In the 1960s in the North Lewisburg area the biggest, most-accessible activity for young boys was Little League baseball. Practically every boy in the surrounding area participated as a member of one of the many different teams.
Another outlet for youthful enthusiasm and energy was Boy Scout Troop 87. Boys aged 12 through 18 who had an interest in camping, hiking, and all of the adventures those activities presented to them signed up as scouts. Adult supervisors were John J. Tomlin, Gene Fisher, Merrill Hollingsworth, and...later...Dick Carey. These leaders gave the boys ample opportunity to plan the troop's many activities. Overnight camping trips, weekend retreats to some secluded campsite, cross-country hikes from one point in the county to another, one-day jaunts along some historic trail way, week-long summer encampments, swimming events at an area pool or lake...these were all part of the adventures which awaited those boys who were willing to memorize the Scout motto, the Scout slogan, the Scout oath, and the requirements and milestones which came with advancing in rank from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout.
The troop was in operation and full-swing in outdoor adventures long before I was aware of it. Lots of other boys had taken advantage of the many opportunities afforded them as scouts. I knew all of them...some were older, some were younger than myself. I was actively involved in Little League (although one of the worst players to ever don a uniform), 4-H (as a qualified breeder of award-winning pigs), and had a daily newspaper route. I also had a long list of customers who made use of my experience and hard work while caring for their lawns during the summer months.
The scout troop had a special-interest group made up of boys who were interested in the history of the area's Shawnee Indians, to include dancing. The group was known as the "Shawnee Warriors." Each of the boys created his own costume, based upon historically accurate garments worn by the Shawnees of days gone by. The chief of the local group was a guy named Robert Stokes. He was a ranking member of the troop, and had mastered the intricate, fluid movements and dance steps associated with the Shawnees. His costume was exceptional, and added to the overall atmosphere as he pranced, dipped, and gyrated around the traditional campfire. I had the privilege of watching him perform before I ever became a scout.
Robert was a neighbor who lived just a short distance from me across East Street. One Sunday morning, (August 14, 1960) he was talking about the local scout troop, and about how much he was enjoying the many camping and hiking activities. He also talked about the Indian dances, and how he truly enjoyed the history of the Shawnee Nation. His enthusiasm boiled over, so I asked him what I had to do to join the scouts. He encouraged me to talk with the troop's Scoutmaster, John J. Tomlin. I knew John from having seen him around town on different occasions. I knew that he was Navy veteran of World War II, and I knew where he lived.
My parents were away from town that weekend, so I purchased my Sunday lunch at the local restaurant, the 559 Coffee Shop. I then walked the few blocks to John's house, knocked on the door, and told him I was interested in becoming a scout. He talked with me for a few minutes, gave me some materials (along with an application) to read and study, and then made an appointment with me to visit him once again the following Wednesday, August 17th.
During the next few days, I diligently studied the information John had given to me. By the time of our appointment on Wednesday, I had memorized all of the things which he had spoken about...the motto, the slogan, the oath, and other things. He asked me questions, and I rattled off the answers, eager to please him. After just a short time, he offered his hand and his congratulations. "You're now a Tenderfoot," he said. He also told me that the troop was going camping that very next weekend in a wooded area in Logan County, and invited me to go along.
Consequently, I found myself that next Friday evening trailing along a hillside overlooking a flat field as John and the ranking boys in the troop looked for an appropriate campsite. They chose wisely, and soon the tents were pitched and a campfire was roaring, billowing white smoke into the air. I savored the aroma of the woodsmoke, the cackle of the gases as the flames licked at the wood. Later, after food was cooked and enjoyed, I gathered with the others around the campfire and listened in awe as John recounted a tale of the Shawnees who had once roamed this very land. It was magical!
As years passed, I had the opportunity to see John in action as he led by example. He was always willing and eager to help the scouts plan their various forays into the woods and hills which surrounded our community. He was there to tell a tall tale or scary story as the scouts gathered around the traditional campfire. He was there to lend a hand as the scouts crossed back and forth across Spain Creek, or as they hosted the annual Horse Show ( a fund-raising event) at the town's park. John was there when the troop traveled to the area of Ash Cave in south-central Ohio to hold a sunrise service under one of the rock outcroppings. He was there on that same occasion to point out to the non-observant boys a copperhead snake which lay basking in the morning sun. John was there when the boys in the troop decided to hike with full backpacks cross-county from North Lewisburg to Kiser Lake...and he joined us in that test of physical stamina and endurance as the task was completed. John led us from Springfield to Urbana along the old Simon Kenton Trail, stopping us periodically to point out yet another historic site on our journey. John J. Tomlin was there when each boy was awarded patches or merit badges for successfully completing yet another prerequisite while "trailing the Eagle." He epitomized "The Scoutmaster" as depicted in Norman Rockwell's famous painting of that name.
John J. Tomlin was honored in August 2009 with a surprise reception in his honor when he returned from his home, now in Kansas, to his old hometown of North Lewisburg. A small crowd gathered in the town's municipal building to cheer him for his efforts over so many years of dedicated service to the youth of the community. Old guys, like myself, who had been members of Troop 87 in the 1960s were joined by the 21st century rendition of troop members and leaders.
It was a special day for my old Scoutmaster, my mentor, and my friend. It had been a long time in coming, and was richly deserved.
Thanks, John, for your dedication, your exemplary leadership, and your untiring efforts in behalf of youth. Thanks for the many outdoor adventures, and the life-enhancing skills which you taught. You've justly earned your inclusion as one of the "characters in my play."
In Memory of John J. Tomlin
March 15, 1924 - October 20, 2011