Scouts of Troop 349 gather to celebrate 70th anniversary
By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó Tom Gemayel came of age at a time when the Boy Scouts were one of the few games in town.
“We did all kinds of fun, outdoor activities,” he recalled.
Gemayel and other members of Boy Scout Troop 349, sponsored by Spencer’s Central United Methodist Church, would sometimes hike from Spencer to the end of Long Ferry Road, camping in the area along the Yadkin River where the Rowan Shrine Club now stands.
This was an era when tents were made of canvas and anything but lightweight. The tents zipped at the top. One boy would carry half a tent and another boy would carry the other. At the campsite, the boys would zip their tent together.
Gemayel’s highest scouting rank was First Class, and one of the requirements for earning that honor was to hike 14 miles in a single day.
“You’d just pack your tent and go,” he said.
Come June 7, Gemayel and other past and present members of Troop 349 will gather at Central United Methodist for the 70-year reunion of the troop’s founding. Exactly how many will attend is anyone’s guess. Hundreds have been invited.
“You just never know until they show up,” said Steve Miller, Troop 349’s current scoutmaster, asked of anticipated turnout.
Gemayel, now 84, was one of the founding members of Troop 349, chartered in 1937. Six of the 37 founding members are still alive.
The troop is a part of the Central N.C. Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Leaders of Troop 349 admit that since the troop was founded in 1937, it seems this would be the organization’s 72nd anniversary.
But Miller said the Central N.C. Council recognizes this as the 70th anniversary, so that’s the number that troop leaders observe.
“Their interpretation and our interpretation is a little different,” Miller said.
Gemayel has spent a lifetime involved with Troop 349. He was a scout from the age of 11 until he was 17. Following a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II, he returned to Spencer and Troop 349, serving as assistant scoutmaster and in a variety of other capacities.
He was named scoutmaster in 1965, a position he held until 1983.
“Some of the boys in the troop didn’t have fathers,” Miller said, motioning in the direction of Gemayel as he spoke. “This was their father.”
Gemayel didn’t marry his wife, Peg, until 19 years ago, so he devoted much of his life to the scouts. Miller said Gemayel didn’t get but one week of vacation a year, and spent that taking scouts to Camp Barnhardt, a Boy Scout camp in Stanly County.
Gemayel spent a lifetime working at Stoudemire Furniture Store in Spencer. Miller said Gemayel would often work until late in the afternoon, then travel out to the site where his scouts were camping. In the morning, he’d be back at Stoudemire’s bright and early.
Gemayel often took scouts on Sunday afternoon canoe trips down the Yadkin, but one of the prerequisites to participating was that the boys attend church earlier in the day.
Miller said Troop 349 has had a number of outstanding scoutmasters in addition to Gemayel over the years. He mentioned Robert “T-Bone” Palmer and Ray Chambers as examples.
“I was a scout, my father was a scout and my son is an Eagle Scout,” Miller said. “I’m proud of all this organization has given to so many boys.”
Miller is writing a history of Troop 349 that will be distributed at the June 7 reunion. The event kicks off at 10 that Sunday morning. Scouts will be honored during the church’s worship hour from 11 a.m. to noon. and a covered-dish luncheon will follow.
From 1 to 4 p.m., an open house will be held at the troop’s lodge off Third Street. A dedication of the lodge is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Miller came up with some interesting bits of trivia while researching the history of Troop 349. The troop was originally co-sponsored by the Spencer YMCA, back when the Y was located at the site of today’s Town Hall.
But the sponsorship ended not long thereafter and Central United Methodist began sponsoring Troop 349 around 1940. The scouts and the church have been linked ever since.
Miller said it’s hard to over-state how popular the scouts were in Spencer in the late 1940s. He said that in 1947, there were four scout troops in Spencer and the town had more scouts per thousand than any other city in the United States.
Miller said that when former scouts learned of the reunion planned by Troop 349, they donated almost $1,600 for the grand event. Those donations came from as far away as Texas.
Gemayel said he’s looking forward to the reunion, though he said it’s not unusual for former scouts to stop by and see him at his house on Second Street, where he was born and where he’s lived his entire life.
“That’s a good feeling,” Gemayel said of the fact that former members of his troop remember and visit him. “We get to passing tales back and forth.”
Gemayel said he still goes into Stoudemire Furniture about two days a week. It’s a business where at one time or another he did a little bit of everything.
Now, admittedly, Gemayel’s pace has slowed considerably.
“I’ve never worked anywhere but Stoudemire Furniture,” he said, kicking back in a big chair one morning last week. “I’m going full force right now.”