Harold Bennett Crutchfield, a longtime Boy Scout leader who told inspirational tales of his old college classmate, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., around the campfire, died Thursday of cancer at his East Baltimore home. He was 75.
Mr. Crutchfield helped organize Boy Scout Troop 223 more than 40 years ago through Zion Baptist Church on North Caroline Street, hoping to give urban youths a chance to see the country and learn the benefits of a good day of fishing.
"Growing up in East Baltimore, we just didn't have those kinds of experiences," said W. William Nicholsonne, 52, who throughout the 1950s belonged to Mr. Crutchfield's Cub and Boy Scout troops.
"There was fishing, hiking, walks in the woods and his great stories. We looked up to him as a contemporary of Martin Luther King."
Mr. Nicholsonne noted that Mr. Crutchfield had five daughters, but no sons. "He would say to us, 'You guys are my sons.' "
Mr. Crutchfield and Dr. King were classmates at Morehouse College in Atlanta in the 1940s, shortly after Mr. Crutchfield returned from World War II, where he had served as an infantry corporal in Europe.
His wife said the two men took some classes together.
Although he didn't know the future civil rights leader very well, Mr. Crutchfield never forgot his example.
Mr. Nicholsonne recalled how his Scout leader told of Dr. King's successful fight to get better food served in the college cafeteria and to get better living conditions for students.
"He would tell us that King left a legacy wherever he went," Mr. Nicholsonne said. "He told us to always remember your past, because you can only prepare for the future if you can reflect on where you came from."
Mr. Crutchfield spent his early years in rural North Carolina, and it was there that he developed a taste for fishing and hunting. He was a graduate of high school in Reidsville before going into the Army in 1942.
"Crutch," as he was known to friends and relatives, started work at the Edgewood Arsenal of the Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1950, a few months after he and Bessie Page were married in Baltimore. He supervised lumber shipments and kept inventory before he retired in 1982.
But family members said most of his spare time was spent with Zion Baptist Church and its Boy Scout program.
Even as his health declined in recent years, he still pushed to keep the program going, said Mary Nicholsonne, Mr. Nicholsonne's wife, who heads the church board of trustees.
"He really thought it was important to provide experiences the boys would not otherwise have as urban youngsters," Mrs. Nicholsonne said.
"He felt it was important for their moral and spiritual development."
Mr. Crutchfield was also the church Sunday school superintendent.
Mr. Crutchfield often scheduled his vacation days around his Boy Scout fishing and hiking trips, at such parks as Gunpowder, Patapsco and Herring Run.
"Me and the girls sometimes got jealous," his wife said. "But I understood."
Along with Morehouse College, Mr. Crutchfield also attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
He studied accounting and, while at Morehouse, joined Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He moved to Baltimore in 1948.
Services were to be held at 10:30 a.m. today at Zion Baptist Church, 1700 N. Caroline St., to which the family suggested memorial donations.
Surviving in addition to his wife are the five daughters, Jarniece Washington, Patricia Owens, Laurita Hooper, Marsha Beckwith and Karin Crutchfield, all of Baltimore; three brothers, Richard Crutchfield of Baltimore, Herbert Crutchfield of Hickory, N.C., and the Rev. John Crutchfield of Durham, N.C.; two sisters, Oriene Gregg and Vivian Giles, both of Baltimore; and 10 grandchildren.