The new Southwestern Connecticut Scouting Heritage Museum housed within the Connecticut Yankee Council headquarters on Wellington Road is full of patches, photos, Scout handbooks and other memorabilia representing area Scouting over the last 100 years or so.
And if some of the museum founders are on hand, there are also stories to go along with the vast collection of memorabilia.
During a grand opening of the Scouting Heritage Museum Sunday, Jan. 4, Sandy Sherman shared one of those stories.
Sandy is the wife of Dr. Bob Sherman, one of the museum founders. Before her first date with him — back in 1968 — she asked Bob over the phone to describe himself.
Bob, an Eagle Scout, chose the words of the Scout law, right from the Scout handbook: “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”
She said “yes” to the date, and the rest, for them, is family history.
The museum pays homage to those qualities that Sherman listed, the people who espouse them, and the organization itself.
The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated Feb. 8, 1910. Founders included William D. Boyce and Colin H. Livingstone, plus President William Howard Taft, honorary president, and Former President Theodore Roosevelt, honorary vice president and Chief Scout Citizen, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.
The movement actually began Jan. 24, 1908, in England with the publication of the first installment of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys, according to the website history.com.
Another site, scoutingnewsroom.com, notes that the Scouting organization consists of nearly 2.5 million youth members between the ages of 7 and 21 and approximately 960,000 volunteers in local councils throughout the United States and its territories. Locally, museum organizers said, there are more than 17,000 youth Scout members, and many more when adding in adults who are involved in Scouting.
Sherman said the idea for a museum came up when he was chatting with other adult members of the Scouting community, including Dr. Robert Kravecs, Gordon Beach, Nick Wolf, Richard Rose, Chuck Figlar, Ken Korin and Joe Gargiulo. Some of them go back to when they were young boys together sharing Scouting adventures.
“A few of us thought it would be nice to have a museum to show the history of Scouting now covered by the Connecticut Yankee Council,” Sherman said.
Over the years, smaller councils merged to form the Connecticut Yankee Council, so there are patches and memories here from the Pomperaug Council, Fairfield County Council, Central Connecticut Council, Quinnipiac, Alfred W. Dater and Mauwehu councils.
The items on display come the private collections of the founders. Several thousand items fill 12 display cases, and there is wall-mounted material too, in space measuring about 600 square feet.
There is a handbook that dates back to 1916, a postcard from the 1930s, and early felt patches and newspaper clippings that show Scout events and people from earlier years.
Sherman, whose father was an Eagle Scout and whose son is an Eagle Scout, joined Scouting when he was 8 years old, 61 years ago. He started collecting patches when he was 12 or 13: Some were earned, and others traded.
Randy Holden, who oversees a Scout museum in New Jersey, attended the museum opening in Milford and said he was impressed with the collection. The New Jersey museum is somewhat bigger, 1,000 square feet.
“This is very nice,” Holden said. “They wanted to share their collection and their history, and I’m all for that.”
In addition to the handbooks, patches and other items, there also is Joe Gargiulo’s collection of pinewood derby cars, an impressive display of cars created by youth and adult Scouts.
Among Gargiulo’s favorites is the one he made with his father when he was a boy; and the one he made with his son when his son was a Scout.
Gargiulo’s father died when Gargiulo was 22 years old, so he treasures the car they made together.
“I lost if for 40 years, and then I found it in the attic of my parents’ house in New Haven,” Gargiulo said. He was going through the attic, moved something, and the car rolled onto a cushion, looking much the same as it did when he’d made it.
The pinewood derby race is one of the premier Scouting events, pitting Scout sculpted wooden cars against each other in organized races. What’s the trick to making them fast? Gargiulo, an engineer, said he actually wrote a book about it, “Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets.”
One tip: “To build a fast pinewood derby car, you need to reduce friction. Friction is the enemy of speed,” he says on his website, Pinewoodpro.com.
The museum is expected to be open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when Scouts often come to headquarters with their families to buy uniforms or other Scout material. Sherman said he expects the museum to appeal to people interested in Scouting memorabilia and history in general.
People can become museum members by making a contribution, and Sherman invites people to share their own stories and memorabilia. He can be contacted at [email protected]