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Boy Scout Troop 1601
(Royal Oak, Michigan)
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Troop 1601 History

History of Scouting in The First Methodist Church of Royal Oak

Prepared by Earl E. Watkins(1968)


In the fall of 1921, it became apparent to some of the teachers of the old Washington School that there was a need for a Boy Scout Organization to take care of the need of many of the older boys in this area. Fred A. Cowen, who was Superintendent of the Sunday School and Ernest H. Mercill, in the Saving and Loan Association, got hold of Ralph L. Mason and they gathered a group of boys from the vicinity and met under one of the trees in the Methodist Church Yard. They continued to meet and it was decided that they would register a number of the boys as Boy Scouts of America, and on December 3, 1921, they received that first charter. The records show that Fred A. Cowen was the Institutional Representative; Ernest H. Mercill was the Committee Chairman and Ralph L. Mason was the Scoutmaster. There were eight boys registered as the Charter Members of that Troop, which was known as Troop R.O.-1. The eight boys were: Ben McHugh, Lee Chisnell, Russell Clapp, Frank Blackburn, Leo Mills, Malvin Zendher and Alfred Pyatt. Many of the fathers of these boys were identified along with their boys as Troop Committee men and that was the real reason why their programs and hikes were so successful.


In 1925 a new Scoutmaster's name appeared on the records. The new Scoutmaster's name was Charles William Thompson. He was better know as “Bill” Thompson. It wasn't long after this until Samuel Brokenshire, a local milkman became interested and proved to be a very good assistant to “Bill”. In 1928 Sam became interested in the Cub Scout program. We had just acquired a new gymnasium and Sam gathered about 75 boys between 8 and 11 years of age into his Cub Scout program, which took place every Saturday morning. This ran smoothly until some of the boys began to get old enough to join the Scouts.


Troop R.O.-1 had 50 to 60 boys meeting every Monday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. So Sam Brokenshire naturally gathered another crowd of boys and formed Troop R.O.-11. It wasn't long before some of the older boys began to clamor for another chance to get in to Scouts and Thomas H. Nancarrow and some of the fathers of those boys formed Troop R.O.-21. There was a time when we had from 120 to 150 Scouts in the Church program. During all of this time Ernie Mercill was prominently identified with the Troop Committee of R.O.-1. He was also a member of The Church Official Board and the Official Board complained a great deal about the Troop's meeting on Tuesday evening because it was very difficult to be heard in the Parlor when a Scout troop was in full action. Ernie battled for us against the Official Board and he always was our Chief Cook on all of R.O.-1's Scout hikes. He even insisted on going on one of these hikes against the doctor's orders and that night he put over a big roast of beef in his big iron kettle with no water in the kettle at all. This he placed on the back of the stove with fire for the supper meal and the next morning that kettle was half full of the juice of that beef. The Sunday dinner which we had was one long to be remembered by all. He entered the hospital Monday night and the following October he passed away with what we know today as leukemia.


It wasn't long after Ernie's passing before many of the Church groups began to clamor for the use of the gymnasium and the Scout troops found themselves crowded together into a Scout program where all three troops had to meet on just one evening per week. It was then that Troop R.O.-11 pulled out and began meeting in the Longfellow School . It had new leadership and that is another story. Troop R.O.-1 and R.O.-21 soon were merged into R.O.-1. There is a lot of R.O.-21's Troop history which probably should be included herewith. Mr. Tom Nancarrow, who was a sheet metal worker with the old D.U.R, was a strict disciplinarian and his Troop R.O.-21 was always high in the records of Scouting at Scout Headquarters.


Troop R.O.-1 was very fortunate in having some very good brother combinations that keep a very interesting Scouting program so far as the boys were concerned. After Bill Thompson and Sam Brokenshire left, several names of Scout leaders were in the records. Fred Western, Fred Venus, Harvey Harry and Charles Lewis were mentioned. Earl Watkins, a mathematics teacher in Northern High School , Detroit , was an associate of Sam Brokenshire and he continued until 1945. His Troop was always noted for having wonderful times on their Scout trips, etc., but they did not excel so far as the official Scout records are concerned.


Hessel W. Tenhave, a biology teacher in Royal Oak High School , became affiliated with R.O.-1 on one cold December day in 1940's when he helped the boys brave a sub-zero night in a cold greenhouse on the Saline Valley Farm. There was not too much heat but with his knowledge of how to keep warm with three blankets, the boys did not know that the weather was about four degrees below zero outside. He played a great part in some of the nature hikes we had to Clear Lake Camp, owned by the Fort Street Presbyterian Church of Detroit. He was instrumental in having the boys of R.O.-1 plant several hundred pine trees out at the Saline Valley Farm.


There are a great many things that we could include in this history if the time and some of the boy's memories could be called in at his time. I started to mention some of the brother combinations which we have enjoyed in our Scouting program. I would mention Robert and Donald Woodard. Robert was Senior Patrol Leader for two or three years after Earl Watkins took over. Bob had a big following of older boys, as Phil Miller can probably well remember. Ted Haskell and Donald Haskell got their training near the end of the Woodard's time and they carried on in a wonderful way. The woods are full of boys who will come up and say what wonderful times we had on some of those old Scout hikes which we had.



Prepared by William L. Button(1968)


When my son, Charles Button, became eleven years old in November 1951, we went up to the First Methodist Church , Royal Oak , to join Scout troop R.O.-1. Mr. Richard L. Sheehan at that time was Scoutmaster, asked if I wanted to assist him. Though I knew nothing, I agreed to be his Assistant Scoutmaster after completing the Training Course.


That winter and following spring, we went on many camping trips, then Mr. Sheehan found it necessary to retire from Scouting and I then took over as Scoutmaster. We had an excellent committee composed of men from the church. Some of the members whom I remember were Jim Weaver, Cliff Biddick, Paul Scott, Al Rockwood, Len Duckworth, Oran J. McPherson, Ron W. Brown, Rev. Lyle Loomis, Orville Chapin, Richard L. Sheehan, Warren Steinger, Russell Reed, Forest Bradley, Mr. Momberg, and Bob Thomas. There were others whom I cannot recall at this time. We averaged about twelve weekend camping trips per year, including our summer trips which usually consisted of a week to ten days. In 1952, Paul Scott, Al Rockwood and I went out to D-Bar-A for the Scout-masters' Training Course. R.O.-1 was the first troop to register at D-Bar-A in 1953, which was their first summer it opened for regular troop camping. We spent one week there, I, spending the full time and different men took turns coming out to stay nights with us. The boys took part in many activities, namely swimming, horsemanship and nature lore. During the winter of 1952-53, we had numerous campouts at D-Bar-A. During the summer of 1953, Russell Reed and I took ten boys from the troop to Beaver Island , Michigan , for ten days. That was quite an experience.


In 1954, Fred Blair of First Methodist, Russell Reed and I took fifteen boys from Troop R.O.-1 to the Porcupine Mountains for a ten day trip. A wonderful time was had by all, and was by far the most successful fishing trip we had ever taken. In February 1954, we took twelve boys from the Troop to the Grayling Winter Sports Festival, staying in a cabin on the lake north of Grayling. In the winter of 1955, we took a large group of boys up on the Manistee River near Ludington.


Each year at Christmas Season, the boys sold Christmas wreaths to raise money for the upcoming trips the following year.


In 1956, R.O.-1 Troop participated in the first Scout Exhibition at the Michigan State Fair Grounds which was a three day operation. In April, 1956, sixty-one of us including ten men and the boys, made a weekend trip to Chicago , traveling on the Grand Trunk Railway, leaving on Friday night, sightseeing in Chicago on Saturday arriving in Royal Oak on Sunday morning. This was a great experience for all of us. In November 1956, R.O.-1 Troop distributed “Get Out The Vote” liberty bell door hangers to a large section of Royal Oak . This was a successful operation because they had the largest turnout of voters in this election they had had for sometime.


In 1957, fifteen boys from our troop along with Mr. Jim Smith, Mr. Al Rockwood and myself, attended the National Jamboree at Valley Forge . This was the largest number from any one troop in the Detroit area. Older boys acted as senior patrol leaders. We were gone for two weeks, first sight seeing in Washington , D.C. , on to Valley Forge and then going to New York and Atlantic City . A wonderful time was had by all but it took three weeks to recover. While at Valley Forge , we had quite an experience with the Japanese beetles. When the boys were sleeping at night, the beetles would crawl into the warm ears and put their hooks into the eardrum, then you would really hear some loud screeching. It was necessary to take them to the field hospital and have a drop of oil put in, to either remove or kill the beetle. We then procured a box of cotton balls, woke up our boys and put oil in their ears and tied a handkerchief around their neck as if they had a toothache. Consequently, this was a very new experience to all of us.


In the fall of 1957 and also 1958, we held a Father and Son Canoe trip on the Au Sable River. In the spring of 1957, Troop R.O.-1 made and sold doughnuts at the Royal Oak Home Show to raise money to attend the Jamboree. Each boy earned at least half his money, the total cost for the trip including clothes, was approximately $220.00. Another money raising project was in the fall of 1956, when we packaged Halloween candy in cake boxes and sold for trick and treat to the people of Royal Oak , which proved to be a very successful operation. In the summer of 1958, July, forty-one of us including five men and four mothers, spent ten days at Beaver Island , Michigan . This was a real operation and everyone enjoyed themselves to the fullest.


One thing for which we are most thankful is that during the seven years of traveling we had no serious accident. In the fall of 1958, I retired from the Scoutmaster's position and Vince Baugh took over the duties. He had worked with me for the past three or four years as Assistant Scoutmaster, along with Al Rockwood, Cliff Biddick, Paul Scott and Ivan Risley.


During the seven year period, we purchased an International Metro truck and equipped it to carry our camping gear and traveling kitchen. We surely had a great time with this operation. We could stop anywhere to cook a full meal for the entire troop in fifteen minutes. With it we covered many a happy mile and had a few experiences with flat tires and split wheels. I don't believe any of the members at that time will ever forget the fun-filled hours we had.


In 1955 Troop R.O.-1 and the Explorers together started earning money to buy canoes. By the end of 1958, the Troop had three canoes and had built a trailer on which to carry them. Howard LeBlanc who had been Assistant Scoutmaster over part of this period and some the Explorer Boys, built this trailer to haul the canoes and which are still in possession of the Troop. For this trailer, we are most grateful to Howard LeBlanc and his friends who in no way were connected with Scouting helped greatly in making this trailer possible. They furnished practically all the material, equipment and labor at very little cost to the Troop.


In closing I should like to state that the seven years I spent with Scout Troop R.O.-1 of the First Methodist Church , were the seven most fun-filled and worthwhile years I had ever spent in my life, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.


From The Daily Tribune, Royal Oak , Michigan , Thursday, March 7, 1968 Page 5



Royal Oak One Turns 50 this year. The city's first Boy Scout Troop, organized under an oak tree at the corner of Lincoln and Knowles, celebrated Wednesday.

Eleven former scoutmasters and the wife of one of the founders were honored at the meeting, which took place in the First Methodist Church , sponsor for the troop since its beginning in 1918.


Mrs. Ernest H. ( Lena ) Mercill received an honorary troop membership. Her husband, who died in 1931, helped organize the first troop.


Trouble With Boys –

“The school principal, quite a young man, came to talk to my husband one day about problems he was having with the boys,” she recalled. “Today it sound kind of funny, but the boys were smoking on the school grounds and he was really worried.

“Ernest said, ‘There are no bad boys – just idle boys'. And he and Fred Cowen, former city commissioner, set out to give them something to do.

“They needed a sponsor,” she continued, “So they asked the First Methodist Episcopal Church Board at it said yes right away.”

Monument –

A bronze plate on a boulder weighing a ton was erected in the church yard on the corner of seventh and Washington in memory of Mercill. One of seven sons, he himself had only on child, a daughter. The plaque reads, “erected to E. H. Mercill, 1880-1931, Pioneer in the Royal Oak Scout Movement. He cared for other folks' boys.”

Men who have served as scoutmaster for the unit are Bill Thompson, Samule Brokenshire, Fred Western, Fred Venus Jr., Harvey Harry, Charles Lewis, Ron Brown, Dick Sheehan, Bill Button, Vincent Baugh, and Sherman Ketcham. The present scoutmaster is Gordon Andringa.


Recognition of the men was made by Clarence W. Phillips, committeeman. Edward Beckman, Chairman of the Troop Committee, presented a gift to Sherman Ketcham, scoutmaster for the last seven years. Ketcham is now acting as Neighborhood Commissioner in the Boy Scout Organization.

In its 50 years of existence, the troop has traveled many miles on camping trips. Saline Valley Farm, Clear Lake Camp, Beaver Island , Porcupine Mountains , Grayling Sports Festival, Chicago , Valley Forge , and the Au Sable River are some of the camping sites.

Among community projects the group has participated in are the “Get Out And Vote” campaign, distribution of Goodwill bags and the Royal Oak Home Show.

To raise money, the boys have sold Christmas wreaths, Halloween candy, soap and Christmas candles. They have also held pancake suppers in attempts to earn funds for camping equipment, a panel truck, canoes and a trailer as well as help pay their camping fees.



After the gymnasium was converted into classrooms in 1953, The Boy Scout Troop was moved into a vacant room across the hall and the Scout equipment was stored in a separate room. Royal Oak Troop No. 1 became Troop 1601.

Although the Scout charter was renewed every year, gradually the membership was drawn from St. Mary's Catholic Church and other neighboring churches.

Ralph W. Houghton represented our church 1977-80 and 1984-87. Committee Chairmen from 1955-1962 were: Leonard Slade, Wallace Gabler, George Emare, Edwin Dyer, and Clarence Phillips; 1977 and 1987:Donald Runde.



1921-31 Ernest H. Mercill


1955 Leonard Slade

1956 Wallace Gabler

1957 George Emare

1958-60 Edwin Dyer

1961-62 Clarence W. Phillips


1977-80 Donald Runde


1984-87 Ralph W. Houghton and Donald Runde

1987-88 Donald Runde


1999-2000 Robert Nesbitt

2000-Present Stephen Patra


It was Reverend Thomas Rousseau who asked Robert Beitel to become Church Liaison in 1986. Due to his efforts the Troop was revived. In cooperation with Pack 1610 and 1611, a Pancake Breakfast was held in Fellowship Hall in November, 1987 to raise funds for Scout activities. Bob is enthusiastic and there are now 18 boys in Troop 1601 and it is still growing.