartered in June 1911 and began meeting at Catonsville Presbyterian.
"We've made it to 100 years because they've always been there for us," said Gray of the church's strong support of the troop.
While Catonsville Presbyterian has benefited the troop 306, the Scouts have also worked to strengthen the bond with the church. Members of the troop perform many seasonal services at the church, including February's Scout Sunday, cleaning the church grounds, building composting bins and helping with the set up for special events at the church on Frederick Road.
The troop's service also extends to the greater Catonsville community. Eagle Scout projects have made a visible difference in the area. Those projects include: raising garden beds to allow patients in wheelchairs to plant flowers at a local nursing home; constructing benches and outdoor sitting areas at nursing homes and churches; organizing toy drives for the Catonsville Children's Home; collecting books and constructing book shelves for the Ronald McDonald House; building and clearing trails and working on erosion control projects at the state park.
Sunday's celebration at the park will open with Gray leading the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an invocation by the Rev. Kovacs. After presentations to the church and troop will come the most interesting part of the official ceremony. The troop's newest Scouts paired with older Scouts will provide history lessons from their times.
Gray said his committee had three primary goals for the reunion:
• Present binders that detail the troop's history to Catonsville Presbyterian Church
• Coordinate Scouts of all ages to help find other older Scouts
• Build bonds so the troop will have a 200th anniversary
Following the cutting of the anniversary cake, attendees will have the opportunity to view scouting memorabilia. The afternoon will conclude with a recital of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.