Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Troop 9 celebrates 50th Founding Scoutmaster event’s man of the hour


WORCESTER — It was a buffet spread fit to feed a hungry Boy Scout, no matter how old.

There was a roast beef station, buttery mashed potatoes and stuffed turkey breast. No need to start a campfire to cook it; this one was catered by men in chef’s hats. At a second table was a three-tiered white cake with a gold “9” on the top.

This was a family reunion of sorts. It was the 50th anniversary of Boy Scouts of America Troop 9, but merit badges weren’t handed out yesterday for finishing this hearty meal.

One hundred and fifty guests sat among the rows of tables covered in white cloths. Some were slightly bored teenagers sporting khaki uniforms, merit badges and pimply cheeks. But it was the older boys with gray hair and middle age spread who were having most of the fun as they back slapped, swapped bawdy stories and sparked old memories with the same vigor as rubbing two sticks together.

They call themselves the founding fathers, even though they were boys at the time. They remembered the paper drives, long hikes up Mount Washington and campfire meals that were more daring than delicious.

These Scouts, ages 10 to 87, were squeezed in the Burncoat Baptist Church’s basement on a brilliant, sunny afternoon. A Red Sox do-or-die playoff game did not dampen the attendance.

Paul E. Foskett, 76, was the man of the hour. He is the founding Scoutmaster who started Troop 9 back in 1959. He walked in wearing his original khaki Scoutmaster uniform, slightly tattered, and a tartan neckerchief. He has white hair and mustache. That first year there were only six boys, and even though 50 years have passed he remembered the camping trip in 20-below-zero weather that sent one boy to the hospital with frostbite.

Mr. Foskett left the troop in 1966, when he got a new job and had to move away. He never volunteered since and still regrets it.

“Life got in the way,” he said, referring to his eight children and a home to keep. But the old Scout uniform stayed in the closet until yesterday. “I’m responsible for these troops,” he said pointing to the boys — some of them grandfathers themselves.

John K. Atlas, 51, is Troop 9’s current Scoutmaster and the man to thank for yesterday’s get-together.

He said not much has changed in the past 50 years of Scouting. Merit badges are still awarded in camping, cooking and hiking. A badge in raising sheep has been replaced with one for Internet Web mastering. He admitted it is a struggle to keep the boys from getting lost in their iPhones.

Finding new Scout leaders is also a challenge. Single parenting has made it harder to recruit and puts more pressure on existing Scoutmasters to be a role model that some boys are missing.

Mr. Atlas is the second of three generations of Boy Scouts. His father, who is 87 and attended yesterday, was first. Third in line were Mr. Atlas’ sons, Sean and Matthew, who were also the first in the family to become Eagle Scouts, the highest honor.

But what stopped Troop 9’s current Scoutmaster from reaching this elite level himself? He grins and admits falling in love with a powder blue Plymouth Duster with an eight track deck and the girls it attracted. Fumes and perfume he calls it.

But enough talk about that.

Fifty years and 1,000 Boy Scouts had passed through Troop 9, and soon it was time for the cake cutting ceremony.