ScoutingNovember - December 2002

An Evening To Remember

By Cindy Ross

Enthusiastic, creative organizers use a mixture of fun and heart to keep Scouters eagerly looking forward to their annual district recognition dinner.

"We do not quit playing because we grow old; we grow old because we quit playing."

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Music of the Moody Blues coaxes me through the hanging beaded curtain at the entrance to the banquet hall in Dickson City, Pa. I am transformed to another time period—the "Sensational 70's."

Instead of numbers, tables are designated with signs for "The Brady Bunch," "Grease," and other TV shows and movies from that decade. Each painted flower centerpiece includes a black plastic 45 r.p.m. record and a miniature disco ball.

Root beer and butterscotch candies, pennies with dates from the 1970's, Smiley Face erasers and stickers, and plastic flower rings sit in paper cup favors that read "Far Out!" "Groovy," and "Flower Child."

The printed program, thanks to the cartooning talents of Gary Camgemi, shows a hiking Boy Scout with the words "Keep on Scoutin'" (a play on the 1970's slogan "Keep on Truckin'").

The stage features a backdrop of painted flowers with the words "Stuck in the 70's" and a lava lamp and disco balls as props. A timeline on the wall recalls some of the decade's headline events: First Earth Day, Nixon Resigns, Cigarette Ads Banned on TV, World Trade Center Opens, First NYC Marathon..."

I know these are theme decorations for a district awards dinner, but I am moved with emotion. The hall evokes childhood memories for me—and for most of the other Scouters and spouses in attendance. There's also a wave of admiration for the level of dedication and creativity exhibited by the volunteer organizers responsible for this event.

Banishing boredom

Staging an annual awards banquet as a night-to-remember extravaganza has become a tradition for the Appalachian District of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Council (based in Moosic).

It all began when leaders realized that attendance at this important event was dwindling. And many of those who did attend (especially the spouses) were nodding off from boredom.

Asked to serve as master of ceremonies for the 1992 banquet, council training chairman Bob Gibbons knew he needed to liven things up. He started small that first year, telling jokes from the Think & Grin pages of Boys' Life magazine.

For the 1993 event, Gibbons enlisted the help of assistant Scout executive Eric Chase, an experienced actor in community theater productions. Working with a dedicated organizing committee, they put together an event that began a tradition which now has everyone counting the days until the next district dinner.

On the night before the 2002 dinner, I stopped in at the home of Bob and Pat Gibbons (Pat serves as dinner chairman) to observe the organizing committee's final—and most important—meeting.

The small house was stuffed with supplies and shaking with laughter. Piles of favors, centerpieces, awards, and poster board signs awaited finishing touches. Fifteen persons, including younger Boy Scouts, older Eagle Scouts, and adult leaders of all ages, were ready to help paint, glue, glitter, cut, and paste. And they brought plenty of energy food for the occasion: pizza, barbecued chicken, and pastries.

Much fun was in order as they happily worked until the wee hours of the morning. The tasks varied from simple chores, like cutting ribbon to be affixed to balloons, to more complicated work, like scanning photos of committee members from the 1970's into a computer. Chris Snyder handled the latter project, part of a computerized slide show that also featured several hundred other photos of items from the 70's.

No one symbolized the committee's can-do spirit more than costume maker Fran Davis. At the previous committee meeting, Bob Gibbons announced, "I need costumes!" Davis immediately volunteered—despite having a broken arm!

Part of the job involved making a "Monty Python"-inspired knight costume and "Jaws"-like shark outfit for Gibbons. Davis had no patterns, and the task required yards and yards of fabric.

"Bob's wife, Pat, is the reason I am here," Davis admitted. "She makes everything so much fun, and her organizational skills are incredible." As evidence, a jobs poster on the wall noted tasks to be accomplished by the next morning. Many were already crossed off.

Rewarding fun

Now at the banquet, the committee members greet us wearing tie-dyed neckerchiefs and John Lennon-type wire glasses with colored lenses. An official Boy Scout uniform from the 70's is on display at a "historical" exhibit booth.

"To call this stuff 'historical' is really difficult for me," says council historian Art McHale. "I wore it!"

Another exhibit table holds classic 70's stuff, like a CB radio, an eight-track tape player, and assorted LP albums.

When the delicious family-style dinner is served, staff members Pam Anna and Dorothy Hayden, dressed in pink waitress uniforms and wearing plastic foam-ball earrings, pretend they are the characters Flo and Vera from the 70's TV show "Alice."

As they work the tables, pretending to take orders, Bob Gibbons, dressed as a short-order cook complete with bell and spatula, sets up onstage. He yells in the mike, "Pick up, Flo!" and "Remember to push the specials!"

"All the serious stuff is still present in the award's banquet," Pat Gibbons reassures me. "The list seems endless of who and what are recognized during the evening. But, in between, we get the audience rolling in their seats."

Between award presentations, a "Johnny Carson"-type character portraying "The Amazing Karnac" comes onto the stage. Then those portraying "Monty Python and his knights" come clip-clopping "amongst" the tables, riding children's hobbyhorses.

Next, "Rocky" charges through in a black wig, towel draped around his neck and boxing gloves swinging high to announce the Award of Merit presentations.

A Scouting-inspired version of "The Newlywed Game" precedes the presenting of the spouse appreciation awards. Three Scouting couples have questions individually put to them, such as:

"When it comes to your cooking abilities, did your husband say... A. Ash and burn? B. Dutch-oven diva? C. Take me out to the diner?"

The winners, Jim and Ann Naticchi, get a week's stay at Boy Scout camp—with their son and 30 of his closest Scouting friends!

All 200 guests sit on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what this fun-loving group will come up with next.

And it's clear that the Scouters are not afraid to poke fun at themselves. Even when some jokes and skits are a bit on the corny side, you laugh, because they've put forth such an effort to entertain you.

A huge 'thank you'

Most obvious is the amount of heart present. The organizers haven't forgotten that the real purpose of the evening is to honor Scouters for their dedicated service to youth.

The comedy and zaniness help to capture the audience's attention, and all eyes and ears are glued to the stage when awards are given out.

Tears are blinked back when lifetime achievement awards (up to 65 years!) are given out, or when deceased Scouters are remembered, or when the Eagle Scouts describe their service projects and share what they have learned from Scouting.

The evening is the district's gift to those who do so much for Scouting, a huge "thank you" that fills everyone in attendance with the glow of knowing they are appreciated.

As the guests leave the banquet hall, Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" is playing. The evening has been a memorable reminder of the importance of the words in the song's title.

In Scouting's September issue, freelance writer Cindy Ross described the sea kayaking high adventure program of the Coastal Empire Council in Savannah, Ga.

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