Celebrating 85 years, members of Troop 33 maintain friendships, loyalty

Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005

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Susan Whitney-Wilkerson⁄The Gazette
Takoma Park resident Bobby Lanar, 13, (center) serves his father, Boy Scout Troop 33 Scoutmaster David Lanar (left) a pancake while Takoma Park resident Rob Schwindt, den leader for Pack 33 Cub Scouts, looks on during Boy Scout Troop 33’s annual pancake supper Nov. 5 at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church.

This story has been corrected from a previous version. For the full correction text, click here.

Long after Brian Thompson finished scouting in 1987, the scouts and leaders he met in Troop 33 continue to play a significant role in his most important life events.

“It’s a support system, a brotherhood,” Thompson said.

In fact, as Boy Scout Troop 33 celebrates its 85th anniversary, many other former scouts, parents of former scouts and leaders continue to maintain strong ties to the Takoma Park-based troop.

Thompson's bond with the troop includes a good portion of his private life. When Thompson needed to take out a mortgage to buy a house, he turned to former scout David Magee, because “there was a trust,” he said.

When Thompson was searching for a place to propose to his wife, Nellie, in June 1999, he selected the Donald E. Patti Memorial Gazebo, built by the scouts at the troop’s Camp Waldo E. Schmitt in West Virginia.

Before Thompson walked down the aisle to take his wife’s hand in marriage, Troop 33 Assistant Scoutmaster Jan Koelling was by his side.

And when longtime Scoutmaster Don Patti died in 1994, Johnson, who had left the troop seven years before, received a call at 2:30 a.m. from Patti’s son, Kevin.

“He was like our father,” he said.

Thompson talks enthusiastically about his time in Troop 33, which meets at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, its sponsor since the troop began in 1920.

“In retrospect, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had,” he said.

Thompson's affinity for Troop 33 is not unique. Many scouts speak fondly of their experiences and their continued connection through events like the annual Pancake Supper, held Nov. 5 at Takoma Park Presbyterian, and trips to Camp Schmitt.

For example, almost 17 years after finishing the program, Scott Patti, 35, who lives in Northwest Washington, D.C., renews his connection to the troop by visiting the camp to make repairs.

Camp Schmitt, as it is sometimes called, is a 43-acre parcel in the forested hills of Slanesville, W.Va., that was acquired by the troop in 1946 through a donation made by the Schmitt family of Takoma Park. On weekends, Scott Patti has replaced broken windows, renovated an outhouse, painted rooms and made various structural repairs.

“I didn’t want to see the camp fall into disrepair,” said Patti.

Scott Patti said that Camp Schmitt was more than just an expanse of woods — it was where he and his fellow scouts grew up. “The place represents years of history,” he said.

Camp Schmitt was an escape from the sounds of cars and sirens of the Washington D.C., area. While the campground was just a two-hour drive, you felt like it was much farther away, said Scott Patti.

Many of the bonds of friendship were formed during the troop’s camping trips.

The trips were a chance for the scouts to “spill their guts” to one another, “horse around and develop a common history,” said Bruce Sidwell, an assistant scoutmaster for the troop from 1984 to 1996.

Sidwell, 60, of Takoma Park said that there was a tribal-like setting. Adults shared their knowledge with the older boys. The older boys took on leadership roles. And the younger boys were in a position to learn from the leaders and partake in the responsibilities, like water detail, setting up the mess tent and building the fire.

This type of setting, said Sidwell, gave the boys an opportunity to form friendships.

One of Thompson's fondest memories of the summer trips were the ghost stories told by Scoutmaster Don Patti, regarded as a master storyteller.

“I always wanted to get a recording of ‘The Girl in the White Paper Dress,’” Thompson said, talking about one of his favorite ghost stories.

Even the parents of former members feel a strong connection to Troop 33.

Aggie Patti, 62, wife of the late scoutmaster, continues to attend the troop’s annual Pancake Supper more than 10 years after her youngest son Kevin moved on from the troop.

For Takoma Park resident Joe Ossi, attending the pancake supper has become an annual ritual for the last 20 years, even after all three of his children have moved on.

“This is a good excuse to get together,” said Ossi, 56. “It’s nice getting together with folks to see how the kids are doing.”

Despite the demands of raising two young daughters and the responsibilities of being a security manager at American University, Thompson still finds ways to stay in touch with former scouts. In fact, Thompson and four other troop members, Brian Caudel, Jeff Allison, Clint Sidwell and Scott Patti, made a recent weekend sojourn to Camp Schmitt.

Thompson said that his daughters will probably join the scouting tradition as Brownies.

Correction, Dec. 5, 2005:The original version of this story incorrectly reported Brian Thompson's name as Brian Johnson. The story has been corrected.