Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hurricane Katrina's positive influence

It may seems odd to suggest this, but there were several positive aspects to the horrible tragedy known as Hurricane Katrina that have made the old, bedraggled and set-in-its-ways city become progressive and forward thinking. The politics still has its own black-white tilt and the City Council, Mayor's office, police department and District Attorney's office still manage to hurl invectives and accuse each other of skullduggeries. Yet, with all of the disgust in dealing with FEMA, the several years of living in trailers, the disreputable contractors who stole millions of victims' nesteggs and the general feeling of malaise that permeated the city in the immediate years following the flooding, there has emerged in several quarters a new spirit of volunteerism and community activism that was largely absent before the storm. To be sure, there is a lot more to be done today than four years ago. And there is no way we can ever forget the 1500 or more lives snuffed out in the wake of the worst natural and man-made disaster to strike our nation. The city has become the focus for young idealists, who are flocking here intent on making a difference and contributing in myriad ways to rebuilding this historic and unique metropolis. There is the Musician's Village, which offers affordable housing to artists who would not normally be able to do so, and the Brad Pitt-inspired Make It Right Foundation that has built 150 "green" structures in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Faith groups through various initiatives have rehabbed, rebuilt and restored homes to grateful families. In the case of groups like the Isaiah Funds millions of dollars have been given out in grants and millions of others in long-term affordable loans have and are being made available to needy groups such as those rebuilding the Central City area. The hiring of iconocastic Rabbi Uri Topolosky as Congregation Beth Israel's spiritual leader has turned out to be one of the most prophetic events in the Modern Orthodox synagogue's history. Through his vision and with the support of the synagogue's board of trustees there will be an announcement today of the launching of a new capital campaign and a building drive that will erect a new edifice on vacant land adjacent to and on that previously owned by Gates of Prayer Synagogue, the Reform synagogue located in Metairie. Over three years ago, Rabbi Robert Loewy offered his synagogue's little-used back chapel as a place of worship for the displaced synagogue formerly located in the flood-ravaged Lakeview area. This unusual partnership between Reform and Orthodox Jewry has blossomed in a way that is quite unusual and typical of the ways that set New Orleans apart from other municipalities. It is the people who have reached out to one another, regardless of differences in philosophies and practices. Hurricane Katrina showed us all what is truly important: life, love and each other. If that is the storm's most lingering aspects, then we all will have been truly blessed. It comes at a great cost, but in the end we may still see that the period of anguish we all went through was that of a birthing pain in which a better, stronger city cried out to be reborn.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The dissolution of Camelot

"Camelot," the popular Lerner and Loewe musical concerning the Arthurian legend has been used by popular historians to describe the short-lived period of high expectations and general good feeling of the young John Kennedy presidency. The mythical kingdom imagined by T. H. White in "The Once and Future King" was used by the successful Broadway team as the basis for the book for their musical vehicle that starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews as Arthur and Guinevere and also launched the career of Robert Goulet as Lancelot. That it came to the Great White Way around the same time that Kennedy and his young wife moved into the White House was propitious. Although decided by an extremely close margin, the 1960 election led to high hopes for this young, dashing president as he assembled a new administration during the peak of the Cold War. The nation's expectations were palpable. There is little doubt that when Kennedy was assassinated and the nation was left to mourn his loss, the feeling of dread and regret was also similar to that felt at the end of the musical where King Arthur sees all he had hoped to institute has been lost. It was no secret that the great hope of tycoon Joseph Kennedy, ironically a former ambassador to the Court of St. James's, was that he would have a son elected as the first Catholic President of the United States. After losing his oldest son and namesake, Joe, in a World War II plane crash, the former isolationist pinned all of his hopes on second son John, who had emerged as a genuine war hero during maneuvers in the Pacific. When in 1953 then-Senator John married the former Jacqueline Bouvier, a photographer for Look Magazine, the dynamic couple went to the top of the A-lists in Washington society. Despite a tragic miscarriage, the young Senator's family grew with the addition of daughter Caroline and his wife was pregnant for most of the campaign. Two weeks after his election and before they moved into the White House, a baby boy, John, Jr., arrived. Here was an idyllic young family that enchanted a nation. "For one brief shining moment that was here in Camelot," King Arthur would sing. Because of their unwavering sense of duty and service to their country, the entire Kennedy family has been likened to American royalty. Notable monarchies have had their share of tragedy, but the Kennedy family beginning with Joseph Sr. and matriarch Rose has had more than most of them. The additional assassination of middle brother, presidential candidate and former Attorney General Robert Kennedy; the plane crash of youngest brother Edward, known as "Teddy," which left him in pain for the rest of his life; the 1969 automobile crash that killed his companion, Mary Jo Kopeckne; the more recent plane crash that killed John Jr. and his beautiful wife Carolyn and her sister; the drug overdose and skiing accident that took the lives of David and Michael (Robert's sons); and several others that need not be mentioned. In Louisiana, Judge Edmund Reggie from Crowley first became friendly with John Kennedy when he first ran for vice-president in 1956. Later, he was crucial in Louisiana's support of Kennedy in the 1960 election. The Kennedy and Reggie families became close. Years later, after the breakup of his marriage, Ted Kennedy would begin to date Reggie's daughter Victoria, affectionately known as Vicki. I've known Judge Reggie and his son Ed Michael, who worked for my mom at our family's record store and was a classmate of mine at Tulane University. As his second wife, it was Vicki, a divorced Washington attorney, who has been credited with changing Ted Kennedy and making him much more grounded over the course of the last 17 years. In fact, Vicki might have been responsible for transforming the last of the Kennedy brothers into a legislator with more respect and clout than he might have enjoyed without her. Senator Kennedy's death signals the last vestige of the era of Camelot has dissolved into the mist. While it is true that Caroline has her children and that several Kennedy heirs from Bobby and Teddy are still very involved in public service, it seems to me that this most recent passing signals a break from the past. That generation is now gone and America is left to mourn for the last Kennedy brother. Regardless what we may feel about his political philosophy, there are few detractors who won't give Senator Kennedy the credit that is due to home as one of the great lions of the Senate and a man whose influence will dim only with the passage of time. We are all somehow less without this giant politico and I feel a sense of great loss that is only tempered by the knowledge that he, unlike his brothers, had the gift "of the length of years."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fourth Year Anniversary of Katrina

Four years ago I was preparing for a weekend jaunt to Cleveland, Ohio. It was to be a short weekend vacation and then I was to wing my way back to my uptown New Orleans home. There is an adage: "Man plans and God laughs." That's probably appropriate here because in three days time my ordered world and plans for the foreseeable all were changed dramatically by the events leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. I found myself in Cleveland, a refugee looking for a job, shelter and a way home. I wrote about it and that story became the front-page cover of the Cleveland Jewish News the following week. More stories were published and eventually a job offer followed. The last four years have passed slowly and, while I am ensconced again in my hometown of New Orleans, I think about the turbulent time I underwent 48 months ago and what it meant to my life for the nearly two years I lived there. I can honestly say that my life improved in many ways due to the Hurricane Katrina experience. Oh, yes, I lost possessions and much of my home was destroyed. There were many things that can and never will be replaced, but in the long run, these were simply possessions. What matters most to me today are the connections I made in Cleveland: the management I worked for and co-workers I labored with at the CJN, the members of the Jewish community who befriended me there and the people of Cleveland who extended me many courtesies. The experience sharpened my work as a reporter and made my writing seem much more important. That the CJN has experienced a downsizing and like the rest of the industry is in the throes of economic upheaval is unfortunate. It turns out I was working there at the height of its most productive period. I feel honored to have shared that experience with them. There is no doubt that the financial uncertainty there today would have sent me packing to New Orleans eventually, so it is fortuitous I made the decision to move back when I did two years ago. The winters were cold and the snow was difficult to manage for this Southern boy, but the feelings I have for my Cleveland exile are still very warm and I maintain many of those friendships even today. Perhaps I should re-word that adage to read: "Man plans and God provides."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tell me a story

When "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt passed away two days ago, the tributes were staggering. How this one man, a photo editor at the time of his hiring in 1948, could have shaped the way we receive our news over television today seems implausible. In many ways he and others he worked with in the early days of the medium were making it up as they went along. He acknowledged that he said "tele-what?" at the time of his hiring at CBS Radio. But this was a broadcasting giant that didn't let inexperience hold him back. Hewitt was the man responsible for the first televised presidential debate between Senator John Kennedy and Vice-President Richard Nixon and set a standard we follow today. He was the original producer for the "CBS Evening News," worked with the venerable Edward R. Murrow on "See It Now" and had a long relationship with the late anchorman Walter Cronkite. Of course, there has always been the combative and hard-nosed Mike Wallace (with whom Hewitt sparred over many an issue) and the amiable Morley Safer, both of whom Hewitt hired for the news magazine he envisioned four decades ago. In many ways Hewitt upped the ante on what network news correspondents would be paid. The salaries he paid Wallace, Safer, Harry Reasoner, Steve Kroft and the late Ed Bradley were huge compared to journeymen broadcasters on their way up. Along the way he chose Diane Sawyer and Leslie Stahl for coveted positions on "60 Minutes" and made their distaff stars shine evermore brightly in the process. Hewitt had the enthusiasm of a cub reporter, many said. He tackled each news project with verve, vigor and vinegar, admitting his sometimes volatile temper. Although few agreed he had truly slowed down later in life, the handsome and virile octogenarian said he had "mellowed" near the time of his retirement from "60 Minutes" five years ago. When Hewitt wrote about his success in a memoir a few years back and spoke at tribute dinners shortly thereafter, he put it all into four little words. These were four words, he said, that every kid knew: "Tell me a story." Whether we refer to TV newsmen, motion picture screenwriters, playwrights or radio broadcasters like Paul Harvey, that's really the four words that define greatness. If one can tell a story that captivates, wrenches one's heart, creates pride or elicits myriad other feelings, there is little doubt that success will follow as surely as day follows night. Hewitt instinctively knew this and great writers the world over prove his point daily. Although Hewitt was not considered a great writer, he had the knack for news to know a good story when he heard one. That important lesson qualified his entire career and continues to be a source of inspiration for abecederian and fledgling writers like me and would-be broadcasters, filmmakers and dramatists. Hewitt's legacy may be distilled into just four words, but most of us realize it is so much more than just that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Al Shea and Beth Trepagnier

Al Shea at the 2009 Big Easy Theatre Awards holding his Lifetime Achievement Award

Sometimes my many different worlds collide. In my work as an IT consultant, I am constantly traveling from one side of the city to the other and meeting clients. In my volunteer work as a member of the Big Easy Theatre Committee, I am usually occupied watching local productions on most weekends and seeing members of the theatre community. Many of my friends and associates know of my deep commitment to Scouting, while others know of my work as a journalist in the New Orleans Jewish community. In the last week several divergent forces have come together with me as their focus. First of all, I began the week heading over to the assessor's office to deal with my home assessment. I wasn't there more than an hour before I saw one of the leaders of the Order of the Arrow, Connell Valette, who had just traveled with me to NOAC in Bloomington, Indiana earlier in the month. It turns out he works for one of the seven assessor's offices at City Hall. No sooner did I see him then I spotted the Fleur-de-lis District Chairman Eugene Green, who was working in yet another assessor's office to help during the very busy time of year. Eugene and I are two of the key leaders in the district that covers almost all of Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes. Since the two had never met before, I was compelled to introduce one to the other. But the colliding of worlds was far from over there. As a member of the Big Easy Committee, I have been very familiar with a fellow member, Al Shea, a local TV legend. Shea began his career at WDSU-TV back in the 1960's and I grew up watching him in various capacities over the course of the last four decades, especially at PBS affiliate WYES-TV, where he served as the host of "Steppin' Out," a local review show focused on the arts and media. He was an acknowledged authority on local theatre and had worked at the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) Theatre in his halcyon days as well as at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, the nation's oldest continuously operating community theatre. Only a few months ago, Shea had been acknowledged by his own theatre committee at the Big Easy Theatre Awards with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He was a happy, sincere fellow, who was compassionate about theatre and the arts. Sadly, it was announced some weeks ago that he was suffering from the effects of bladder cancer and that his prognosis was not good. Hospice care was advised, according to my sources. It turns out that I work as a consultant with a very good hospice in Harahan, River Region Hospice. I was called in to do some work on premises and, fortuitously, I found that he was spending his days there with his daughter Jennifer and several close friends nearby. It was nothing less than Providence intervening. I visited with him for a short while. I could see the apparent strain on his face. He claimed he wasn't in pain, but I had the impression he was uncomfortable, but was being a trooper, in the storied tradition of the stage and wasn't letting on about it. In the meantime the technician from the internet service provider and phone company I had been working with last week let slip that she had been at the last show of "Livin' Janis," a production starring Dorian Rush that detailed the life of Janis Joplin. Then she let me know she was also a performer. I'm not sure why, but phone companies seem to be a haven to erstwhile musicians. David Malone of the legendary Radiators has been a line technician in the past and so it seemed downright appropriate that Beth Trepagnier also work in the field. Trepagnier showed me her website , her MySpace page and told me about her new CD, "Louisiana Lover." She's been getting play across Europe and in various U.S. markets. She let me know about a CD release party being held this coming Saturday night, August 22. I'll be there for a bit to support her in her efforts. Trepagnier's past studies as a guitarist led her to become an instructor some years back. She's clearly at home playing and singing and her voice is sometimes raw and sweet, which is good for honey and blues singers as well. Since I was in the neighborhood again, I stopped by Shea's room two days ago. He was alone, resting and moving in and out of sleep. I said my goodbye to him softly and urged several friends I saw on Tuesday night to make all haste and see him soon. Regrettably, I must report that Al Shea departed this world earlier this morning. His "light and love," as our dear, late friend Cynthia Owen would have said, has moved on. Rest in peace, my friend, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blogging about "Julie and Julia"

I saw the new movie "Julie and Julia" last night and I must admit I am still very much in love with films by Nora Ephron, even when they are downright silly. This wasn't silly and in fact turned out to be something of a romp. The premise of this storyline is that Amy Adams, who plays real life New York blogger and writer Julie Powell decides to channel Julia 'Child, the author of "The Art of Mastering French Cooking" and a PBS television legend, played so incredibly by the delightful Meryl Streep. It is important to remember that this story takes sometime after 9/ll, when struggling writer Powell was employed helping families of victims of the Twin Tower tragedy and when Julia Child was quite elderly and still very much alive. The two lead very different, yet very similar lives insofar as they are both shown as newlywed couples. The Childs live in the McCarthy era at a time after the war when living in Europe could lead some to be suspected as foreign agents. The Powells are a very cute couple who move to Queens in search of more breathing room, only to land on top of a noisy pizzeria. Both Child and Powell are looking to give purpose to their lives. Adams decides that cooking her way through Child's 524 recipes in 365 days will give her life purpose and maybe spark increase interest in her writing. The blog she writes, "The Julie-Julia Project" documents the highlights and lowlights of Adams' character as she delves deeply into hitherto unknown culinary practices like trussing, boning and boiling lobsters. Powell's well-received book "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously" was a best seller. Child's "My Life in France" was used as the basis for her scenes, especially those with husband Paul Child, played warmly by Stanley Tucci. Streep and Tucci's scenes are set in Paris and Marseilles, but much of the action takes place in restaurants, their kitchen and (gasp!) their bedroom. As to the film's characters, I was endeared by Adams, but let there be no mistake about it. I was enchanted and enthralled by Streep. She reflects the haughty and slightly irreverent spirit of Child and her speech patterns, guffaws and chortles are dead on. I was laughing hysterically at much of the script, which was also penned by director Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle"). It's definitely a chick flick. After all, what guys really want to see two independent women living their lives purposely and succeeding without their husbands' helping hands? Guess I'm not the macho, misogynistic type because I thought the film was just great. And any guy who disagrees, I would like to challenge them to a duel in the kitchen. I''ll belt them with my BĂ©arnaise and maul them with my Marchand du Vin. I'll hammer them with my Hollandaise and...well, you get the picture. Just one thing more. You are advised to eat ahead of seeing the movie. Some of the food shots are so delicious that my poor tummy was thinking dessert was going to be served. "Julie and Julia" is rated R for ravenous. Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So when is kosher "kosher?"

Oh, my. I don't need Ray Charles to serenade me with "Georgia on My Mind." The American Civil Liberties Union and the Conservative Jewish movement are pushing ahead with a case filed August 7 that is designed to topple the Orthodox Union's monopoly on determining what is "kosher" in that state. As designated by a state law enacted in 1980, the suspect legislation was designed to ensure the public's safety and peace of mind in setting up the standards of Orthodox Judaism (their board is known as the O-U) as being the determining factor by which food is sold as "kosher" in Georgia. Apparently, there was a question of fraud having been perpertrated in the past, so by using the Orthodox Union's high bar of kashrut (dietary laws), there was no question that everyone -- from the most observant Haredi on down to secular Jews -- would feel assured and comfortable with a "kosher" designation. The problem came about when some people began to question whether a Conservative rabbi who might supervise a restaurant or kitchen for a community event would be de facto violating the law. Although Conservative standards are less stringent than the O-U's, their designation of a restaurant, bakery or kitchen as being kosher would be held as valid by members of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism. The problem is by lending its official state sanction to the standards of Orthodoxy, the division between organized religion and the state is blurred. The ACLU named Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta as the plaintiff in its suit in which it specifies that the Georgia law discriminates against other forms of Jewish religious practice by strictly adhering to Orthodox Judaism to determine what is considered "kosher." It is important to point out that the statute in question does impose criminal sanctions for violations, so Rabbi Lewis could have been arrested and prosecuted over the course of his career in Georgia had he been challenged. Lewis admits that he has "technically" been a criminal by merely doing his job as kosher supervisor for his own synagogue and for kosher events held under its auspices. This has triggered an immediate response from the Orthodox movement, who claim that not one non-Orthodox rabbi has ever been prosecuted, despite the fact many have provided kosher supervision information to the state. Some suggest an overturning of the law as unconstitutional might lead to more fraud being perpertrated against the public in the future. As of now, a few cases of probable fraud are handled per month. Orthodox kosher supervisors fear a more relaxed code could result in a spike of such irregularities. All of this seems to go along with the Conservative movement's attempt to become more proactive in the field of kosher supervision. Similar designations of kosher as being determined only by Orthodox standards have been overturned in New York (2003), Baltimore (1995) and New Jersey (1992). Whether Georgia becomes the fourth such state or municipal government to change its standards remains to be seen. I'm sure the rabbis pleading their cases will be very persausive. Perhaps they will need to daven (pray) a bit more devoutly as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The sad case of William Jefferson

While I was enjoying the revelry and brotherhood associated with the National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC) last week, I lost touch with what was happening in the Virginia courthouse where the federal government had laid out its case against former Louisiana Second District Congressman William Jefferson. Jefferson, a political icon from New Orleans, has been a civic leader in New Orleans for decades. After he lost the mayoralty two times while a state legislator, he ran for an open seat vacated by then-retired Congresswoman Lindy Boggs some 18 years ago. He had withstood challenge after challenge until this past election when he won the Democratic primary, but failed to muster his troops in the general election. In a surprise defeat, he was bested by Loyola professor Anh Joseph Cao, a Republican and the first Vietnamese elected to Congress. Cao (pronounced Gow) has acknowledged he probably won't be re-elected in the largely black district that was designed in effect to ensure that an African-American would represent New Orleans in Congress. While still a congressman, Jefferson was able to thwart prosecution, but once he was ousted from office, the federal government sped up its case which resulted in 16 indictments. The most compelling evidence seemed to be $90,000 that was videotaped being given to Jefferson from an FBI informant that was allegedly to be used for bribes. The cash was found in a freezer along with a lot of other cash that could not be directly proven to be payouts for influence peddling. According to the government, the money was to be used to ensure that members of the Jefferson family would reap financial windfalls in the form of stock in foreign enterprises and percentages in businesses held in Africa. The 11 guilty counts out of 16 that were returned last Thursday after five days of jury diliberations signal the end of the career of a high profile politician, who wielded tremendous power both in New Orleans and in Congress. Ironically, the count that involved the $90,000 received a not guilty verdict. Nonetheless, it is another closed chapter in a history of corruption, malfeasance and influence peddling that seems to repeat itself year after year. Meanwhile, Mose Jefferson, the older brother of William goes on trial this week on charges that stemmed from the federal investigation that eventually felled his brother. If prosecutors have their way, though, the Jefferson family might be spending a considerable time living at government expense for the near future.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The ride back from Bloomington

Checking out Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the longest cave in the world.

For well over 24 hours I have been without e-mail or Internet access. It is a good feeling to know that I am now reconnected, even though I probably won't be using it due to the onset of Shabbat. The drive back from Bloomington was uneventful, but long. Last night our group stayed outside of Nashville, Tennessee at Boxwell Scout Reservation. I had the opportunitiy to enjoy a nice meal at the Cherokee Steak House there where I had a filet mignon, baked potato, salad and rolls for $12.95. It was the best bargain I had all week! And, for those who know of this out of the way place in Lebanon, the food was prepared as good or better than some of the more expensive steak house chains I've been to in the past. I felt so guilty that I was having such a good time away from the members of my Order of the Arrow lodge that I bought three half-gallon containers of ice cream for them to enjoy. Unfortunately, they were so tired from play and the drive down from Indiana University, most of them skipped the ice cream and hit the sack or sleeping bags, if you will. I suspect most of them were tuckered from the three-hour hike inside the longest cave in the world, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. My poor dogs were feeling the heat of the walk and I wished for a nice foot massage or hot soak. But it was not to be. Boxwell was deserted and had no such amenities, but it did yield a most interesting show. It would seem the Scout camp was virtually overrun with deer (even some fawns with telltale spots and ever-present mothers nearby). I don't recall ever seeing that many deer running free on a Scout camp before. Just a few days before just off the Indiana University campus, I was amazed that a deer was only a few yards away before it scampered off to hide in the woods. These deer on the Scout reservation weren't all that concerned about my presence, but didn't hang around too long once Scouts headed in their general direction. Yet, there were so many of them, I believe it was the largest concentration of deer I've ever seen. Up north many people consider deer to be vermin, akin to a large rat. Down South I would imagine some would think of Bambi as "good eatin'," but for city folk like myself, there's very little chance we'll be eating venison any time soon. Generally, we are appalled that someone would want to shoot a deer with a bullet or an arrow. It may be considered sport, but it doesn't strike me as particularly fair. I would say when hunters tackle bucks by their antlers or capture them in a trap that doesn't mame the animals, then it would be considerably more fair. In Solon, Ohio, I know there have been large kills where the deer are killed with a helmet that drives a steel post into their tiny skulls. I'm sure none of the deer would willing don those helmets and the kills have generated a great deal of negative publicity. I guess shooting the deer is against the law, hence the recommendation to use the helmets and skirt the law about dispatching them with a rifle or bow. Deer are such graceful creatures it surprises me people would think about tearing them asunder with a weapon of long-range destruction. But as I said, in this part of the world there is that contingent that swears that Bambi is "good eatin'" and there's nothing that can be done to change that. I'm all for someone who needs to hunt to put food on the table for his family. I guess I'm somewhat opposed to killing for the sport of it. If anyone cares, I like the way animals are slaughtered in a the kosher ritual. In theory (and hopefully in practice), they are tied down, prayers are uttered over them to beg forgiveness of the shochet (kosher butcher), their carotid arteries are severed, they slowly go to sleep and bleed to death. Or perhaps they bleed to death and slowly go to sleep. It may not matter to many, but I like to think that the animal whose body I am eating didn't go through an enormous amount of pain at the moment he was slaughtered. Of course, I'm not so dead set against slaughter to become a vegetarian or a vegan. That way of life is good for many, but I don't think I could become adapted to salad days for the rest of my life. In any event, it's good to be back in New Orleans, far away from Hoosiers, Volunteers and deer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And in the end....

National OA Chief Jack O'Neill and his friend

The last day of NOAC is typically called Founders Day and is named after E. Urner Goodman and co-founder Carrol Edson. The year was 1915 and Philadelphia Scoutmaster Goodman was then director of a local camp located out of the city called Treasure Island. Edson was his assistant and with some help from some outside folks, they concocted a new Scouting fraternity that emphasized brotherhood and cheerful service. The Order of the Arrow grew from those first tentative steps into a burgeoning group of hundreds of thousands of alumni with a primary emphasis on camping. Theirs is a service organization and their involvement in making a difference is palpable. There are adult members and youth members, but the youth run the organization and are the only ones allowed to vote. Since Boy Scouts troops elect their members based on performance and past records (such as a minimum number of nights of camping), it is unique that non-members select those who join the ranks of the OA. That's the way it has been largely from the beginning. It's about as good a process as can be found and that is as it should be. Today's events included the competitive Goodman games and Founders Day exhibits in which participating lodges could give away different items or inform fellow Arrowmen about points of interest in their respective areas. The day was capped by a nighttime show that brought much of what attendees had learned throughout the six days. Life is determined by the amount of time we spend and the love we give one another. The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" was used as a musical theme to the final spectacular, which featured indoor fireworks and sing-a-longs to favorites like "Good Vibrations" from the Beach Boys and "Don't Stop Beleving" by Journey. The piece-de-resistance was an outdoor concert with plenty of vanilla ice cream (300 pounds) scooped out for the hungry Scouts. All in all it was a great night and one that prepared all of us for our forthcoming journeys home.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Del Loder and the second generation of OA

Del Loder represents the last of the second generation of Order of the Arrow members. He was 19 when he first met the founder of the OA, E. Urner Goodman. As Loder relates, Goodman was shocked when Loder repeated something he had learned about him a decade before and recalled it ten years later when he became a Vigil Honor member of the honor society for Boy Scouts founded in 1915. That connection and hundreds of others they made in the years leading up to Goodman's death cemented a relationship of mutual respect. Loder, a dynamic broadcaster, public speaker and comedian on more than one occasion is a jovial sort of fellow, but he is intractable. For years he perfected the oddities that existed in the ceremonial work of the OA between different lodges so that only one officially approved manuscript would exist that would pass muster to all who might find any part of it objectable. To be certain he did not do it alone, but let there be no doubt that he did so with the express blessing of Goodman, who is the most revered figure in OA history, even surpassing that of co-founder Carroll Edson. Loder is at home at the National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC), held biennially on college campuses. This year at Indiana University he is definitely in his element and loving all of the deserved attention he has received. Loder became the fourth person to receive the Legacy of Servant Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award, which requires a minimum of 25 years of service to the OA and a previous citation of the Distinguished Service Award. Loder's work with Scouting over the course of the last 65 years has had significant impact on the quality of the ceremonies practiced by OA members. It is only right that he be singled out for meritorious service as the ranks of his generation have been greatly lessened through attrition. It would seem that my position as one of the third generation has been enhanced by knowing Del and his deep connection to this order that promotes brotherhood and fellowship among Boy Scouts. Although Del had a health scare a few months back, he says he is feeling better than he has in a long time. May the Great Scoutmaster continue to bless him with good health and keep him safe and in our midst for a long time to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Power of One

Since Saturday there has been an unusual gathering of a most unusual group of Boy Scouts and adult leaders, commonly referred to as Scouters. Every two years or so, the Order of the Arrow, the BSA's Honor Society composed chiefly of Boy Scouts or Scouting alumni, meet at a given college campus. This year the campus chosen is Indiana University, the same site as the very first conference held in 1951. This marks the tenth time that such an august gathering of Scouts has occurred on the Bloomington campus. The fact is that the National Order of the Arrow Conference is a very big deal. It is one of the greatest community service groups in the world and, in this country, a great percentage of Eagle Scouts become members of the order. Founded in 1915, only five years beyond the founding of the Boy Scouts of America, the Order of the Arrow started out as a way to inspire other Boy Scouts to follow the Scout Law and Oath. It became an official part of the BSA in 1934 when its program emphasizing camping and using the theme of the American Indian legend was approved. Later in 1948 the independent Order of the Arrow was merged into the BSA and its operations run by the National Council. This year's conference features about 7,000 members, referred to as Arrowmen and the activities include classroom experiences, competition of dance, singing and drumming groups and a variety of experiential events like scuba, kayaking and extreme sports. It's also a conference intended to honor those who lead the service society with several coveted awards like the Distinguished Service Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as those who have helped the organization, but who are not members themselves (Red Arrow Award). This year's theme is "The Power of One" and was eloquently addressed by Del Loder, this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, an award that has only been presented three times before. Loder, a 55-year member of the Scouting movement, was acquainted with the founder of the Order of the Arrow, E. Urner Goodman, and actually helped chair the committee that perfected several of the ceremonies handed down from its inceptions and made them acceptable to the BSA and sponsoring religious organizations. This makes his 27th appearance at a National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC) and it is certain that this may have been his most emotional. When the conference ends in another day or so, the thousands of members of the OA will depart for their respective troops or Venturing crews. Yet, there will be a better connection to this fraternity of cheerful service between Arrowmen and their lodges. There will be memories to last for a lifetime and a purposeful lifetime to make more memories. The Order of the Arrow has an will continue to set the highest standard for dedication to the principles of the Scout Oath and Law and will forge young men into the leaders of tomorrow.