If I Were CEO of GSUSA

With the search underway for a new Chief Executive Officer at GSUSA, I started thinking about what I would do if I were CEO.

1. Relocate Headquarters

Earlier this year GSUSA announced its intention to sell part of its suite of floors at 420 Fifth Avenue in New York. Why not sell all of it? Let’s relocate to a less expensive, more centralized city, how about Chicago or Memphis or Kansas City? Personally I vote for bringing HQ back to Washington DC.

In addition to corporate offices, archives, and an expanded museum, let’s include a conference center and hostel facilities for traveling troops. Girl Scouting promotes active citizenship, which is enhanced when girls tour the Nation’s Capital and see how our government works. The Rockwood National Program Center served a similar purpose for decades but today still suffers from a lack of public transit options. A better model might be that of the National 4-H Conference Center. Nice, affordable space near public transit.

2. Return to a Skills-based Program

4 levels cover
The October 1963 issue of Leader magazine highlighted new handbooks for all levels.

Girls learn by doing activities, not by reading about them. They like challenges and stretching themselves. Let’s dump the Journeys and emphasize learning by doing with a rich range of badges. Put them all in ONE handbook, available in print and online. As Miss Frizzle always says in the Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Wouldn’t Miss Frizz make a great troop leader?) She had great field trips and knew the importance of getting outside.

 

3. Invest in Staff Stability

Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already  familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partners.

4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration

The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.

APR23AR07The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.

We must eliminate the fear of being expelled or fired that intimidates leaders and staff into silence.

Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.

National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.

5. Promote Girl Scout Pride

The Girl Scout uniform is a symbol of an internationally respected organization devoted to the development of girls. Wearing your uniform identifies you as a member of Girl Scouts of the USA and of a worldwide movement rich in tradition. It shows Girl Scout pride and provides for recognition and visibility. (“The Girl Scout Uniform,” Leader Magazine Fall 2003).

TakomaParkUnifThe best way to improve our visibility is to, duh, BE VISIBLE. Part of that means wearing a uniform. The public won’t know what we’re doing if they don’t realize who we are. This includes staff, perhaps just one or two days a week, but we’re all in this together. Plus, uniforms are one segment of merchandise whose profits go to GSUSA. Is it a coincidence that the budget deficits swelled when uniforms were all but eliminated?

Getting off my soapbox now. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of my council, my family, or even my cats.

GSUSA Executive Search Team: Interested? You know where to find me.

©2016 Ann Robertson

What Happened to Girl Scout Roundups?

Roundup_Line

The Girl Scouts of the USA held four fabulously successful Roundups, in 1956, 1959, 1962, and 1965. Thousands of Senior girls pitched tents for two weeks of group living, friendship, songs, and adventure.1968 Roundup 2

Plans were in the works for a fifth Roundup in 1968. Leader magazine ran an article in which “Roundup ’65 Advises Roundup ’68.”

But the event never happened.  Why?

I’d hoped to research this question while I was at the GSUSA archives in January, but that trip was cut short by the Blizzard of 2016. Using other sources, I found three explanations.

1. The US Enters Vietnam

According to the Girl Scout Collector’s Guide, “A fifth Roundup was projected for 1968, but the conflict in Vietnam interfered with securing adequate supplies and government assistance” (p. 247). Indeed, US combat units began formal deployment in Vietnam in 1965.

As with Boy Scout Jamborees, the US military provided logistical support and equipment to the Girl Scout Roundups. The large-scale operation was used as a practical exercise in troop movements (military troops, not Girl Scout troops!).

 

Senate Aid 1961
New York Times, August 8, 1961

 

Senate Aid 1964
New York Times, June 30, 1964

2. No Reason

Official statements from GSUSA did not mention the military.

The GSUSA National Board voted to the cancel the 1968 Roundup in spring 1966.

1968 Roundup 4

3. Use Resources Wisely

Members evidently wanted an explanation. National President Margaret Price sent a letter to all council presidents.

1968 Roundup 1
New York Times, August 8, 1961

She cited the desire to create more opportunities for older Girl Scouts, instead of one super-sized event every three years. Indeed, Roundups were not cheap. Nation’s Capital spent $12,131.70 to send eight patrols to the 1965 Roundup.

That statement went to council presidents, not the membership at large. Leader magazine was not published in the summer, eliminating that opportunity to share the news. The only official notice was a small blurb in the fall:

1968 Roundup 3

According to Leader’s coverage of the 1966 National Convention, held October 23-28 in Detroit, the final session included discussion of the cancellation, but no specifics were included. I imagine it was a heated conversation.

Councils followed Mrs. Price’s directive and the Wider Opportunities (now Destinations) program was born. Many councils tried to hold an event in 1968, often using the familiar “Roundup” brand in their event name.

The Roundups are still fondly and vividly remembered by participants. Many still hold reunions to see their friends from across the country. I was surprised how many women still remembered their ID numbers after my first Roundup post.

 

 

 

 

The flags that lined the Avenue of Flags at the Roundups were donated to Rockwood National Center, where they greeted visitors for another decade.

©2016 Ann Robertson

The Little Little House

Today, instead of Throw Back Thursday (#TBT), let’s have Throw Out Thursday.

I’ve written before about the Girl Scout Little House in Washington, DC. Located at 1750 New York Avenue NW, about two blocks from the White House, it was a model home where Girl Scouts learned the basics of housekeeping, hospitality, and child care.

A well-dressed group waits to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House
Lou Henry Hoover and a group of well-dressed Girl Scouts wait to welcome a distinguished guest to the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Built for the second Better Homes Demonstration Week in June 1923, the Better Homes in America and General Federation of Women’s Clubs donated it to the Girl Scouts, and National Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover quietly paid $12,000 to move it from the National Mall to its new location.

Lou Henry Hoover (third from right) supervises a kitchen demonstration at the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Lou Henry Hoover (third from right) supervises a kitchen demonstration at the Little House (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

To encourage other councils to create similar opportunities for their troops, in 1930 Mrs. Hoover, now first lady, commissioned a highly detailed doll-sized version of the Little House. Everything matched the actual house, down to the wallpaper patterns. The dolls inside even wore tiny Girl Scout uniforms. She arranged for the doll house to be displayed at the 1930 national convention in Indianapolis.  Afterward, the doll house toured the country, before taking up residence at the original house in Washington.

Photo from Dorothy Angel Tenney.
Photo from Dorothy Angel Tenney.
Side view of doll house (Hoover Presidential Library Facebook page)
Side view of doll house (Hoover Presidential Library Facebook page)
Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a
Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right) enjoys a “15 cent lunch” in the Little House dining room, 1933 (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Doll house dining room, with original hutch, tables, chairs, and wallpaper, matching the photo above (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Doll house dining room, with original hutch, tables, chairs, and wallpaper (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

The Little House was used continuously for trainings and demonstrations of the domestic arts from June 1923 to April 1945. The Girl Scouts soon outgrew the building and vacated it in May 1955. The house itself was torn down in the early 1970s.

The doll house was taken to Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp outside Washington, DC. But the manager there saw no need for a doll house at a camp, so it wound up on the trash pile.

I knew that a Rockwood housekeeper, Maude Hill, retrieved the doll house and gave it to a family that she worked for part time. The family had a little girl who was just the right age for the toy. She played with it and eventually donated it to the Hoover Presidential Library in 2012, the year of the Girl Scout centennial.

Imagine my surprise a few months ago, when that “little girl” contacted me, offering photos of the doll house!

Dorothy Angel as a child (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Dorothy Angel as a child (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

Dorothy Angel Tenney grew up about a half mile from Rockwood. According to Dorothy,

On May 26, 1950, Mrs. Hill told Mrs. Angel that a wonderful doll house had been just tossed out for junk and that Mrs. Angel’s young daughter would love it. Mrs. Angel said she did not want some ratty little doll house that no one else wanted. Mrs. Hill persisted during the next several days and eventually prevailed upon Mrs. Angel to look at it. Mrs. Angel immediately had a laborer load the doll house in her car trunk and took it home.

For Dorothy, it was a wonderful toy. She played with it carefully and didn’t break a single piece of furniture. However, many of the original pieces, including the dolls, had been lost by the time Mrs. Hill discovered it.

Fortunately for Girl Scout history buffs, Dorothy’s father wasn’t just an ordinary father. He was an archivist! In fact, Herbert Angel, was Deputy Archivist of the United States from 1968 to his retirement in 1972. He researched the provenance of the doll house, and the family kept the treasure long after Dorothy outgrew dolls.

Dorothy shared these photos of the doll house. Isn’t it a delight?

Living room, bed room, and nursery (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Living room, bed room, and nursery (Dorothy Angel Tenney)
Doll Rooms 2
Bedrooms, dining room and kitchen (Dorothy Angel Tenney)

© 2015 Ann Robertson

Remembering Rockwood

Did you ever visit Rockwood, the GSUSA camp located in Potomac, Maryland, from 1938 to 1978?

The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.
The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Perhaps you camped at Weston Hill, took a training in the Manor House, or bunked in Carolyn Cottage when your troop toured Washington, DC? Or maybe you attended a language camp, a selection weekend for Our Chalet, or a Wider Opportunity?

I fell in love with the place when my daughter camped there as a Brownie. The more I learned about the history of Rockwood, about the amazing women who built the original estate, transformed a country home into a national camp, and filed a class-action lawsuit to prevent its sale, the more I became enchanted.

I’ve blogged about Rockwood several times, and I am now writing a book about the Rockwood story.

I’ve spent several weeks going through the files at the GSUSA National Historical Preservation Center in New York, and I have many documents and scrapbooks from Washington-area Girl Scouts.

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I know the nuts and bolts of Rockwood. I have statistics on how many troops camped there month by month. I have diagrams of the woefully insufficient septic system. I have legal papers about the acquisition and sale of the camp and the process of turning part of it over to the Montgomery County, Maryland, park system.

But that is only part of the story. I need help from former Rockwood campers. What was the experience like? What memories have stuck in your mind over the decades? Was it the friends you made from other councils? A favorite meal in the dining room? Singing and skits in Brooke Hall? The sweltering cabins in August?

Most of all, I need photos. GSUSA has some photos, mostly exterior shots of buildings. Other than a few postcards and the images in the slideshow above, I’ve seen precious little of the interior. Few images have captions, either.

I’ve setup a Facebook page, Remembering Rockwood, with some of these photos. Please take a look and see if they trigger any memories. Add your recollections to the comments. Maybe you’ll recognize faces and places.

If you have photos, color slides, scrapbooks, or other related items, please contact me. I will cover shipping costs if you let me borrow and scan them. Rockwood is a wonderful part of Girl Scout history. Please help me tell it.

Lady Baden Powell Find

Phyllis Gay of Arizona Cactus Pine recently offered me a box of color slides of Lady Baden Powell. She said the World Chief Guide appeared to be having tea in Washington, DC.

Of course, I said yes! When the package arrived, I pulled out my slide scanner and found a delightful moment in time.

The slide frames are dated March 1962, so I assume they are from the Girl Scout 50th Birthday Celebration.  That was an enormous event, held at the US Government Departmental  Auditorium on March 11, 1962. Ambassadors from 51 countries attended, with Lady BP as the keynote speaker. The coveted event tickets for “A Salute to Youth” were carefully rationed among the five councils in the Washington area: National Capital; Arlington County, VA;  Alexandria, VA; Southern Maryland; and Northern Virginia. The five combined forces into Nation’s Capital in 1963.

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The photos show a very animated Lady BP at a tea for leaders, possibly held at the Rockwood National Camp just outside Washington.  The reception might also have been at the home of Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch, who was president of the National Capital Council at the time.

LadyBP&BL
Lady Baden Powell and Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch

Lady BP stayed with the Lerch family during her visit. Bobby passed away in 2014 (age 104), but she often recalled that visit; Lady BP apparently could be a somewhat high-maintenance house guest!

Does anyone recognize the other guests?

 

Behind the Box: An Exhibit about More than Just Cookie Crumbs

We all know about cookie patches and profits, but what other prizes come with cookie sales?

IMG_1850

To earn their Museum Discovery Interest Project (an old teen badge), my troop of Seniors and Ambassadors created the new exhibit at the Nation’s Council’s main office. They decided to focus on four types of cookie awards: to girls, to adult volunteers, to councils, and to the entire Girl Scout movement.

The girls visited the council storage facility to select items from the council collection, searched their own rooms, borrowed from older and younger sisters, contacted one of the council’s top 100 sellers, and sorted through items loaned by members of the council Archives and History Committee. I loaned a few items, such as mugs from when I was a troop cookie manager in the dark ages, and the girls made thorough use of my cookie patch collection, too.

Weston Lodge at Rockwood National Center (demolished in early 1980s).
Weston Lodge at Rockwood National Center (demolished in early 1980s).

They came up with a wonderful assortment of patches and stuffed animals (naturally), but also puppets, t-shirts, dolls, mugs, and jewelry. They included a plaque of appreciation presented to Nation’s Capital by Little Brownie Bakers, as well as an old Weston Bakery box and photo of Weston Lodge from Rockwood National Center. In the early 1950s, W. Garfield Weston gave $25,000 to kick-start a $200,000 expansion program for the national camp.

Pewter-like incentives from 1999, 2000, and 2002.
Pewter-like incentives from 1999, 2000, and 2002 (eBay photo).

Installing the exhibit down at council on a Saturday, the set up team met the council’s product sales manager, who gave them an insider view on the process. They discovered that Nation’s Capital did not offer the adorable puppy hat from 2006—but decided it was too cute to leave out. They also learned that the pewter animal prizes (and every girl in the troop seemed to still have at least one) were actually not real pewter. What’s more, when they were discontinued, the girls didn’t complain—but parents did!

 

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The display will remain in the lobby of the council main office at 4301 Connecticut Avenue NW through March.

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A Warehouse? On Winter Break?

I have the greatest troop of Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts.

They are unfailingly kind, generous, smart, funny, and always willing to be guinea pigs in whatever crazy scheme I come up with.

Over the years we’ve rung in the New Year with movie marathons at our local camp, gone to DC Roller Girls matches, walked the length of the National Mall on the hottest day of the year, debated proper attire for vampires, and collected nearly 200 bras for victims of domestic violence.  They have gamely tried out possible activities for my patch programs about princesses, Barbies, and the Hunger Games.

Since I became chair of the Nation’s Capital Archives and History Committee in 2012, they have become Girl Scout historians, too. They have visited local sites with Girl Scout history ties, such as Peirce Mill and Rockwood Manor. They spent one meeting arranging a suitcase full of old teen uniforms in chronological order and critiquing the style and fabric. Last year, over winter break, a group dismantled, relocated, and reassembled the Committee’s storage area when the council headquarters received new carpet.

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Yesterday, I took a carload of girls to the warehouse in Northeast Washington, DC, where the majority of our collection is housed. Our two storage units are packed to the brim, so I limited the trip to four girls. Would you believe I had a waiting list? Let’s review: I had teenage girls on winter break clamoring to go to a warehouse. A warehouse!

I didn't know we had old GS bathing suits!
I didn’t know we had old GS bathing suits!

We spent about two hours at the warehouse, carrying out several missions. I had old Leader magazines to return and needed to borrow some Rockwood materials for research. We also had a request requiring some old camp uniforms and a roundup hat, so we located those and talked about what roundups were.

Everyone loves old hats!
Everyone loves old hats!

 

Our main goal was to locate items for an upcoming display about cookie patches and prizes over the years. The girls are working on the old Museum Discovery Interest Project, and the display will satisfy some of those requirements. But there’s more to the cookie display project than just earning a badge.

 

The Museum Discovery Interest Project
The Museum Discovery Interest Project

Next year Nation’s Capital will open a dedicated history program center at a former field office in Frederick, Maryland. I am beyond excited by the prospect of permanent displays and being able to better share our collection with our members and the community.

We’re still working out what types of programs will be offered in Frederick, but I hope there will be a mix of “for girls” and “by girls” on the menu.  I visited the First Headquarters in Savannah last summer and was so impressed that teens from the Historic Georgia Council work at the museum and lead most of the programs.  pa_pinI would love to implement a similar model for Nation’s Capital, perhaps even creating a History Program Aide specialty.

Working with my own troop has confirmed that, with proper instruction, girls can handle artifacts appropriately and responsibly. I try to reinforce with my girls that there is a huge, wonderful world of Girl Scouting out there beyond our troop. They enjoy seeing how they fit into our timeline, discovering what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Above all, they prove that Girl Scouts want to learn more about Girl Scout history.  I can’t wait to give them and other troops that opportunity.

The Girl Scout Red Scare, part two

Several of the problematic 1953 badges
Several of the problematic 1953 badges

Over the 1954 Independence Day holiday, the attacks on the Girl Scouts spread to the US Congress, courtesy of B.J. Grigsby. Again, the Girl Scouts were accused of promoting communism and internationalism in the 1953 Intermediate handbook.

Grigsby, a Chicago businessman, had read the LeFevre article and reprinted it in his own vanity newspaper, the Spoon River Journal.  He also wrote to GSUSA expressing his concern over the new handbook and noting that he had contributed to the Girl Scouts in the past.  The response from Leonard Lathrop, head of public relations at GSUSA, did not satisfy him, so Grigsby contacted his Congressmen.

On July 2, Illinois Congressman Timothy P. Sheehan read LeFevre’s article into the Congressional Record. Sheehan added his own concern that one badge in the new Intermediate handbook “requires a knowledge of the United Nations, but nowhere among the merit badges did [LeFevre] find one that required the Girl Scouts to memorize part of the Declaration of Independence or a statement from the Constitution.” [Those were required for the My Government badge.]

Ten days later, Illinois Congressman Edgar Jonas introduced Grigsby’s response to LeFevre into the Congressional Record. While Grigsby dismissed some of LeFevre’s charges, he agreed with others.  Jonas also included Lathrop’s response to a letter of concern sent to GSUSA by Grigsby.

After the accusations from the Illinois delegation, GSUSA mobilized supporters in Congress. At the request of GSUSA, Representative Robert Kean of New Jersey inserted an article into the July 21, 1954, Congressional Record written by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, then at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  Gilbreth, a member of the national program committee, was best known for her studies of time management in the household and as the inspiration for the book and movies, Cheaper by the Dozen. Gilbreth argued:

We cannot take comfort in the thought that everyone accepts us as spiritually minded, as patriotic, as trying to be constructive in every thought and deed. We must therefore reaffirm our beliefs, reiterate our pledges. As we think of our motto, “Be prepared,” we must be able to answer for ourselves for others the question, “Prepared for what?”

Today the world needs individuals and organizations prepared to meet the challenge of communism. As Girl Scouts we are prepared to do so because we are imbued with the responsibilities and the privilege of following our Promise and Laws day by day, as best we can. […]

What can communism really offer as it challenges all this? Nothing. What should Girl Scouts do to meet the challenge? Keep busy at our work of  service with serenity of spirit. Try to attain the educated mind, the educated hands, the educated heart which will help us to keep our Girl Scout promise and prove ourselves assets to God, our country, and our fellow men. Girl Scouts try.

 

The tide began to swing in favor of the Girl Scouts, with Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson introducing a rebuttal from Indianapolis civic leader John Burkhart on July 26. The next day, Sheehan seemed to backtrack a bit and read into the Congressional Record a statement from GSUSA President Olivia Layton outlining revisions already underway.

Discussion over submitting Burkhart letter to Congress.
Discussion over submitting Burkhart letter to Congress.

Another pro-Girl Scouts statement was made by Congressman Victor Wickersham of Oklahoma.  In preparing this post today,  I realized that I did not have a copy of his remarks. I searched the Washington Post online and, to my surprise, discovered that two years earlier, Wickersham  had sold 20 acres of land to GSUSA for $30,000 — land that was used to enlarge the entrance to the Rockwood camp outside of Washington, DC.

But, as it turned out, the skirmish on Capitol Hill was merely a lull before an even bigger storm.

In part three, the American Legion escalates the controversy…

©2013 Ann Robertson

A Huge Snowstorm and a Very Brave Girl Scout

We’ve have the biggest snowfall Washington, DC, has seen in four years, but today’s storm is only about half of the 28 inches that fell on January 28, 1922.

I recently found a new (to me) photo of Helen Hopkins Zelov, a co-leader in Lou Henry Hoover’s Troop 8 who helped guide rescuers to survivors of the Knickerbocker Theatre collapse.

Helen Hopkins Zelov, a co-leader in Lou Henry Hoover's Troop 8, helped rescuers locate survivors of the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster.

Her bravery inspired Carolyn Caughey to donate her Rockwood estate to the Girl Scouts.

Zelov Medal 1
GSUSA letter to Helen Hopkins Zelov.

Zelov Medal 2

To the Girl and Boy, Scouting IS Camping

Summer resident camp registration began last week at Nation’s Capital, as thousands of parents signed in to the online system.  Hundreds of girls will make their first pilgrimage to Camp May Flather, Potomac Woods, Winona, and Coles Trip this summer,  following in the footsteps of their sisters, mothers, and grandmothers.

Recently I found a wonderful GSUSA statement on the value of camping tucked away in one of our Rockwood history boxes and this seems a good time to share it:

Camping, the chance to live away from home, in the out-of-doors, with its offer of primitive life and woodland adventure, is part of the dream of every girl who becomes a Girl Scout … the tent, the campfire and all those things connected with the romantic adventure of simple living in the out-of-doors, continue to lure American children ‘to the camps of known desire and proven delight.’

Scouting’s great appeal to girls and boys — and leaders too — is in its promise of outdoor adventure. It is this assurance that those who ‘come along with us’ will have many opportunities for camping and hiking that has attracted and will continue to attract young people to Scouting. None of the other interesting and worthwhile things that Scouts may do have this paramount importance of camping. To the girl and boy, Scouting IS camping.

This has been true since the beginning of the movement. In his earliest writings, Baden-Powell made it very clear that one of Scouting’s important aims was to give young people abundant opportunities to go camping. He saw the camp situation as the troop leaders’ greatest opportunity to train young people in Scouting.

… The camp experience should not be something separate and apart from the troop’s other activities. Rather, it should be a continuation, and perhaps the most important part, of the troop’s year-round program. The troops that are able to progress through camping experiences of increasing interest and difficulty, last longer and do the most effective work. It is the camping troop that girls flock to join.

The statement comes from Guideline 5B of the 1959 GSUSA Council Administrative Series, authored by Julian Harris Salomon.  Trained as a landscape architect, Mr. Salomon designed the grounds and camp sites at Rockwood, the Macy Center, even Camp David. He worked for the National Park Service and later was property manager for GSUSA.  Mr. Salomon testified in the dispute over the proposed sale of Rockwood in 1981 (and I hope to get a copy of his deposition one day). His efforts to preserve Rockwood for future Girl Scouts were recognized by naming one of the Manor House rooms in his honor in 1987.