Scouting Historian, Author and Speaker, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
The morning (actually “today” – since I wrote it “today”) dawned clear skies and beautiful. Gone was the hot Arizona heat (since it was the end of October and the weather had finally cooled down to just under 100 degrees). It truly was a gorgeous day! And it proved to be a glorious day. And it was the perfect tribute to another of the greatest of Scoutmasters. It was a fun way to remember a great Scouting legend. For most of the group it was a trek in honor of their brother and Uncle Brian Bowles. But it was more than that for me.
I knew Brian Bowles for many years. We lived in the same church area and were friends. Our daughter, Jackie, was their family baby sitter for a few years. We served together in Scouting – me as Troop Committee Chairman alternating with Advancement Chairman and he was the troop’s Scoutmaster. Brian was, in fact, the Scoutmaster to two of our sons, K.C. and Rusty – in troop 688. And he was one of the truly great scoutmasters I have ever known. Brian and I shared many wonderful outings together as I went along with the troop and my own son.
Sadly, Brian Ralph Bowles Died September 23, 2001 of cancer. We lost a truly wonderful Scout leader that day.
A couple of years after Brian’s death, my daughter, Jackie, met and married Michael – a nephew to Brian Bowles. Who would have thought of that one? And so she joined the Bowles legend of “Uncle Brian”. So, with this family connection, I have been even tighter with the family than before – and have felt a continuing bond with Brian as his family works to keep his memory alive.
So, Saturday … actually, it was yesterday! I joined the Bowles family in a semi-annual excursion or trek up to mountains that Brian loved – and where I often went with him and the Scouts. Soon after Brian’s death, his family signed up to “adopt a highway” – a mile of mountain freeway – in his honor. With this adoption, they gather whatever of the clan that they can twice a year – in April and in October – to go up to clean up the mile stretch of highway together. I have long heard of this activity but something has always come between me and the outing – some conflict or other.
But, this time, as Jackie mentioned the outing to me, I checked the calendar and found no conflicts. Amazing! So, I said, “Yeah, count me in!”
Jackie and Michael and their children (with Grandson Blake – a brand new Cub Scout) came this morning to pick me at 7:00 AM and I rode with them up to the event. We headed up Highway 87 north from Mesa and Phoenix, Arizona – heading up toward the almost alpine community of Payson, Arizona. We went to the village of Sunflower – located about 45 miles from my Mesa home. (I’ve written about this Sunflower place in some of my Gnubie Scout blogs. And as a Venturer years ago, my group had grandiose plans to go to Hawaii. I’ve joked many times since that we “didn’t even make it to Sunflower.”) Well, we made it there today.
We went through Sunflower and on up the mountain “on the new freeway” (that is about 15 years old) to the Highway marker 220. And adjacent to the mile marker is a highway sign that honors Brian Bowles.
Along much of this highway there are no turn-arounds, but it is perfect (for us) at this 220 mile marker. We were able to exit the road and park our cars. And the dirt road kind of loops around under the freeway and allows us to also make a freeway exit when coming down from the other way. And surprisingly, there is a freeway turn-around up a couple of miles.
We parked at the spot and many other members of the Bowles family were there – or soon came. Michael’s Dad, Steven, was there with his wife, Shirley. And two other Brian brothers – Don and Bruce were there. Michael’s brother, Mark was there – and two of Michael’s cousins – Lane and his sister. So, there were about 13 of us there. (I guess sometimes they have a lot more for this semi-annual outing – but they take whoever shows up at the current moment.) I was decked out in my cowboy hat (a real “sombrero” as protection from the sun.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (who sponsors the Adopt-a-Highway) program – had certain things that group leader, Don, needed us to follow. He had each of us sign in. He gave each of us an orange vest, and three large blue garbage cans. He had a little safety meeting and discussed things that we could and should not do on the trek. We were told to leave certain things (like bottles filled with unknown substances) there (called a “leave-r-right there”) and that we were to clean up the shoulder of the road – on both sides of the divided freeway – and not directly on the road. Don also had some handy trash-picker-upper tools that were pretty nifty. (And these sure beat bending over a hundred times or more to manually pick up the trash.) He issued each of us three giant blue garbage bags.
Don had this clean-up day and process down to a science. He knew where he wanted each service worker and how much of the road they would cover. He loaded Steven, Michael and his daughter – my granddaughter – into his vehicle and drove us up to Mile Marker 221 on the other side of the freeway. The plan was for us to start picking up at the sign – and then to continue down to 220.
Actually, we let off Michael and daughter on the northbound side – and then Don drove Steven and I up and around to the 221 marker – to head south on the other side of the road.
Steven and I had our bags and picker-uppers ready for the service deed. We spaced ourselves out a bit and headed out. We quickly filled one of the blue bags. We continued on and soon had filled five of our six bags as we headed South and down the mountain. We didn’t go too far from the road in one spot where there was a deep drop-off going down the mountain. There wasn’t much trash in that spot anyway – since most trash would have been “gone with the wind”. As finished one bag, we would tie it at the top in a square knot and then would leave it alongside of the road for the AZ Dept of Transportation to pickup later.
Steven and I had a good visit along the way – mostly about Scouting and recent program changes. He knew that as a blogger, I would probably be up on those changes. He told me that on their first time to do the trash detail years ago that he had almost immediately found a $50 bill. So, since then, this has been a “tradition” with the family – to look for “treasure” along the way. (And so intense is this tradition, that unbeknownst to the younger members of the family, that now Don and others kind of go ahead of the others to “plant” some money for the younger children to find along the way. But, shhhh! The kids are not supposed to know about that deal. I was surprised and pleased that as we walked today, I found three bills – in separate places – and totaling $7.00. (And I don’t really think that Don planted this money.) Steven said, “I’ll have to put on my green screening glasses to find some money myself.” And after he said this, he too found a dollar. Abby later reported that she had found $30 – and I think that came as a gift from Uncle Don – who I guess has been known to let money float away out the window of his car as he goes up the mountain – knowing that the kids or others would be along soon. Anyway, that all added to the fun and excitement.
The whole project didn’t take very long. With all of us working different parts of the road, we were soon done. And all of this while it was still relatively cool. We picked up twenty bags or so of garbage – much of which we determined had just been thrown out by people speeding by in their cars along the freeway. (Kind of hard to imagine with my Scouting training!) Anyway, we made a major difference in the highway and it truly looked better after our work.
Several times during the morning “Uncle Brian” was mentioned by various people. I was able to think again of this great Brian and some of my experiences with him. I remembered his dying of cancer and how traumatic that was. I thought of the outings that I had experienced with Brian. I thought too, of how I had written of some of those experiences and feelings for Brian as he had his cancer and knew that his time was drawing close. In that letter to Brian, I wrote:
“As with most people faced with “your situation”, I have a lot of things that I would like to tell you in conversation but then when the moment comes, I can’t seem to say it. So, I have decided to write you a letter to express my appreciation and love for you.
“I have sincerely enjoyed the many wonderful times that we have shared together in Scouting and its many great activities. I have learned much from you and have enjoyed the fellowship and brotherhood that has emanated from you. You are truly one of the all-time greats in youth leadership.
“The memories will long remain of those special times shared with you. I have enjoyed the places that you have introduced me to. Fossil Springs is really a place of beauty and I have memory of you leading us to this great place. I have since been there a couple of other times myself and each time think back to that first time that I went there with you.
“Then there was the trip to Salome Creek. That hike down into the place is a bit treacherous but what a place when one finally gets down there. Again, it was you who introduced me to this beautiful spot of creation. Thanks too, to the introduction to the thrill of Bulldog Canyon and all that it has to offer.
“And who can forget the bike coast activities? Just yesterday I drove past the Highway 60 tunnel and the surrounding area. Again the memories came flooding back of that activity shared with you, the boys and my own sons. On that same trip, I took six boys up to the Young Road to do the now traditional bike coast. You always had great enthusiasm for this place and having once experienced it, boys want to do this one over and over again (to the challenge of some adult leaders – who have not enjoyed it as you have). Anyway, these boys sped off on their bikes and did the 14 miles down the hill with great enthusiasm.
“Another special memory is of the special campfire program that you staged for the combined youth of the Acacia Ward atop of Crismon Hill east of town. What a neat activity! You made sure that all physical arrangements were “set to a T”. In your usual style of perfection you added real class to the event. I can still see your wonderful flag flying there on that beautiful night as we overlooked the city lights down below.
“And then there were the trips to Roosevelt Lake. Again, your flag was there as a signal to all of us. You, of course, were one of the first to arrive and you had the flag waving proudly as a beacon for us. I think you even attached a light to it on these occasions. (How I have come to love your flag pole and the flag high at its top. What a neat thing you have created with it.)
“And how can anyone ever forget your fabulous scones. (Only my own mother could compete with you in the delectable product that you could put out.) Using the skills and the product that you taught us to make, we have many times enjoyed making scones at outings and at several Scout-O-Rama displays.
“I have always been impressed with the way that you have instilled scripture reading amongst your boys as you have taken them out. I was pleased as a parent and leader to see how you copied scripture selections for each outing and then distributed them to each boy and man there. Through your actions, the boys did not have to carry their bulky scriptures with them, yet you let them know that even though they were out in the woods, scripture reading was still important. And then the reading of the scriptures around the campfire or the early morning cooking fire … what a neat spirit you invited to the outings.
“You will long have many who will laud your name when at Camp Geronimo. The handy “gadget” that you invented to circumvent the water conservation efforts of the camp management was and will be forever appreciated. You made those hot showers to grand! (I’ll be there again this summer and the gadget will go with me. Thanks!)
“Brian, I have appreciated the way that you have committed “your all” to each and every activity that you have done with the boys. You have worked hard to make each outing or activity truly a “high adventure” experience for boys and leaders. I am blessed that you were able to influence two of my own sons. What a great thing for them to have been there at your side.
“My son K.C. still has the “sword” (so-called “knife”) that you helped him create in preparation for the Mountain Man Rendezvous. He often takes it out to admire its workmanship. Then there were the snowshoes, the hockey sticks, Etc. All of these items added to the thrill and excitement of the moment and in the process created memories that will remain forever in the minds of the boys who got to experience each.
“I have appreciated the leadership skills that you saw in each of my boys and then the opportunities that you gave to each to develop those talents and skills (even when the youngest in your group). You have helped them to get the vision of what the Lord sent them here to accomplish.
“Thanks for taking K.C. and Rusty on the Havasu Canyon trip. This is a trip that I made twice as a boy and I am glad that you gave my boys the opportunity to also experience this piece of heaven’s grandeur.
“Though you and I did not always see “eye to eye” when it came to some administrative functions, I still always admired you greatly for your commitment to the cause, your desire for excellence and your desire to truly serve. I noted that you were willing to sacrifice anything for the boys – in spite of administrative red-tape that sometimes went up against you. You always found a way to make it happen for them. You always kept the boys and their needs and wants as your focus and you worked feverishly for those results. Through your commitment, focus and energy, you made each activity a special high adventure for the boys. And it is those high adventure things that will long remain with them.
“I have been a Scout and boy leader for 30 years. I have discovered, sadly, that it takes a boy about 25 years after the fact before he takes the time to reminisce and to feel gratitude to the selfless leaders who made his Scouting experience wonderful and exciting. I wish that this was not the case but it is reality. At the moment of the experience, the boys are too much into the here and now and the thrill of the activity. They enjoy the event but never stop to think of all of the details that went into making the activity great. I think that reality hits them when they suddenly years later find themselves as the Scout leader and see then how much effort the program really took in their behalf. It is then that gratitude and a rehearsal of the memories come.
“Unfortunately, you are just passing or entering that 20-25 year mark and may not have the belated reward of boys coming back to you with gratitude for your selfless efforts, your enthusiasm, the sacrifice of time, vehicles and other resources. But be assured that forever and into eternity, generations of boys will rise up to “call you blessed” for the legacy that you have left with them. The legacy that you have given to all of us! You will always and forever, be one of the truly “all-time greats”.
“We love you and appreciate all that you have blessed us with. Our vision of our own capabilities, the wonders of the world around us and the high adventure that awaits each of us who make the effort will linger with each of us who have had the privilege of being there at your side. Brian Bowles … a living legend. Truly a “boys man”! You will always be a part of our lives, our hearts, and our continuing experience because of what you have given us.
“Best wishes to you, Brian, as you prepare for other great high adventure activities and responsibilities that the Lord has in store for you. I know that He has them waiting for you. (I have enjoyed each “transfer” in my life and the great opportunities that each has given.) Keep going for the high places, the places where Eagles soar, the lofty goals and challenges – the places where you have led us … You have taken us all there in the past and we are all better for it. Thanks … thanks for the good times, the special campfire moments, your quiet goodness, your enthusiasm and your ongoing inspiration to achieve all that is there in each of us. We will always remember and love you!
“Faithfully your Scouting friend and brother,
Kevin V. Hunt
Such fond memories of a great Scouting legend!
And with that, back to today’s outing … Everyone finished up their parts. We each walked until we met up with the next group and then congregated back together at the cars. And there everyone exchanged notes – or brags – about “how much treasure” each one found. I had to laugh at Uncle Don. He said, “Sometimes I think I have to get some money from my wallet and put it for myself to find on the ground – just so that I don’t have to come back to admit that I didn’t find any.
The tradition does not end there. I guess it is long family tradition to go to the town of Payson – another 30 miles – further away from home – for pizza together. I am sure that we could have eaten in Mesa – with a lot more options … but it is tradition for the family to go to Payson together. And they could not have picked a better place. We went to the “Pizza Factory” – a little hole-in-the-wall place kind of hidden away between some bigger shops (though in this western mountain village – with log structures, statues of animals, pine trees, etc. there isn’t much that real big or exciting. But, Payson has long been one of my all-time favorite places and so any excuse to go there is wonderful.
Don had called ahead to the place and even before they were officially open for the morning (at 11:00 AM) they were busy making our pizza. As we arrived at the place I noted a sign on their door. It read, “We toss ‘em … so they’re awesome!” We looked in the window and saw them actually tossing the pizza dough high over their heads to create the perfect dough – in size and consistency. This was truly a sight to behold.
All of the group came in their various cars and we went inside – within seconds of their opening for the day. And I note that there were several other groups there at the door with us – all anxious to get the pizza from this place. We picked up our large pizzas and headed to a group of tables – which when put together – could accommodate all of us.
I have not always been a great fan of pizza – finding they are a “bit cheesy” for me – but this pizza was absolutely fabulous! Wow! I don’t think that I have ever enjoyed pizza more. It was truly exquisite. And being together – in memory of Uncle Brian – the great Scoutmaster – was a great thing. We all had a fun time together.
The Scouting memories just kept pouring on as we drove the 76 or so miles down the mountain toward our Mesa home. We passed so many of the really great places that I went as a Gnubie Scout – and in all of the years since. And each place had its own story – which I was able to share with Michael and Jackie. It was fun because though I have told those stories a hundred times – with whatever Scout group I have had with me at the time of a trip to Payson, I now had a new audience with Michael – who had never heard my stories. And Jackie too, acted as if every memory was new to her.
So, it truly was a great day and a fun way to honor Brian R. Bowles – one of the greatest leaders of young men and Scouts. Thanks again Brian … and it was great to be with you again today … on that special mile between 220 and 221! We received more treasure from you than we got on your hill today. Your legend lives on – for me, your Scouting brother, and for all of your Bowles clan – of which I now feel a part – adopted in through my Jackie and your Michael.
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”, and others at his Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
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