Remembering Owasippe


by Mary Duggan


I’ve been thinking lately about boy scouts; or should I say I’ve been reminiscing lately about boy scouts. A few weeks ago, while attending an event at a local church, I stumbled into a small room designated for boy scout meetings. It was banged up and dingy in the way you’d expect the scouting room to be. And there on the wall was a photo of Chief Owasippe admonishing scouts to join him at summer camp in Wisconsin.
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Politically so very incorrect. But what a memory!

Owasippe? I hadn’t heard that word in decades. Owasippe. That mysterious, magical summer place that drew in my brothers each summer. Boom. I was a grade schooler again, helping my mother prepare 4 of my 6 brothers for their summer boy scout camp experience. Mom and I sewed on endless pieces of cotton tape with the name Duggan printed on it; carefully stitching our family name inside dozens of briefs, cotton jammies, tube socks and swim trunks. As the years passed, the stitch on tape became iron-on tape, and then finally Magic Marker written directly onto waistbands.


I wasn’t enlightened enough to feel jealous. In fact, I was such a shy little bookworm homebody that it would never have occurred to me that a few weeks at summer camp was a grand adventure I wasn’t being afforded. Instead Mom and I kept the focus on the boys, and being prepared – so I guess I was being a bit of a scout myself. I wasn’t a girl scout, and they didn’t have a summer camp anyways. I could have been a girl scout; but it looked to me like more of the domestic skills of sewing, cooking, crafts, and baby sitting that I was already mastering under my mother’s guidance. And none of the magic and mystery of Owasippe.
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So many full-grown men make me want to scream: were you not a boy scout?!?!

I remember missing my brothers when they were gone; but I also enjoyed the quiet that came with their departure. Girls and babies were left behind to have our own close-to-home adventures, and maybe just a little bit more of Mom and Dad’s attention. There would be root beer floats in the evening, going for a drive in the car to cool down, and maybe a trip to Western Avenue for Rainbow Cones. And Mom was sure to prepare a fried chicken dinner for the beach, picking up Dad in the city on the way, his swim trunks on under his work slacks. Special treats that said you might not be at scout camp, but, you deserve some summer fun, too.


I can remember my brothers’ triumphant homecomings –  toting oodles of disgusting laundry – that I would be expected to help with. All of them competing to be heard with their stories of daring do, and skills mastered, until all of them, overcome by fatigue, bug bites, and sunburns tumbled into their twin beds and slept for what seemed like days.
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June, 1962. John, center, flanked by Paul and Tom, becomes an Eagle Scout. Front yard photo.

Of all my brothers, John, the eldest, was the most serious about scouting and the whole family was proud when he became an Eagle Scout. When I stumbled recently upon that picture of Chief Owasippe urging boys to summer camp, I snapped a picture and sent it to my brother John, now nearly 70 years old, living contentedly in a high rise in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was curious to see what the photo would evoke. How would he feel about scouting so many years later, so much of life now lived? So much experienced that nothing could have prepared us for.


“Owasippe! I haven’t seen that word in decades!” he wrote back to me. I would not have been surprised to have him lecture me on cultural mis-appropriation; or comment on the political missteps scouting leadership has made in recent years. Or even bridge from scouting into his standard tirade about the systemic abuse within Catholic Schools. But the photo triggered nothing of the sort.
“I have so many happy memories of scouting.” he said. “And I learned a lot, even if I doubt I will ever be called upon to start a fire on the streets of Manhattan.”


There are so few memories from childhood that are clean and simple and true. I was happy for both of us that we had this one to look back on. And smile as we whispered the magical word –  Owasippe!


Mary Duggan

About the author: Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters, creators of lifestinks® natural deodorant that actually works and lifestings® DEET-free bug repellent. 

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