The Life of a Serendipitist

I think it is important to have “Hero’s” in life. People that we look up to or try to learn from chapters of their lives. William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt is one of my hero’s. His love for the Scouting program drove him and in the end elevated him to a father of Scouting in one sense or another. Scouting in America would not be what it is without Green Bar Bill. I wish I could have met him.
William Hillcourt wrote the following essay on his life. I want to share it with you, because I think that in the end we will all find that there is a hidden treasure out there with our name on it.

Who is today's "Green Bar Bill"?The Life of a Serendipitist
By William Hillcourt

Did you ever hear the story of the King of Serendip? He had three sons. He was proud of them and saw to it that they had the very best upbringing. He brought in the finest swordsmen and athletes of his kingdom to coach them in all the fitness skills of a true knight. He had the wisest men of the country teach them about the world and its wonders. He himself taught them kingship: how to rule with compassion and fairness.

He loved his three sons equally well. But as he grew old, he wondered which of them would make the best king when his own days were up. He decided to put them to the test: He sent them out into the world with one year to find a very special treasure. When the year was up, they returned.

All three had failed! Not one of them had found the treasure he had been sent out to find. BUT-each of them had found a treasure far more precious than any their father could have imagined!

Out of this story of the King of Serendip have come two words for the English language: serendipity, a gift for finding valuable things not sought for, and serendipitist, the person who does the finding.

Columbus, the greatest serendipitist of all time, became one at the age of 41. I became one at 25. The treasureColumbussought was the fulfillment of his dream of findingIndiaby sailing west. Mine was the fulfillment of a similar dream: of circling the globe before settling down in my nativeDenmarkfor the rest of my life.

Columbusfailed in his quest. He did not find the route toIndia. He found something far superior: a new world. I failed in mine-for the time being. But I, too, found something far better than what I sought. I found a different country to treasure and serve, a girl to love and cherish, a challenging career and a lifework in Scouting.

It took some doing. It took timing, special skills, willingness to take a chance and the ability to recognize treasure when I saw it, plus some extraordinary coincidences. As to timing: I was born at exactly the right time for Scouting, in 1900, the year when a British officer by the name of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell became the greatest military hero in the war the British Empire was fighting in South Africa.

I was 10 at the right time for becoming a Scout inDenmark: Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys had just been translated into Danish. I got it for a Christmas gift. It told me how to become a Scout. I became one in January 1911.

I was at the right age also and had reached the right advancement-the Danish equivalent of Eagle-when my troop picked me to represent it at the first World Jamboree inLondonin 1920. I celebrated my birthday that year by joining 5,000 other Scouts in proclaiming Baden-Powell Chief Scout of the World.

And my timing was right when, at 25, I set out to see the world, fit and prepared with the kind of know-how I would need to get along.

But let me get back to my beginnings.

I was born on August 6, 1900, in Aarhus, Denmark, the third son of a prosperous building contractor. My childhood years were carefree ones. My teen-age years were rough. My father nearly went bankrupt in an economic depression of 1909. He kept the family afloat building stations for the expanding Danish railroad. We moved from place to place wherever his work took him. My Scouting became Lone Scouting: Troops were few and far apart in those early days of Danish Scouting. When we finally returned to my home town, my Scout life really took off. I became a patrol leader and senior patrol leader in Aarhus Troop 3 under an extraordinary Scoutmaster, Jorgen Boje.

By then I had to think of my future. My main hobbies as a boy had been chemistry and botany. They added up to pharmacy. For my early training, I became a “disciple” in the 400-year-old pharmacy of my home town. When my disciple years were over, I went to Copenhagen to finish my studies at the Pharmaceutical College. I had hardly arrived before I was invited to become the Scoutmaster of Copenhagen’s most famous troop, Vedel’s Own. I accepted.

I had another childhood hobby to satisfy: writing. In whatever time I had left from studying and of the Danish Boy Scouts, got out a Scout handbook and wrote a boys’ book based on the experience of my own patrol camping on a desert island in Denmark’s largest lake. It wasn’t a runaway best seller, but it had a respectable sale for a first novel by a 23-yearold.

Danish Scouting was astir in those days. The Danish team at the lst World jamboree in London had won the world championship in Scouting. Because of that, the 2nd World Jamboree was coming to Denmark. I made up my mind that my whole Copenhagen troop would take part in it. It did.

At the same time I made up my mind about my own future. I had become a full-fledged pharmacist in May 1924. One week after, I walked into the office of one of the largestCopenhagennewspapers and offered my services as its jamboree correspondent. “I know all about jamborees,” I told the editor. I had been at the only one ever held. “And I can write.” I had two books to show him. He took me on. And I left pharmacy forever.

My reporting must have been satisfactory. After the jamboree, the editor made me the managing editor of the paper’s Sunday magazine. I could look forward to a good solid newspaper career.

But I had become a restless dreamer. The two world jamborees had stirred my blood. I had met people from around the world. I wanted to meet them on their home grounds. I arranged with my newspaper to be its roaming reporter on a trip around the world. I took off in September 1925, coveredLondonand southernEngland, then settled down for a month inLiverpoolto write another boys’ book. It paid my boat fare forNew York, where I landed in February 1926. There I spent the spring writing articles about its teeming life.

From time to time I visited the national office of the Boy Scouts to pick up my mail fromDenmarkand to see a friend, Bill Wessel. He had been the Scoutmaster of the American troop that won the world championship in Scouting at the jamboree inDenmark. He arranged for me to spend the summer at the camp of the New York Boy Scouts.

It was here that I became an Indian “expert.” Besides taking part in the camp’s main activities, I spent much of my time in the sub camp run by Julian Salomon who later wrote the book Indian Crafts and Indian Lore. He was to have staged four Indian dances for the large pageant that was to close the camp season but was called home because of illness in the family. The pageant director was frantic. Julian calmed him. “Use the Danish Scout,” he said, “he knows the dances.” So I was put to work teaching half-a hundred Brooklyn Scouts four Indian dances. The pageant was a success.

The Danish Chief Scout had asked me to find out how the sales of Scout uniforms and equipment were handled in other countries-in Denmark they had been in private hands from the start. To learn, I took a job with the BSA Supply Service.

On a cold December day I was checking in a shipment of World War I surplus army signal flag poles in front of the warehouse when one of the heavy boxes tumbled over, knocked me down and broke my right leg. An ambulance rushed me to the hospital. The bones were set and a plaster cast applied. I was out on the street on crutches three days later. I wasn’t particularly perturbed. “The Lord will provide,” I figured. He did.

A week after my accident I hobbled into the national office on my crutches to pick up my mail. I was walking to the elevator when an astonishing coincidence changed my life completely. Someone else was on his way to the same elevator: James E. West, the dynamic Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. He knew of my accident. He stopped to greet me, then said, “Well, my young man, what do you think of American Scouting?” The elevator came. We went down together, chatting.

His words may have been just a casual remark. But I took them seriously. I wrote an 18-page report and sent it to him. It was complimentary in spots, critical in others. But for each criticism I offered a suggestion for remedying the situation.

Within a week, he had me in his office. “While I don’t agree with everything in your report, I am interested in what you say about the Boy Scouts of America not using the patrol method effectively. You suggest that we should have a Handbook for Patrol Leaders. What should it contain?”

I told him what I had in mind.
“Would you be interested in writing it?” he asked.

“I should like to,” I said, “but my English isn’t that good.”

“For any person in this world who has an idea,” he told me, you can get a hundred to put it in final shape. So why not try?”

And that’s how I became a member of the national staff of the BSA.

My English in those days was the English of a 13-14-year-old American school boy, exactly the age of the boy leader for whom the book was intended. My manuscript was hardly touched in editing. I received the first copy of my first book in English the day I arrived atArrowePark,Birkenhead,England, for the opening of the 3rd World jamboree, July 31, 1929.

That fall the bottom fell out of the American economy with the stock market crash of October 29. The United Statessank into the deepest depression in its history. All phases of American life were affected, including magazine publishing. James E. West was determined that Boys Life, the Boy Scout magazine, should survive. But money was needed. He applied for a Rockefeller Foundation loan. The foundation studied the magazines contents. It came to the conclusion that Boys Life was not sufficiently different from the other boys’ magazines to warrant the loan. But it hinted that it might reconsider if more Scouting material were added.

I suddenly found myself an assistant editor of Boys’ Life responsible for editing its Scouting sections and writing a monthly feature of MY own. What should it be? I decided on a page of hints for patrol leaders. To make it more exciting, it should be written by a mysterious person. By what name? The patrol leader’s badge in those days was a square of cloth with two green bars embroidered on it. I took those bars, added my nickname and became Green Bar Bill in the October 1932 issue of Boys Life.

The following spring I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I had found the girl of my dreams, Grace Brown, the Chief Scout Executive’s personal secretary. As a teenager, she had vowed never to marry a foreigner, never to marry a blond, not to get married in June. But when a blond foreigner said to her, “The boat leaves for European June 3, will you marry me?” She didn’t say “No” and she didn’t say “Yes’-she said, “Of course!” She knew that all Danes spend most of their lives riding bicycles. She decided that our honeymoon trip through Denmark,Germany,Czechoslovakia,Austria   and into Hungary for the 4th World Jamboree should be by bike. We had an adventurous journey of exactly 100 days.

Back home again, we settled into a New York City apartment-but not for long.

The Schiff Scout Reservation, a beautiful 480-acre estate in the rolling hills of new Jersey, had been dedicated in 1933 as a training center for the Boy Scouts of America. Green Bar Bill had a dream that he conveyed to the Chief Scout Executive: “If Green Bar Bill is to go on urging patrols to a vigorous life in the outdoors, he should live in the outdoors he is writing about. He should live on the Schiff Scout Reservation.” West agreed. Green Bar Bill and his mate moved into their new home-a remodeled sheep barn in September 1934.

The twenty years that followed became the most productive of my whole life.

My first major assignment at Schiff was the writing of a new Handbook for Scoutmasters. I had been a Scoutmaster in Denmark but knew nothing about Scoutmastering American boys. To write the book, I had to know. I gathered the boys of the nearby Mendham village into a troop and took on the job of Scoutmaster. During the sixteen years of my Scoutmastership, Troop 1, Mendham, New Jersey, was the most photographed Scout troop in the world.

The earliest photographs were used to illustrate the Scoutmaster handbook. But when Life magazine came out in 1936 with a new kind of news reporting-photojournalism, combining photographs and captions-I figured that Scoutcraft could be learned the same way. I got the camera equipment I needed, a studio, a darkroom and a helper. With the Mendham Scouts as enthusiastic models, we turned out Boys Life photo features on hiking and camping, cooking and pioneering, swimming and Indian dancing, and many other subjects.

The hundreds, yes, thousands of pictures that were taken came in handy for my next brain storm: a handbook on Scouting illustrated entirely with photographs. It became our first Scout Field Book.

But, possibly, the most important thing to come out of the years we lived at Schiff was the relationship we established with the Chief Scout of the World and his wife, Lady Baden-Powell.

It began on a visit by the Baden-Powells to Schiff in 1935, when Lady B-P, by the coincidence of being with “the right people” at the right time came for breakfast with the Hillcourts and asked her husband to join us afterwards in our cottage. The relationship was greatly strengthened two years later during and after the 5th World Jamboree inHolland. The Baden-Powell’s adopted Grace while I was in camp and had us for house guests at “Pax Hill,” their home inEngland, afterwards. This close relationship specifically with Lady Baden-Powell after B-P’s death in 1941had some important outcomes: She granted me permission to edit Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys into the World Brotherhood Edition that helped reestablish Scouting in devastated countries around the world after World War II. She helped me with the research for my biography about the founder of Scouting,BadenPowell-The Two Lives of a Hero, by turning over to me all her husband’s letters, diaries and sketchbooks. She later presented all these valuable documents to the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1954, the national office of the Boy Scouts of America was moved from New York City to its own building in North Brunswick,New Jersey. In addition to my regular work, I was now assigned the most important task of my whole Scouting career the writing of a new Handbook for Boys to celebrate the forthcoming Golden Jubilee of the Boy Scouts of America. This would involve intensive work in the national office. And so, the Hillcourts left the Schiff Scout Reservation after twenty years and moved into a garden apartment within walking distance of the office.

The new handbook, for the first time with color illustrations and written by a single author, and with the new title of Boy Scout Handbook, was ready for the 50th anniversary festivities in February 1960. So was another book of celebration, The Golden Anniversary Book of Scouting, with text by Bill Hillcourt telling the 50-year history of Scouting in America.

The day for my retirement from the national staff of the Boy Scouts of America arrived August 1, 1965. Grace and I, in 1971, celebrated it by taking off on the trip around the world I had failed to complete at 23. We made it coincide with yet another jamboree, the 13th, in Japan. It was Grace’s sixth and last before she died in 1973. It was my ninth. I finally managed to attend 13 world jamborees out of 15 and all the national Jamborees.

Except for traveling, I had expected a fairly tranquil retirement. But something else was “in the works” that would change my plans again.

A new handbook for Boy Scouts was needed, one that would tell about the romance and excitement of Scouting. I came out of retirement and gave the Boy Scouts of America an offer they couldn’t refuse: “I will give you a year of my life free, gratis, without pay, to write a new Boy Scout Handbook.” My offer was accepted. I started the book October 25, 1977. I finished it October 25, 1978. It came out on schedule, February 8, 1979. Today, three million copies are in print.

After that Boy Scout Handbook came out, I traveled around the country and spoke to Scouters by the thousands at council dinners and conferences. I have met Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Explorers by the tens of thousands at large council shows and camporees, at Diamond Jubilee celebrations and at the National Jamboree.

You may even be one of those Scouts. Did I sign your book? Were you one of the Scouts who asked me if he might shake my hand? Did you possibly press a troop badge or a council patch into my hand? Wherever we may have been together we must both have felt the same vibrant spirit all around us: a great pride in the past of our movement and faith in its future.

I hope you enjoyed that essay as much as I do.  William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt is in fact a hero of mine in every sense of the word.  He shaped Scouting in America as we know it.  Those of us that appreciate the program, it’s history and tradition should continue to look to Green Bar Bill for inspiration, guidance, and the path to running our Scouting programs.
Thanks for hanging in there and coming back to the Scoutmaster Minute Blog.
Hey, if you enjoy the blog, please let me know.  Pass this on to your friends and feel free to share.

Have a Great Scouting Day!


img_2859As this new Journey begins I thought it was time for a new look.. a fresh start.. that feeling you have when you change your socks before a long hike, you know, it feels warm on your feet, clean, and cozy.
With my renewed sense of enthusiasm, focused direction, and vision for the next 24 months or so I felt the need to clean up the blog and step off on the journey fresh.
In the header picture I put a saying that has become somewhat of a mantra in our Wood Badge circles.. “The Journey is the Thing!”.  It is not about the “stuff” or the little things that bog us down, it is about the experience of our journey.  On the Wood Badge course, in our Troops, and in our lives it is all about the journey.
We set benchmarks and way points that help us find our way or create places where we stop and reflect.  At those points we create and share memories and bookmarks of our journey.. but it is always about the journey.
Too many times we rush to an end only to find.. the end.  What is next?  We see that in our Scouts.  They race to achieve a rank or merit badge, but then what?  What did we learn, what did we accomplish, who did we effect, what was the legacy that will looked back on?  Did we do the “Thing” just to do the “thing”?  Or was there something more important that we may have missed.  We we look at the journey we see a greater vision of were we want to go, what we want to look like, what our legacy will be.  We can chart a course to making our time on life’s trail worth walking.
Now, I don’t want to sound to lofty or like I am making an attempt at being the next guru.. but I am suggesting that we take a closer look at our journey and understand that while we fill our lives with “things” or “Stuff”.. in the end the things and stuff will only become snap shots along the way of the journey.. mostly forgotten when it gets replaced with the next “thing” or collection of “stuff”.
The journey is the thing.  It is important that we do not loose focus on the importance of having a life that is legacy driven and more meaningful.
Don’t run out and get rid of your stuff… make them a meaningful part of the journey.
Look at the trail you find yourself on and ask yourself is the Journey the thing?  If not, what can I do to change that?
Your vision is powerful and will be life changing for you and those around you.  Make sure to be laser focused on the Journey.  It is the thing.

Have a Great Scouting Day!


Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting behind a young man as his advocate at his Eagle Scout Board of Review.  I have sat behind many young men as they answered questions and talked to tEaglecourthe board about leadership and their Scouting experience.  Each time as we prepare to walk in to the board, I give them a bit of advice or encouragement.  I always say to the young man, “Represent your family and our Troop well.”  They never disappoint.
By the time they get to the Eagle Board there is not much else to say.  They have the skills, they are good leaders, and they have demonstrated all that it takes to be called an Eagle Scout.
Being an Eagle Scout at that point is not as much about what they have done, but what they are about to do in their lives.  All of the skills, the leadership development, the projects, the camping, and being apart of a team has shaped them.  It has made them a young man that certainly represents themselves and their families well.
The board looks at the young man as representative of his Troop.  They spend an hour with a young man as see how effective the Troop uses the methods and how well the Aims of Scouting are being achieved in the unit.  The Eagle Candidate becomes the measure of a successful Scouting program and representative of all that is great about Scouting.
Tonight was no exception.  Our young man tonight represented us all well.
One of the things that I love about the Eagle Board of Review is the “outside” members of the board.  Those members of the board from within the community, the Scouts Church or School or from Dad’s work.  For many of them, they are unfamiliar with Scouting or Scouting’s programs.  They know that Scouts help old ladies across the street, but after an hour sitting with our young men, they learn what Scouting is really all about.  They see leadership in action, they see growth of our young men, they see friendship and teamwork.  They are introduced to programs that build memories and skills.  They get a first hand look at how cool our Scouts really think Scouting is.  They get to see the Scouting experience manifested in a young man that will soon be a valuable member of our community.  It is a great representation of Scouting.
I am proud of all of the young men that have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in our unit.  I know that they earned it and it means a great deal to them and us.  They represent us all well.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

I’m Back

readywaveAfter about a year off.. The Blog is back!.. Now I don’t expect you all to jump up and down and praise the Scouting gods. And.. I’m not going to give a long explanation as to why I took some much needed time away.. lets just say.. The blog was not a priority lately.
So here is what is going on…
First. Life is good.. Life is REAL Good!
Second. Over the past year we have been launching a program within my unit and within the Cascade Pacific Council called Vertical Scouting. I will post more about this later.. but it is a fantastic way of growing units, keeping youth in Scouting longer, and promoting the full spectrum of Scouting programs. It is working well and being received well within the Council. More on that later.
And Third. Wood Badge! I staffed again this summer. Assistant Scoutmaster for Program for W1-492-16-1. It was a week long course, the first time our Council has done a week long course in many years. That took a lot of time and energy.. but it was fantastic. At the end of the Course it was announced that I will be a Course Director for Wood Badge in 2017. I have know this for some time, but have not been able to share that information till now. And so this journey begins.
This is where the Blog is going to kick off.
The blog.. for the most part for the next year is going to focus on the journey that is W1-492-17-2.. my course!
Needless to say, I am excited and humbled that I have been chosen. This is a big thing for me. I love the Wood Badge program and understand the lasting impact it has in the Scouting world.. in the real world also for that matter.
So.. I’m back. You can expect frequent posts and yep.. more video also as I share this new chapter in my life.
Thanks for hanging in there. I notice that even though I stopped.. you all didn’t. Subscriptions continued to come it. I am thankful of each and everyone of you that read the blog.
I am sorry if I disappointed you by shutting it down for a bit. Truly I am.

Thanks again!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

A super busy Weekend

febhoodHere’s the recap:
First,  Friday night the Troop headed to the CPC’s winter lodge for a great night of fun.  We stayed the night at the lodge and on Saturday morning ventured out to White River for a night in the snow.
Once we got the Troop over to White River I had to get off the mountain to meet my wife and pick up our new RV travel trailer.  We got it home and then it was time to change and head to Pack 717’s Blue and Gold dinner.  I was invited for two reasons, first to speak about Friends of Scouting and launch their campaign.  And second, I was there to greet 8 young Scouts as they crossed from Cub Scouts into our Troop.  The Blue and Gold went long, but it was a very nice evening.
After the Blue and Gold, I changed back into my cold weather gear and headed back to White River up on Mt. Hood and met up with the Troop (camping already in progress).
I got my hammock set up and fell into a deep sleep.
We woke up this morning to a beautiful view of Mt. Hood, packed and headed home.
Final part of the weekend was taking my lovely wife out to dinner to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.  I am blessed.
Thanks for hanging with the blog!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Creating separation

4-PercentOnce a Scout meets the requirements for First Class the focus changes from basic skills development to discovering all that Scouting has to offer, service, and leadership.
The Scout will discover Scouting through the merit badge program, high adventure bases, Jamboree’s and being an active member of his Troop.  Often times his participation in high adventure increases once he has developed the skills and is a little more mature and taking on greater responsibilities in the unit.
But it is in leadership that the Scout starts to separate himself from the pack.  When a Scout sits with me for his First Class and Star conferences I explain to him that it is important to begin that separation from the crowd.  I am not suggesting that they leave, I am encouraging them to stand out.
Only 4 percent of all Scouts that stay in our program will earn the Eagle award.  Only 4%.  So it is important for a Scout that wants to earn his Eagle award to stand out from the other 96%.  There is a difference in those young men.  Not everyone is supposed to get their Eagle.  It takes dedication and effort and a willingness to serve and lead.  The Scout that does not separate will not stand out in leadership and service.  They need not go above and beyond.. they only need to meet the standard, but the standard [when kept] is high… by design.
While I want all of my Scouts to achieve the rank of Eagle, I find it more important that they have a well rounded Scouting experience.  I want to them to demonstrate sound leadership and develop the heart of a servant.  In the world in which we find ourselves.. that is a stand out person.  We can teach the value of merit and working for what you get.  We can reverse the cycle of “participation trophies” and meaningless activity. The Scout that learns about the value of setting goals, working hard, and making a choice to be better than average is a young man that is separating himself from his peers to be a better man.
Creating separation is an important part of achieving goals and being a better man.  It is easy to go with the flow and maintain mediocrity.  It is another thing to actually do your very best and make a choice to make a difference.
Encourage your Scouts to stand out.. separate from the pack.. be better.
Thanks for hanging out on the blog.. let me know what you think.
Have a Great Scouting Day!


A quick word about the ads that are in the sidebar of the blog.
I have had a few questions asking about the ads in the sidebar of the blog… well.. not so much questions, but concerns that I am monetizing the blog or making a profit off of it. Well, rest assured I am not making money on this blog..
I reached out to the three companies that I have ads for., Tatogear, and Solostove.  ClassB and Tatogear are companies owned and operated by Scouters.  Solo Stove is a product that I whole heartily endorse.   While I have received products from all three, I am not making money on them.  I do have a affiliate account with Solo Stove, but the truth is I can not access it and so have not seen any payment from them is over a year.  When I was getting my percentage from the “Click throughs” I was buying stoves to give away.
I do not want the blog to turn into a bulletin board.. but I am willing to endorse and place ads on the blog.  If you have a company that does Scouting related business and gear.. I would entertain placing, testing, reviewing, and endorsing you and your company or product.
No, I am not monetizing my blog or YouTube channel.
By the way.. like, subscribe, and share the blog, youtube channel, and facebook site.  Also follow me on Twitter.. always looking for ways to connect.
Have a Great Scouting Day!