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"Be Our Guest at Camp Lewallen"

The following was published in the Southeast Missourian newspaper on July 20, 1993.

 

Never a dead end at Camp Lewallen: It was always so, that hasn't changed
By Gene Munger

 

After more than 39 years, I returned recently to Camp Lewallen, Southeast Missouri's Boy Scout Council Camp, where I had spent eight summers as a Scout, a counselor and a Scoutmaster. This visit, through the courtesy of Camp Director Tom Johnson, was a return to that glorious, fun-filled place of my youth after life's path had led me so far away from those youthful times.  Needless to say, I enjoyed the experience; it was awesome.

 

As my car turned off Highway 67 onto Route K for the remaining two miles to the camp, I remembered myself in 1946, as a wide-eyed and scared 12 year-old Scout from Benton, taking that dusty and bumpy ride over the unpaved and gravel road to camp for the first time.  I was already terribly homesick and wondering whether I would have enough to eat.

 

Somehow, I survived, as all first-year Tenderfoot Scouts always do, and I returned as a camper until 1951 when I spent the next three summers as a waterfront director teaching hundreds of Scouts swimming, lifesaving, canoeing, and rowing.  My last year there, 1954, was as the Scoutmaster of Cape Girardeau's Centenary Methodist Church's Troop 3.

 

To my surprise, Camp Lewallen had not changed all that much over the years.  Instead of aquatic activities taking place on the St. Francis River,  there was now a swimming pool for swimming and water safety; canoeing and rowing activities were held on a nearby 10-acre lake.  Further, a new modern dining hall had replaced the camp's former archery range at the camp's entrance.  Otherwise the troop campsites were essentially in the same locations, distant from the staff's cabins where I stayed.

 

What had not changed?  The boys had not changednot at all.  True, they were younger, and they looked younger, but boys could now enter Scouting at 10 years (12 years was the minimum in my day).  Were they any less enthusiastic or active than my generation had been?  No! Did they look at me and wonder what I was all about?  Probably, although I didn't dare tell them I had taught some of their grandfathers how to paddle a canoe!

 

Being there those three days gave me a renewed appreciation for the adult leaders who unselfishly give their time and energies working with their boys--not only for the week in camp, but throughout the year.  Their steadying, mature influence manifested itself magnificently as these men, heroes in my eyes, provided the counsel and leadership to their troops.  The ghosts of some of those inspiring adult leaders in my past, Perryville's Clarence Hinni, Caruthersville's Pop Hamby, Fredericktown's Andy Ferguson, and Cape Girardeau's Bill Lehne still walk quietly and proudly on those well-worn paths.

 

I spent many hours talking with the younger staff members about how it had been at camp during my day.  At my request, they took me to what they called the ol' swimming hole.  I blanched noticeably at such an unkind, irreverent reference to my former waterfront kingdom.  There was no path along the river now--only heavy vegetation, guarded fiercely and valiantly by sting weed and heavy brush left over the years by a sometimes impetuous, swollen river.  Passing time and progress for the better had made my beloved kingdom only a fond memory of the past.  There is nothing as constant as change.

 

Leaving camp on Route K that final day, I stopped my car for one last look.  Facing the camp's entrance, I noticed a highway sign, posted for all oncoming campers and visitors and clearly marked with the ominous warning, "Dead End."  Theres never been a dead end here at this camp--only a beginning for one of a young man's most lasting and enduring experiences.  For me, it was always so.  That hasn't changed! 

Gene Munger, a resident of La Canada, California, is president of Munger and Associates.  A graduate of Cape Girardeau Central High School, and Southeast Missouri State University, he worked for Shell Oil Company for 36 years.