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Girl Scouts' past predicts bright future

Posted: March 11, 2012 - 12:00am
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In this undated photo, left, two Girl Scouts paddle a canoe to shore. Girl Scouts provided many girls and young women the opportunity to learn self sufficiency in the outdoors.  Photos courtesy of Tongass Girl Scouts Council
Photos courtesy of Tongass Girl Scouts Council
In this undated photo, left, two Girl Scouts paddle a canoe to shore. Girl Scouts provided many girls and young women the opportunity to learn self sufficiency in the outdoors.

“I learned how to make a good fire and still know how,” boasts Ann Boochever, talking about how being a Girl Scout affected her life.

That’s just one little thing. Boochever, whose parents were scouts and whose own daughter was a scout, also says Girl Scouts “makes you more independent. It gives you opportunities to set goals and to reach them. You are more independent and maybe have more confidence.”

Dixie Belcher described being a Girl Scout since youth as life changing.

For both women, that is probably quite true. Both cite Girl Scouts for their introduction to music and to the outdoors. Boochever was a music teacher for years before becoming an English teacher. Belcher even served as camp director at the Scout Camp and says she uses music to affect social change.

On Monday, Girl Scouts of America celebrates 100 years. Juneau scouts and alumnae planned a campfire celebration for yesterday evening at the Dimond Field House and will host an adult oriented event from 6-10 p.m. this coming Saturday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, including a silent auction. The event costs $20 and is open to all above the age of 21.

Girl Scouts was founded by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Ga. in 1912. By the 1920s, there were an estimated 70,000 Girl Scouts throughout the U.S., with the first official troop established in Alaska in 1926 in Anchorage.

While it is uncertain when Girl Scouts became prominent in Southeast Alaska, Linda Sylvester, who staffs the Juneau office for Girl Scouts of Alaska, has said, it is thought to go back as far as the 30s or early 40s.

Belcher and Boochever were born and raised in Juneau and both recall Girl Scouts as being a very popular program, and very well established according to Boochever.

“I started as a Brownie and my mother was troop leader. All my sisters were Girl Scouts and Brownies,” said Boochever, “That’s all there was (in the 1950s). That was one of the few formalized activities you could be involved with. And I loved it.”

Belcher’s experience goes back further.

“I first started going to camp in 1947, when I was 7 years old,” she said. Both women said they went to camp every summer as Brownies and Girl Scouts.

Belcher went on to become Camp Director for a period of time.

“We lived for camp,” said Belcher, “and we worshipped those counselors. (At the end) we would walk to the end of the road, crying so hard we couldn’t see the trail.”

Even during Boochever’s time at camp, the road wasn’t paved past Dehart’s, she recalled. Getting out to the Scout Camp was an adventure in itself. Girl Scout camp would last three to four weeks. Supplies had to be delivered by boat to the camp.

“One summer I got sick. I was just miserable.” Boochever suffered a fever and various symptoms that left her bedridden.

“I couldn’t participate in the activities. I had to stay in my tent… After a couple days, another girl who was sick and I had to lie on the bottom of an open skiff with blankets covering us. In those days, a doctor came to your house. When he lifted my shirt, I was covered in red spots. It was measles.”

Boochever said she was heartbroken to miss out on those weeks of camp.

Belcher said back in the 40s and 50s, people didn’t travel outside of Juneau much.

“Most of us didn’t get much or at all and (Girl Scouts) exposed us to different things and different people.”

“People who would come as counselors really appreciated Juneau and we learned to see it through their eyes,” explained Belcher.

What made the Girl Scout experience so life changing and so important to these women?

“We had huge adventures.” said Belcher.

Belcher described wearing gloves and a veil to church and the contrast of the Girl Scout counselors and their more progressive attitudes. At a time when women were generally staying at home and young girls couldn’t imagine much different, learning to be self sufficient and adventurous was a big change.

At Girl Scout camp, young girls could learn to build a fire or a lean-to, how to fish, shoot archery, make camp foods and more.

Belcher described a few of the adventures she had, including a big bear encounter and four days marooned on an island with no food or water.

“We were living outside, free and, I suppose, a little bit wild. It was a great time.”

They also learned songs. Every day after dinner, Boochever and Belcher both said, they would sing.

“And when we got older, we’d sometimes sing all night.” said Belcher.

Boochever said she has sometimes gone to Eagle Beach with her sisters, two older and one younger, and they will sometimes sing the old songs they learned as Girl Scouts. Belcher noted said they will be singing some of these songs at next Saturday’s event.

For Belcher, the most powerful experience she had as a Girl Scout was when she attended an international Girl Scout event to commemorate the 100th birthday of Low, the groups founder.

She was a junior in high school and took a train to Ontario, where she estimates there were 1,200 to 1,500 girls from around the world. From Asia to Europe to Africa and the Americas.

“We were told to each bring a piece of wood for the camp fire. We sat around in bleachers of sorts around the fire, and we sang songs I grew up singing. Next to me on one side was a girl from Italy, behind me a girl from India, and there was a girl from French Guyana. We were all singing the same song but all in our own languages,” said Belcher.

“It was so powerful, I almost couldn’t sing.” she continued.

Today, Girl Scouts is still an important part of many girls’ lives growing up. And beyond anecdotal evidence, there is proof of the positive impact of Girl Scouts in the lives of girls and young women.

Anne Gore, communications manager for Girl Scouts of Alaska, says too few girls are realizing their potential as leaders, but Girl Scouts is working to change that.

“Our programs, based on 100 years of experience, as well as scientific research, are designed to give girls what they want and need to achieve their dreams. Specifically, our programs are all about leadership development and providing a safe environment where girls can “try on” leadership roles and explore science in the ways that they want to (utilizing exploration and creativity),” wrote Gore in an email.

“How do we know Girl Scouting works?” she continues, “America’s most accomplished women in all sectors — government, business, education, the arts, science and technology — are Girl Scout alumnae. Eight out of 10 Girl Scout alumnae attribute their personal and professional success to Girl Scouting.”

Belcher and Boochever do. Many other women in the Juneau community do. And many girls and young women in the community someday may similarly attribute success to the Girl Scouts and the independence, confidence and maybe even the fire building skills learned as scouts.

• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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