By Anya Bochman
It’s fair to say that Albert Green, of Denville, has a long history in the township’s Boy Scouts of America Troop 17. The lifelong Denville resident first joined the troop as a scout when he was 12 – in 1947. In more than seven decades with the troop – six of them spent as Scoutmaster – Green has educated and inspired generations of young boys. His 60th anniversary as Scoutmaster of Troop 17 was commemorated on April 11 at the Denville Good Scout Awards Dinner.
The Denville that Green remembers from his boyhood is strikingly different from the township as it exists today, with special committees dedicated to modernizing its downtown business district. At the time that Green joined Troop 17, Denville was largely rural, with sprawling wooded areas that made hiking and camping natural for him and his friends before they ever considered scouting.
“There are many ways in which the country has changed since the day I joined [Troop 17]; most families had only one vehicle in the home and there was a lot less driving,” Green said. “Hiking was much more common, and as you made your way through the town only a few cars would pass you by.”
Green first considered joining the Boy Scouts by following in the footsteps of his older friends; he jokes that at the time, Troop 17 was “the only game in town.” Still, it wasn’t just lack of other options that held his interest; the troop was a learning experience that shaped his entire life.
In 1952, Green graduated from the Scouts with the rank of Eagle Scout; by 1954, he had enlisted in the U.S. military, serving for two years.
“Former scouts from Troop 17 go into many different professions,” Green said. “A number have gone into the military; the stuff I learned as a scout sure helped me when I was in the army.”
Green, who has been retired for 15 years, has two adult children and three grandchildren. He lives in Denville with Marilyn, his wife of over 60 years; he has been dabbling in what he calls “a little retail business” since his retirement. Prior to that, he worked for the family construction business, A.F. Green & Son Builders of Denville, which he had incorporated in 1980.
After he got out of military service, Green ran into his old scoutmaster, who suggested he volunteer as Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 17. Thinking he would put in an average of three years in the position, as did a number of his friends, Green was surprised when at the end of his tenure his scoutmaster suggested they switch positions.
That was in 1959, and Green has been scoutmaster ever since.
“Through the years, there has been a great bunch of boys coming into the Troop, and leaving as men,” Green said of his time with the BSA. “They really mature by the time they leave at 18.”
Troop 17 itself is just as storied and entrenched in Denville’s history as Green; on June 8th, the Troop celebrated its 90th anniversary with a formal evening dinner.
With a stated mission of developing the youth of Denville into productive citizens, Troop 17 strives to instill the values expressed by the Boy Scout Oath and Law. These entail respect for and service toward others, the local community and the world in general. To accomplish these admirable goals, the troop leaders work towards providing a stimulating and supportive scouting program that enhances growth through intellectual and physical activities.
Like other BSA troops, Denville’s chapter strives to develop leadership capabilities by providing training and opportunities to lead within the troop. Its outdoor program is designed to enhance self-reliance and respect for the environment with contests, aquatic sports, hiking and other outdoor events.
During its first year of existence, in 1927, troop meetings were held in the old Denville schoolhouse in a room over the library. According to Denville PTA records, the room was kept exclusively for troop use and was heated by a pot-bellied stove; at first, each boy would bring wood to the meetings. Later, wood was hauled in and stacked in the basement for the winter.
With the razing of the schoolhouse in 1933, Troop 17 relocated its headquarters to the Denville Community Church, where it has been housed ever since. The church also became Troop 17’s new sponsoring organization.
Since its inception, Troop 17 has been following the general code of the BSA; at the center of this is the “patrol method.” An educational system used to train scouts to have moral character and a goal of helping others, the patrol method helps boys to work together and succeed at accomplishing various tasks. In the process, the scouts earn merit badges, acquire cooking skills and participate in outdoor activities and community service.
“My philosophy is the same as that of the Troop; I tell both parents and scouts that Troop 17 isn’t just there to make them Eagle Scouts,” Green said. “When they graduate the program, they are able to take care of themselves with the different skills they learned, which is our main goal.”
Some of the aforementioned skills include learning to administer first aid and wilderness survival. Green also emphasized learning how to cook, noting that a number of former scouts have gone on to become chefs and hold other positions in the culinary industry.
“A lot of the basic skills we teach are still the same after all the years – except that before, we did all our cooking on an open fire, and now we have to use a gas stove,” Green mused.
As part of its operations, the BSA charters local organizations like churches and civic associations; volunteers are appointed by the chartering organization, who are supported by local councils using both paid professional scouts and volunteers.
In Denville, the community involvement is no different. Green cites township Mayor Tom Andes as a “real backer” of the Scouts, and a former boy scout himself. Three of his sons had been scouts under Green’s leadership. The generational participation is fairly common, as well; Green’s son became an Eagle Scout in 1977, and his wife and daughter are active in the Girl Scouts of America.
Over the years, Green has earned a number of accolades associated with scouting and Troop 17, such as the Scouter’s Key, the District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver, which is scouting’s highest Council-level award. For 16 years, Green had worked with the Red Cross as a water safety instructor, followed by 12 years on the Denville Board of Education.
He remains humble about his achievements, even as he was honored in April by the BSA Patriots’ Path Council at the third annual Denville Good Scout Awards Dinner, along with six other Denville residents. Green received a special recognition award as a “60 Year Veteran” of scouting. Still, he maintains that he would have preferred having his celebration held together with that of the Troop’s 90th anniversary on June 8th.
Troop 17 boasts 121 Eagle Scouts to date; to reach this top rank, scouts engage in various community outreach projects. For example, Denville’s troop set up hundreds of tents in New York City for the Annual Avon Breast Cancer Walk for walkers to spend the night.
There is lore repeated in Troop 17 by the older boys about Green’s alleged toughness during the Eagle Scout ceremony. According to Green, each year Eagle Scouts are surprised by what his actual questions to them turn out to be.
“There are three things I ask: ‘Did you learn anything? Do you remember what you learned?’ And lastly, ‘Did you have fun?’,” Green said. “That’s the most important part, having fun while you’re learning.”
For Green, the most fun and “vivid” memory of his experience in scouting was the National Jamboree that he attended in Valley Forge, Penn. in 1950. Held every four years, the Jamboree is an opportunity for Scouts from all over the nation and world to get together, and is considered one of several unique experiences offered by the BSA. A jamboree is held for approximately a week and a half and offers many activities for its thousands of youth participants.
Though Green acknowledges the changes brought about by the development of Denville throughout the years and the increasing reliance on driving, he also sees it as an opportunity for scouts to broaden their experiences with long distance trips. Some recent trips Troop 17 took were camping in Gettysburg and Valley Forge, as well as several state parks in Pennsylvania.
“Taking some of the young men on trips, you can see their eyes opening as they experience things they have never done before,” Green said.
During a recent trip for indoor wall climbing in Wind Gap, Penn., Green noticed that some of the boys were initially hesitant to engage in the activity.
“By the next morning, they were climbing up and down like monkeys,” Green joked. “In the Troop, they learn a lot of different skills for life – I know I have.”
At the 90th anniversary celebration, Green encountered former scouts who have gone on into a wide range of professions; present at the dinner were doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the Troop tradition of educating younger generations, there were also a number of teachers present.
“The Boy Scouts has always been a learning experience of encountering new people and situations,” Green said. “The adults learn just as much as the kids do.”