Once a Scout, always a Scout

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 16, 2012

PORTSMOUTH — Ask any local Boy Scout, past or present, about some of their fondest memories from Scouting. Chances are, more than a few would mention Camp Oyo in Portsmouth.

Pinewood derby races, swimming, hiking in the Shawnee Forest, camping, sports, capture the flag, identifying plant and animal life, merit badges. As a scout at Camp Oyo, you did it all.

O.C. Leith III was one of those scouts. The 65-year-old Eagle Scout can still remember being on the waterfront staff at the camp and training others to get their lifesaving and swimming merit badges.

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“Anyone who spent a week at Oyo as a camper has to have some tremendously good memories,” O.C. said.

O.C. was a member of Ironton Troop 111, one of 12 troops in Lawrence County at the time. Today, there are only three troops in the county. That was the “heyday” of scouting O.C. said, during the 1950s and 1960s.

“Scouting has gone largely by the wayside,” O.C. said, noting more boys are involved in little league sports or are more interested in video games.

“Ironton used to be a big Scouting town,” said Leith’s older brother, Bob.

Bob, 69, is also an Eagle Scout and former Troop 111 member. He was a camper at Oyo, but also served on the craft staff, nature staff and went on to serve as program director. When Bob was a Cub Scout leader, he brought his Scouts to Oyo.

Over the years, Scouting lost popularity in the area and interest in Camp Oyo also declined. So much so that its future remains uncertain.

But there are some former Scouts, like the Leith brothers, who want to keep the camp in operation for future generations of Scouts.

In 1993, the Camp Oyo Staff and Alumni Association was formed and this year the group will celebrate 19 years of keeping the tradition of Oyo alive. About 120 member of the group from all over the country donate their time, money — or both — to keep the camp in operation.

On Saturday the COSAA will host an open house and reunion at the camp. The gate open at noon with a free meal served at 4:30 p.m.

Warrior Fox Dave Lucas with Troop 106 will lead a dance team between 2 and 4 p.m. Former staff member the Rev. Herb Goetz will lead attendees in old camp songs and there will be a flag ceremony by bugler Michael Smith and members of the Order of the Arrow.

There will also be tours of the camp to show visitors improvements the COSAA has made to the 86-year-old camp in the past year.

Camp Oyo was established in 1927 on 55 acres of land in the Shawnee Forest region. Some of the original buildings are still on site, and the COSAA has workdays through out the year to maintain them.

“Mother Nature is hard on Camp Oyo,” Bob said.

The group has, over the years, replaced logs in the original log cabin structures, done electrical work, painted, replaced windows, and replaced the roof on the eight-sided dining hall.

Charles “Bossier” Leach, 70, joined the COSAA about six months ago after retirement. He has worked to rebuild a fireplace and hearth, replace sheetrock and helped to repair and repaint the 100-plus tables and benches in the dining hall.

Leach was an Eagle Scout from Troop 111 and spent several summers at Oyo and even worked as a junior staff member during his sophomore year in high school.

When he joined the Army a year later, Leach said his Scout training prepared him for military basic training.

“You learned to survive and take care of yourself,” Leach said about Scouting. “… How to cook your own meals and survive out in the wilderness.”

Joe Fletcher, 65, is one of the newest COSAA members. He was an Explorer Scout with Post 108 and remembers the camp fondly, especially earning rank in the Order of the Arrow.

“They took you into the woods all night, by yourself,” Fletcher recalled. “With nothing.”

The Leith brothers also remembered their own Order of the Arrow challenges.

“I was scared to death that night,” O.C. said. “Every sound is a bear or a wolf.”

All three men agreed that joining the COSAA and helping with camp repairs is a way to ensure the camp’s future of generations of scouts to come. But, O.C. said, they need more volunteers.

“We need fresh blood,” O.C. said. “We are getting older and can’t do the things we used to do.”

Leach said the COSAA workdays are once a month.

“It’s only one day a month. Anyone can give up one Saturday,” he said.

The Camp Oyo open house is free and all former campers, staff and the public is encouraged to attend.

For more information about the event, contact COSAA treasurer Bill Schwamberger at (740) 876-9748 or president Steve Shafer at (740) 547-8606.