Boy Scout Troop 20

Gazette Article by: Rance Barber
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 2003

Boy Scout Troop 20: 75 Years in Winnetka

Troop 20 was started in November 1927 by 39-year-old Scoutmaster Robert Bowen Brown. Dubbed Troop 4 at the time, Troop 20 began with 22 scouts ages 12-14. Originally chartered by the Lions Club of Winnetka, Troop 20 met in the Winnetka Community House, but received little public recognition for its actions. By 1933, Troop 20 had its first Eagle Scout, Tom Anderson, and the troop leadership had rotated several times, including Scoutmasters Holden Anderson and Robert Martin. The troop charter also changed sponsorship to the Winnetka Community House. In 1937, the charter was modified again to shift sponsorship to the Winnetka Congregational Church under the direction of Scoutmaster Loren J. Massey. By 1940, Troop 20 began to win various scouting awards for attendance and consistently good dress at weekly meetings. The troop initiated an annual schedule of campouts, including a one-week summer stay at Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan in Wisconsin, a trip that Troop 20 still takes almost every summer.

A series of progressive leadership changes through turbulent times included Scoutmasters Kenneth W. Jarvis (1940), Philip L. Forstall (1945), Thomas P. Anderson (1948), Robert K. Humphrey (1949), Dr. J. B. Grewe (1956), Dr. J. J. Stillerman (1957), John A. Chapin (1958), Philip A. Parsons (1960), James H. Sharp (1961), and Dean L. Steele (1963).

The troop chose a young and energetic Thomas L. Fritts as its leader in 1964. After college graduation, he agreed to undertake the tremendous responsibility of Scoutmaster of Troop 20 at age 23. With only 19 active scouts under his supervision and little more than a handful of scouting experiences from his having been in Cub Scouts as a boy, Mr. Fritts began to change Troop 20 and shape it into the prestigious unit it has become today. During spring break 1965, Tom Fritts took 17 of his scouts on a canoe trip to the Current River. The kids in Troop 20 had never been on a trip of this nature before, but all enjoyed it, prompting many successive canoe trips over the years.

In 1966, Troop 20 held its first ever Christmas Tree Sale in a parking lot on the corner of Locust Street and Tower Road. Despite having to change locations every year for the first four years the lot was in operation, the sale has been a very successful fund raiser for the troop, which has continued the tradition every year.

In 1971, the troop had grown to an active participation level of more than 120 scouts. When Tom Babcock became an assistant Scoutmaster, he joined forces with Tom Fritts to plan some of the most elaborate and memorable camping experiences ever experienced by the scouts in Troop 20. Troop 20 attended its first World Jamboree in Japan in 1971, stopping in Disneyland and Hawaii on the way. Other long-distance trips that followed were the 1973 Idaho Jamboree, the 1973 Canadian ski trip, the 1975 Norway Jamboree, the 1976 Alaska trip, and the 1977 Wyoming trip. The 55-day Alaskan trip in 1986 was one to remember. On the way back, one of the vans rolled over; many heroics of this trip are documented in a book written by one of the scouts involved. It can be found in the Troop 20 archives at Winnetka’s T.L. Fritts Sporting Goods.  [As of 2014, the Boy Scout Troop 20 Archives have been donated and relocated to the Winnetka Historical Society by Tom Fritts.]

Since its heyday in the 1970s, Troop 20 has maintained a fantastic reputation and relationship with the Winnetka community, despite numbers that have declined slightly in the last decade. Tom Fritts stepped down as Scoutmaster and was replaced by Robert Baker in 1998. Mr. Baker and his committee have dedicated themselves to rekindling the embers by actively recruiting members and hope that the troop will soon be back to more than 100 scouts, up from 70 in 2002.

From Eagle projects to marching in the 4th of July parade every year, Troop 20 scouts play an important role in the development of kids in our area, and they help make Winnetka a better place in which to live and grow up.

Rance Barber is an Eagle Scout from Troop 20 and a 2003 graduate of New Trier High School.

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9 Responses to “Boy Scout Troop 20”

  1. November 3, 2014 at 2:00 PM #

    Do you have record of a scout, John Norton Garrett, born 1925. Lived in Winnetka, and graduated from New Trier high. Probably in the scouts about 1937. Did not make Eagle, but Star or Life?

    Pat Garrett

  2. December 7, 2014 at 8:20 PM #

    Troop 20 does not have any record but the Northeast Illinois Council, BSA, might.

  3. January 8, 2016 at 5:58 PM #

    Is Rance Barber any relation to Bruce Barber? I was in school with him at Crow Island and Skokie ca. 1960 – 65.

  4. July 12, 2016 at 4:23 AM #

    I love the website and the Troop 20 website. I think of my experiences as a scout nearly every day. Whatever good I do for my corner of the world, Troop 20 and the 2 Toms (Tom Fritts and Tom Babcock) deserve much of the credit. Tim Babcock Eagle 1977

  5. March 20, 2017 at 8:21 PM #

    I echo Tim’s comment. During my time as member of Troop 20, Tom and Tom forged an amazing organization. Their timeless efforts, created an environment that allowedmany of us to earn our Eagle Scout awards, be selected for Order of the Arrow and attend world jamborees. These men not only lead and shared skills, they changed many lives.

    Thank you gentlemen.

    John Wirtz

  6. April 15, 2017 at 10:03 PM #

    Great to read about the Troop 20 history. I was a member of the Troop from 1937 to 1940. Made Star . Was Patrol Leader of the Wolf Patrol. Made some of my best friends.
    Bill Markus
    826 Lincoln Ave.

  7. August 26, 2019 at 5:07 AM #

    Hello troop 20 I purchased an award from a estate sale star member of Winnetka boy scouts awarded to VICTOR HANSON THE FRANK WHITNEY AWARD CAN ANYONE HELP ME WITH IDENTIFYING VICTOR HANSON OR THE AWARD

  8. Beth Mulhern August 29, 2019 at 2:57 AM #

    Thank you for your email. Frank Whitney (1860-1936) was a well-respected artist and inventor. Born in Rochester, Minnesota, Whitney studied art in Paris, lived in Chicago and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. He married Miss Cora Nesbitt of Sycamore, IL. They eventually moved to Hubbard Woods and lived there for more than 40 years. Whitney also had an art studio in Winnetka. (Interestingly in preparing this response, I discovered a few photos of Whitney’s work as well as a sepia tone photo of Whitney in his studio c. 1890 among the Winnetka Historical Society’s collections.) An obituary published in the True Republican, published January 25, 1936, stated just weeks prior to his death, Whitney had donated oil paintings, bronze castings and plaster sculptures from his personal collection to the Sycamore High School.
    According to the History of Troop 20 written by Jim Shaw and revised and updated by Rance Barber, the Frank Whitney award was about two and one-half inches in diameter and made of solid bronze with the figure of a horse on the front, since Frank Whitney was well known for his portraits of horses. It was given to scouts for outstanding duty. One scout in the 1930s earned recognition for building the troop trailer. No one knows why the presentation of the Frank Whitney award ceased although it could have been cost. Further, we don’t know how Frank Whitney became connected to the Boys Scouts. As for the recipient, Victor Hanson, we were unable to find any information.

  9. Beth Mulhern August 29, 2019 at 3:13 AM #

    John Wirtz, in my research on Frank Whitney, I came across the Troop 20 Eagle Scout listing 1933-2002. Your name appears next to the year 1983 with the Bronze Palm designation.

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