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.