James Mackorell carries a binder and a wrinkled, yellowed picture of a Boy Scout troop from the 1920s.
The 78-year-old former Scoutmaster has spent almost two years trying to contact men who were scouts in Troop 39 over the past 100 years.
“The only record that we have of them is when they were a boy living with their parents, and now I’m trying to locate them,” said Mackorell, who served as Troop 39’s Scoutmaster for 43 years beginning in 1964.“It’s a mammoth job.”
Mackorell said he hopes to reach the scouts to invite them to the troop’s centennial celebration next spring. The event will include a display of memorabilia, a celebration dinner and a special Court of Honor ceremony at the University United Methodist Church.
“Most of them are in their mid-term of life, raising families, so they just want to come back, chew the fat more or less, about the old days,” said Mackorell, known to the scouts as? “Mr. Mack.”
“I tell ya, there are so many, many stories.”
In his binder, Mackorell has compiled a list of 1,326 names of past scouts. To gather the names, he went to the Occoneechee Boy Scout Council headquarters in Raleigh to make a copy of each year’s charter from the troop’s official recognition in March 1912 to 1999.
Troop 39, formerly known as Troop 1 and later Troop 5, is one of the oldest continuously chartered troops — if not the oldest — in the nation. The Boy Scouts of America just celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.
The troop was started by C. Walton Johnson, a senior at UNC in 1912, and has strong ties with the University. Its chartering sponsor institution was the Campus Y, and in its inaugural year, Johnson took the scouts on their first camping trip to what is now the Forest Theatre.
The troop also had a close relationship with the UNC faculty, Mackorell said.
“It became known as the ‘Wonder Troop’ because if a kid — let’s say he wanted to work on a biology merit badge — he wouldn’t do a thing but go over to the professor,” Mackorell said. “The professors just bent over backwards to work with them.”
UNC journalism professor Jock Lauterer said he remembers getting his bugling merit badge by playing tunes he knew by heart for the head of the music department.
Even the troop’s neckerchiefs were changed from black to a design that reflected its ties to the University.
“One half is Carolina blue, and one half is Carolina white,” Lauterer said. “It’s obviously an UNC-affiliated troop. I’ve never seen a neckerchief like it.”
Some of the scouts went on to be students and professors at the University — Caldwell and Abernethy halls were named after past scouts, Mackorell said.
“The troop was such an integral part of Chapel Hill because that was, you may say, the only youth organization,” he said. “They didn’t have Little League and all that, so most of the guys were in scouting.”
In 1971, Troop 39 began recycling glass for the town on Plant Road. The troop later built another recycling center on Airport Road — now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — where the scouts recycled glass, paper and aluminum for 27 years.
Former scout Mike Hoffer said he remembers weekends working at the center with his patrol of 10 scouts.
“You’d go out there with your patrol on Saturday morning and greet the people coming in and take their glass to crush it up and send it off,” said Hoffer, who opened a hardware store years later with a fellow troop member.
The money the troop made recycling was used to pay for transportation and supplies for trips. Each month the troop goes camping, “rain, sleet, snow or shine,” Mackorell said.
“I’ve been camping when it was so cold that the eggs froze, and the water in the canteen froze solid,” Mackorell said.
During his time as master, one of Mackorell’s former scouts, Thomas Giduz, helped set up an exchange program with a troop in Bristol, England, that still exists today.
Current Scoutmaster Sammy Rape said he enjoys watching the boys apply survival and hiking skills on exchange trips to England and Switzerland.
“Spending time with them and hanging out and getting to know them and watching their development and their leadership skills develop is just a great experience,” he said.
Contact the City Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.