ScoutingJanuary-February 1999

The Scouting Journey of Frank DeVito

By Steve Cimino
Illustration By John Collier

Becoming a Scout seven decades ago helped to lift the horizons of a veteran Scouter and skilled craftsman, enabling him to touch the lives of countless youth and adults.

As Camp Russell comes alive on a summer morning, Frank DeVito walks toward the parade grounds to welcome new arrivals.

For generations the 85-year-old DeVito has been holding court at the General Herkimer Council's 340-acre camp in upstate New York's picturesque Adirondack Mountains.

Illustration By John Collier

Some 71 summers ago, he was one of Camp Russell's first buglers. Later roles included Eagle Scout, camp director, teacher, and every Scout's friend and parent away from home.

In this chapter of his life, he's been dubbed "Scouting's Elder Statesman."

Calling cards of a new Scout

A bugle and a jackknife were his calling cards when DeVito became a Scout more than seven decades ago.

His bugle, dulled with time, is displayed on a wall in his home. The knife has been replaced with more proficient tools of the accomplished wood sculptor that DeVito became.

Scouting's constant values - "Help other people at all times," "Be Prepared," "Do a Good Turn Daily" - have kept the Utica, N.Y., native involved in the movement over these many years.

"Scouting lifted me out of the neighborhood and allowed me to expand my horizons," he says. "It enabled me to meet boys of other ethnic backgrounds and learn to work with them toward a common goal. That's the American way."

DeVito still serves as a unit Scouter - assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 47 in the Land of the Oneidas Council, Utica, N.Y. It's his latest stop on a journey during which he has assisted thousands of young people.

Today, he will often see doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other adults who once spent summers at Camp Russell or belonged to one of the five different troops he has served.

For these now-successful individuals, Scouting played a key role in helping them "to appreciate the natural wonder of America, the birds, flowers, trees, the stars, and the land," DeVito notes. "These [men] are the same boys who at Camp Russell were once taught to fold the flag, camp, fish, hike, swim, and canoe."

'The perfect example'

Rear Adm. Todd Fisher, deputy surgeon general of the United States Navy, first met DeVito while working in the Camp Russell dining hall in 1952.

At the time, DeVito was camp director - and chief mentor. "I remember how he shared his experiences and explained symbolisms, especially when it came to wood carvings," Fisher recalls. "Frank is a legend to kids and adults in Central New York's Mohawk Valley, the perfect example of what you want to be ethically."

Recently, Sal Spiridilozzi, a carpenter from Remsen, N.Y., sent a letter to DeVito expressing his appreciation for the Scouter's impact on his life. "I am enriched by the instruction, discipline, and passion of your demonstration," Spiridilozzi wrote. "In my heart and mind, you remain a true mentor and a leader of my youth."

In 1960, the Scout council honored DeVito with the BSA's Silver Beaver Award for distinguished service to youth. "This man is truly a Scouting technician; he has dedicated his life to passing along his skills to young men," a Scout official remarked during the presentation. DeVito also received the George Meany Award for service to youth and a 1998 Whitney M. Young Jr. award for service to inner-city Scouting; New York State's Masons honored him with the DeWitt Clinton community service award.

Seeing the world

Scouting helped DeVito get a better look at the world. "Participation has taken me to jamborees, many different states, and on international trips," he says. "I've learned about the habits and customs of Scouts throughout the world."

He never left his roots, however. A Scout executive once described the essence of DeVito's Scouting legacy: "He has by his actions exemplified the ideals of the movement in which he believes so sincerely."

Steve Cimino, a former newspaper reporter, lives in Utica, N.Y.

Capturing the Wonder of Nature in Wood

Frank DeVito and his wife, Frances, live in the same house in which he was born, the second of seven children, 85 years ago. The house is now a gallery and studio at which he spends most of his time (except for six weeks each summer at Camp Russell) on his avocation - wood carving, or sculpting.

Most of the furnishings in his home have been custom-made from wood. A wall of memories is located in the area that once was his parents' bakery - awards, paintings, photographs, and etchings.

Nature has revealed many secrets to DeVito. In return, he has imparted them to countless others, often through his sculpting creations.

As a young camper he began whittling neckerchief slides with his pocketknife. This natural talent eventually expanded to the point at which today it includes intricate works such as totem poles and majestic eagles.

In 1993 he presented Camp Russell with a 66-foot totem pole for its diamond jubilee celebration.

"It's a composite of our great country," he said. "The lowest - and most important - figure on the pole is the word 'love.'" Moving up, the pole includes a space missile, Scout badges, a tepee, an Indian figure in full headdress, and different animals of the Adirondack region.

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