Museum hopes Camp Fire USA exhibit sparks reunion

The “Camp Fire: Igniting the Spark in Hancock County since 1923” exhibit opened Feb. 1 at the Hancock Historical Museum, featuring a collection of Camp Fire USA memorabilia. Museum staff hope the exhibit’s ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday will serve as a reunion for former Camp Fire Girls. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
STAFF WRITER

The history of Camp Fire USA is being highlighted in a special exhibit at the Hancock Historical Museum, and museum staff are hoping for a mini reunion of former members at the ribbon cutting Tuesday.

The event with the Findlay-Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Red Coats will be held at 2:30 p.m., and the museum will remain open until 6.

“Even if they miss the ribbon cutting, then they can still come and view the exhibit and kind of get together. We’d love for this to be a reunion,” said museum curator and archivist Joy Bennett. “I’d love to get all of these girls who went to Camp Glen together.”

“Camp Fire: Igniting the Spark in Hancock County since 1923” opened Feb. 1. The exhibit, which includes a collection of Camp Fire memorabilia, tells the story of the organization that was the first of its kind for girls and promoted community service and leadership through group activities and projects. Objects on display incorporate the entire history of Camp Fire and include everything from uniforms, patches, journals and magazines to more unusual items such as crafts, jewelry and scrapbooks. Bennett said the public brought in many of the items that are on display.

“It’s interesting to see what people saved,” she said.

According to a history provided by Bennett, Camp Fire USA was founded in Vermont in 1910 by Dr. Luther Gulick and his wife, Charlotte, and was intended to offer girls an organization similar to the Boy Scouts.

“It focused on Native American tradition. They spent a lot of time in the woods,” said Bennett.

Findlay followed with a group organized in fall 1923 with Bernice Kieffer, Isabel Perry and Mrs. J.W. Main as guardians. Two other groups were added that winter. The girls had their first camp at Highland Park on Lake St. Marys near Celina. The movement grew over the next few years and, in 1929, the Camp Fire Council was officially organized and chartered in Findlay with Mrs. I.F. Matteson as president.

The first Grand Council was held in Findlay on March 29, 1930, and the highest rank in Camp Fire, Torch Bearer, was awarded to four girls.

Bennett said members received both badges and emblems for completing various projects.

“The different color beads and sizes meant different things, so you had to do a certain number of projects in a certain category to get a bead,” she explained. “So the more beads you had, the fancier your vest was. You also got patches for specific things, but it was really more bead centric.”

A camping program at Camp Sandusky, located on the Sandusky River in Seneca County, was instated, and the first camp held there in July 1931 hosted 44 Camp Fire Girls. Activities included canoeing, archery, science, arts and crafts, volleyball and swimming. In 1936, a community house for Camp Fire Girls was established on the Wyer Farm, east of Findlay on Township Road 234. This was known as the Camp Fire Cabin, said Bennett. The cabin was an old schoolhouse with bunk beds, a fireplace, a small kitchen and two outhouses.

“They would spend weekends there, and they’d have to go out and cook on a stove outside. Everybody’s story — everybody loved it — but everybody has a story about mice,” she said.

The inside walls were covered with the names of Camp Fire Girls who had spent nights there in the past. Rules to use the cabin referred to this tradition, said Bennett.

“The sign-up sheet says, even though others have signed their names, you are not to add your name to it,” she laughed.

The organization grew in popularity and, by 1946, there were 870 participants and 23 Camp Fire groups in Findlay. At that time, the girls went to Camp Pittenger near McCutchenville.

The council name was changed in 1957 to No-We-Oh, representing the first two letters of the three words “north,” “western,” “Ohio.” The name reflected the membership extending outside of Findlay into Hancock County.

Activities during the early years included selling flowers for the blind, doughnut drives, tree plantings, selling cookies, making bandages for the cancer society and hosting a doll buggy parade and a loony hat party. During World War II, members collected aluminum and rags.

Camp Glen in Tiffin was established in 1959 as a summer camp for the No-We-Oh Council. A contribution of Mrs. O.D. (Glen) Donnell, the camp contained 107 acres with an abundance of wooded areas and a swimming pool.

By 1960, membership was divided into three age groups including Blue Birds, Camp Fire Girls and Horizon Club.

When the girls were not camping and performing outdoor tasks, they participated in practical skills such as cooking and sewing projects, said Bennett. They earned honors for performing tasks within a certain topic including: home, outdoors, creative arts, frontier, business, sports and games, and citizenship. As they completed and performed these tasks, they were moved to a higher rank. The three ranks were Wood Gatherer, Fire Maker and Torch Bearer.

Nationally, the organization expanded to include boys in the 1970s and in Findlay in the early 1990s.

Although some of the early traditions have changed — for example the long ceremonial gowns are gone — the organization still awards beads and emblems for achievements, said Bennett. Another longstanding tradition is the annual dishcloth sale to help members raise money for camp.

“They sold candy once, but everybody just really remembers those dishcloths,” she said.

The exhibit will remain on display through August.

Wolf: 419-427-8419
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