Henrietta Bates Brooke: Comments

I received a stunning comment on my most recent blog post.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from readers. But this particular comment made me scream, swoon, and burst into tears.

Last week I wrote about the origins of the District of Columbia Girl Scout council. I naturally mentioned the council’s organizer and first president, Henrietta Bates Brooke.

Mrs. Brooke, known as “Texas” to her friends, is a major figure in the history of all Girl Scouting. She was the national president in the 1930s and instrumental in acquiring Rockwood National Center. This mini resume appeared in the April 1983 Rockwood Rally newsletter.

But back to the comment. An “Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks” wrote, “Henrietta Brooke was my great aunt!”

Whew, almost fainted again.

So who is this mysterious Ms. Brooke-Willbanks?

One of my oldest Girl Scout friends!! We were in the same Cadette/Senior troop in Paducah, Kentucky, in the early 1980s.

 

Betty.JPG

Elizabeth and I at the legendary Centennial party during the 2011 convention.

 

Elizabeth became a professional Girl Scout, working in councils in Kentucky and Massachusetts, and is still in the non-profit world now.

We both attended the 2011 National Council session in Houston, where we had brunch with our own leaders. They just happened to be in Houston, saw all the Girl Scout signs, and tracked us down.

(If you remember Robin Roberts opening her speech by mentioning that she had just met an adult Girl Scout on her way to brunch with her childhood leaders, that was Elizabeth.)

 

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Mini-troop reunion: Me, Mary Henry, Margaret Purcell, and Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks

 

Small world, isn’t it?

©2017 Ann Robertson

 

GSUSA Focus on Western Kentucky

Who remembers Bear Creek Girl Scout Council?

Show of hands? Anybody?Bear Creek patch

I certainly do!  I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, the headquarters of the council. I joined Bear Creek council as a Brownie in 1973.

Five years later, in 1978, the Bear Creek, Caveland, Pennyroyal, and Kentuckiana councils merged into one large council, Kentuckiana. My Cadette troop took a spring break trip to Louisville soon after and camped out in the loft of the council’s main office at 730 West Main St. While most of my troop spent summers as staff at nearby Camp Bear Creek, I worked at day camps and the field office in Paducah.

Flash forward several decades…..I found a copy of the 1951 GSUSA Annual Report to Congress recently and was thumbing through it.  I was stunned to find a page devoted to Paducah and Bear Creek Council!

The 1951 GSUSA Annual Report

The 1951 GSUSA Annual Report

According to the report, the federal government had defined 277 “critical defense areas”; that is, regions where a sudden, massive influx of new residents working in the defense industry had overburdened the local infrastructure. Shortages were everywhere: housing, classrooms, sanitation, health care, milk, day care for working mothers, and recreation. Paducah made the list as it was the home of a new $505 million atomic energy plant.

GSUSA noted that one of its main challenges in 1951 was bringing Girl Scouting to girls living in such crowded conditions. The report highlighted efforts in four areas: San Diego, Colorado Springs, Savannah River, and Paducah, Kentucky, where the population had suddenly doubled:

One of the largest critical areas is that centering on Paducah, Ky. … By November 1951, some 20,000 workers and their families had moved into the area.  Schools were overflowing, living quarters were at a premium, and workers were commuting from 100 miles away.

To provide desperately needed recreation services for these families, GSUSA merged the Paducah and nearby Mayfield councils, as well as lone troops from seven surrounding counties, creating Bear Creek Council. Girl Scout professionals were busy organizing troops and training leaders for the teeming population.

Postcard from the 1950s.

Postcard from the 1950s.

The impact of the plant on Paducah was not news to me. Growing up, I knew of numerous neighborhoods, schools, stores, churches and more that dated to “the boom.” Many of my friends’ parents worked at “the plant.” And, since my father is Paducah’s unofficial historian, I’d heard plenty about the plant over the dinner table, too.

Some of my father's books on Paducah's history.

Some of my father’s books on Paducah’s history.

But the connection between the plant and the Girl Scouts was new to me.

The Paducah gaseous diffusion plant and the better-known Oak Ridge, TN, plant were part of the same project. I know the Tanasi (now Southern Appalachia) council did badge and patch programs related to their plant, I don’t believe the same was done for the Paducah plant. Perhaps it’s time to write one!

Tanasi Council's Own and current Southern Appalachia programs.

Tanasi Council’s Own and current Southern Appalachia programs.

Mickey and Me

The death of Mickey Rooney Sunday led me to pull out a piece of my own Girl Scout history, a scrapbook from my Wider Opportunity.

Kentuckiana Girl Scout Council sent a group of Senior scouts to Washington, DC, Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, and New York City in August 1982. We stayed at the International Youth Hostel in Washington, enjoyed home hospitality with Colonial Coast Girl Scouts in Virginia Beach, bunked at the Girl Scout Program Center in Great Neck, Long Island, and met other troops at the Nassau Council office.

Mickey Rooney and my Wider Opp group.  I'm on the far right.  Yes, I'm even shorter than Mickey Rooney, and I think I was even wearing heels.

Mickey Rooney and my Wider Opp group. I’m on the far right. Yes, I’m even shorter than Mickey Rooney, and I think I was even wearing heels.

In New York, I saw my first Broadway show: Sugar Babies, an old-time vaudeville review starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.  We attended the 2 pm Wednesday matinee (seat H107, according to my ticket stub), then went across the street to Luchow’s restaurant for dinner.Sugar_Babies

There in the restaurant, having dinner, was none other than Mickey Rooney and his lovely wife, Jan. Our leader sent a note to his table, explaining who we were, that we’d just seen his show, and could we get an autograph. When a waiter delivered the note, Mickey waved it over his head and shouted, “You bet!”  He was warm, friendly, absolutely gracious, and gave no hint that he had to get back for another show that night.

That little brush with star power sure made an impression on a girl from Paducah, Kentucky.