Charleston Boy Scout troop celebrates century of scouting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — One hundred years ago in Charleston, 21- to 31-year-old men were learning whether their numbers had been called in a random drawing for World War I’s first military draft, the Owens Bottle Company began producing glass fruit jars in a new factory in Kanawha City, and Troop 31 of the Boy Scouts of America was chartered at Charleston Baptist Temple Church on Morris Street.

While the last World War I soldiers are gone and the former bottling plant is now a shopping center, Troop 31 and its ties to the Baptist Temple continue to thrive.

On Saturday, Troop 31 and its alumni will celebrate the Scout group’s 100th birthday at the Bernard H. Wehrle Sr. Scout Leadership Service Center at 2829 Kanawha Boulevard East. A group photo of past and present members of the troop, its leaders and family members, will take place at 9:30 a.m. followed at 10 a.m. by a program, open to the public, commemorating the troop’s first 100 years and honoring its Scoutmasters and 90 Eagle Scouts. Anyone who has been a part of Troop 31 is encouraged to bring photos, scrapbooks and other memorabilia to the event.

Following the ceremony, vendor booths, an aquarium exhibit of Kanawha River fish and other aquatic wildlife, and Scouting-related activities will take place. The service center’s shop will be open, along with its museum-style exhibits of Scout uniforms and equipment, and a spaghetti lunch will be served. An instructor from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), the organization providing the aquarium exhibit, will be on hand to interpret the exhibit and assist Scouts in completing requirements for the fish and wildlife management merit badge.

A focus on outdoor adventure has been a mainstay for Troop 31 since it was chartered in 1917 — seven years after the Boy Scouts of America came into being — and is credited , along with a century of support from Charleston Baptist Temple, with maintaining its longevity.

“We have an outdoor mentality, and we’re always trying to think up new and different ways to enjoy what West Virginia has to offer,” said South Charleston attorney John Miesner.

He describes himself as a “hanger-on volunteer” with the troop. His son, Donovan, was a member of the troop and became an Eagle Scout before leaving to attend WVU, from which he recently graduated.

“We have annual canoe trips, we’ve biked on the Greenbrier River Trail, we’ve gone spelunking and we’ve sent contingents from the troop to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and the National High Adventure Sea Base in the Florida Keys,” Miesner said.

Jim Porter, Troop 31’s scoutmaster for the past 32 years, said the troop’s outdoor emphasis was very much in effect when he joined the troop at the age of 11 in the mid-1960s.

“Back in those days, we were quite the hiking troop,” he said. “We went somewhere to hike and camp nearly every month. We’ve tried to maintain a focus on the outdoors. The Scouts look forward to these trips, and I know I’ve had a lot of fun going on them for all these years.”

Porter, who joined Troop 31 mainly because it was based in his church, remained with the troop until he went to college. After college, he became a member of the troop’s leadership committee. When the troop’s scoutmaster at the time died suddenly, “I came in as part of a team to keep the troop going” and was soon named scoutmaster.

“At that point, my son was three, and I thought I would work with the troop until he was old enough to join, and I would hand off to someone else. Now, my son is the assistant scoutmaster and he’s helping me keep things going.”

Through the years, the troop has maintained an active roster of 20-35 Scouts.

“It’s small enough to give the boys personalized attention, but big enough to have the facilities and equipment to do the things we like to do,” Porter said.

Porter said what keeps him engaged in being a scoutmaster is “watching Scouts join us as boys and leave us as young men. I really enjoy seeing that progression happen. And I also enjoy an excuse to go camping and spend time out in the wilds in places where there’s no cellphone service.”

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