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Girl Scouts gather for reunion

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Thirteen Girl Scouts who live in the area and some of their mothers gathered for a recent reunion in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Watkins.

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BY JANICE GRAVELY
Special to the Telegram

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Thirteen Girl Scouts who live in the area and some of their mothers hugged and laughed and cried as they reminisced over pictures of their past together during a recent reunion in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Watkins.

They made a story book history in the 1970s. Children were different in the 70s. Many came from a traditional family living with her dad and mother and siblings. They were taught to obey and understood authority. Some of these came together in Girl Scout troop 211 blended with Troop 335 to form lifelong bonds of friendship. Many started as Brownies under the leadership of Margaret Evans and Janice Gravely. They continued as Girl Scouts with Corine Searcy and Gravely, who took the troop, including black and Muslim members, many of whom had never been out of Nash County, to many cities and states.

They earned badges for sewing, cooking, hiking, camping, history, manners and many other life skills. But traveling to notable places seemed most memorable to the Scouts who gathered for their reunion. They went to Girl Scout National headquarters in Savanna, Georgia, where Scouting for girls began under the leadership of Juliette Gordon Low. Aided by a Boy Scout leader, Bert O’Keef, they went tent camping spring and fall each year. Over the eight years of Scouting, they went to the Amish country in Pennsylvania, where the Nash County girls did not like the food, but loved to see the Amish culture, horse drawn buggies and the men’s and women’s clothing with the boys wearing hats. They went to Williamsburg, Virginia; Roaring Gap; a train ride to Wilson; the State Fair in Raleigh; but two big trips stood out in their memory, Washington, D.C. and Valley Forge National Park — 46 square miles.

In Washington, U.S. Rep. L.H. Fountain took the troop through the House of Representatives offices and gathered them on the steps nearby for the picture. Fountain is in the center back row. Sen. Jesse Helms gave us the royal treatment in the Senate offices, but no picture.

In Washington, it rained a lot on the girls’ yellow slickers but they explored the Smithsonian museum, the Air Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History with dinosaurs, the Washington monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Library of Congress where they saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as our forefathers wrote it. And on a bright sunny day, they went to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they watched the solemn ceremony. They became part of it when four of them laid a wreath on the tomb. They did not realize then what an honor it was, but they do now.

The troop’s crowning achievement was acknowledged by a letter of commendation from President Jimmy Carter. They trained for the challenge for a year. The objective was to hike through the wilderness of the National Park without any trail or path with only a compass and a map using dead reckoning. At home, the Girl Scouts walked a quarter of a mile every day and counted the steps it took to get there. More steps for the shorter girls and fewer steps for the taller ones. They practiced using a compass to read it to learn their directions. They increased their ability to walk greater distances than before. They learned how to train by doing it. After a year, we thought we were ready. So we headed for Valley Forge National Park in a bus full of Scouts and parents.

We pitched our tents and got ready for the hike the next day, about 30 of us plus adults. About half way through, half the Scouts and all the parents dropped out at a convenient place to get back to the camp. After light refreshments from a handy vending machine, the rest pressed on.

The only people we ever saw in this wilderness of the National Park was one Boy Scout accompanied by his Scout leader that we guessed already knew how to do this and probably was able to keep the boy from getting lost. This Girl Scout leader was just as green as the girls. But we forged ahead, crossing grassy fields, finding our way through forests, fording streams, plowing through muddy areas, all with only a compass and counting our steps for the distance.

Nearing the end, although we didn’t know it, the big blister on my heel from the hiking boot broke. I was ready to give up, but one intrepid girl kept saying, “Come on, Mrs. Gravely, you can make it,” And with her help we did. All 12 of us arrived at our starting place that was hidden by trees and shrubbery until we got there — with nothing but a compass and a map. There we rejoined the others and went back to camp to collapse with fatigue and relief.

Maybe other Girl Scouts have done this, but we were certainly the first. So said the president.

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