March 13, 2012

On 100th anniversary, one of Maine's oldest Girl Scouts reflects

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CUMBERLAND CENTER – Call her the reluctant Girl Scout.

click image to enlarge

Phyllis Kamin of Cumberland recounts her days as a member of the Girl Scouts in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Girl Scouts in Troop 42 from Cumberland and North Yarmouth model Girl Scout uniforms from different decades at the Cumberland Congregational Church last week. Front row, left to right: Madison Weatherbee, Isabella Chandler and Kylie Josephson. Back row, left to right: Abigail Cloutier and Hannah Craig.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

GIRL SCOUTS: 100th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS

Starting Monday, East End Cupcakes, 426 Fore St., Portland, will sell cupcakes inspired by Girl Scout cookies in honor of the organization’s centennial birthday. Over the next month, a different Girl Scout cookie cupcake will be sold each week, and they will be available Mondays and Saturdays only. The first cupcake will be based on Thin Mints. The second cupcake will be based on Peanut Butter Patties, and the third will be inspired by Caramel Delights. Alysia Zoidas, owner of East End Cupcakes, has not yet decided on a fourth flavor. The cupcakes will sell for $2.50 each, $14.50 per half-dozen and $28 per dozen.

On June 23, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Maine State Museum in Augusta will celebrate Girl Scout Day by hosting a special exhibit of Girl Scout memorabilia. The museum will also waive all entrance fees for the day, making the event free to the public. Girl Scouts statewide are invited to attend the opening-day celebration, which will include special activities planned by the museum staff. The exhibit will be on display through August.

On Sept. 29, the Girl Scouts of Maine and L.L. Bean (which also turns 100 this year) are partnering to present a “Celebration of Girl Scouts Day.” The event will include activities conducted by staff at the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School, a picnic and more. Details will be announced later.

To find out more about these events, or about the Girl Scouts in general, go to: girlscoutsofmaine.org.

It was Phyllis Kamin's sister Mimi who was the outdoorsy one in the family and grew up to be an active Scout leader. Kamin, who "didn't love" hiking, initially joined "because my sister dragged me into it," she recalled, chuckling.

But once Kamin was part of her local troop on the south side of Chicago, a whole new world opened up to her.

"We were in a big city," Kamin said at her home last week. "We all lived in apartment buildings surrounded by cement backyards. For us to have a campfire, we had to go to what was called a forest preserve, and probably took a street car there because our parents didn't own cars."

Kamin, who will turn 85 in a few weeks, is one of more than 50 million American women who can call themselves former Girl Scouts. The iconic organization – known for its green uniforms, badges awarded for doing good deeds and mastering certain life skills, and its earnest promise to God and country – celebrates its 100th birthday Monday.

That's a lot of campfires and cookies.

The Girl Scouts' centennial year will be filled with remembrances and special activities all over the country. On the East Coast, Girl Scouts of all ages have signed up to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. "The Great Girl Scout Hike" launches Monday and ends Oct. 31, on the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low, the woman who founded the organization on March 12, 1912.

The 10 girls in Girl Scout Troop 42 from Cumberland and North Yarmouth will wear vintage Girl Scout uniforms to church today. Last month, as part of a larger project interviewing former Girl Scouts, the troop met with Kamin to hear what it was like to be a Scout during the Great Depression.

Troop leader Michelle Josephson said the girls were struck by how Kamin's troop embraced diversity in the late 1930s by including a girl who had a disability. The Girl Scouts have always been known for being inclusive, perhaps because their founder was deaf and had some other health problems in her lifetime.

"Phyllis told the girls that it didn't matter what people looked like or how they acted or what their abilities were, they were really just all girls and they were in Girl Scouts to have fun together," Josephson said.

Kamin joined the Girl Scouts in 1938 or 1939 – she can't remember exactly which year – when she was 10 or 11.

Yes, she wore the classic green shirtwaist dress, but there were no sashes or vests back then, so when she earned a new badge, it got sewn onto her sleeve. Instead of a sash, the girls wore colored kerchiefs around their necks.

Kamin's family and friends were poor, so it took them a while to pay for their uniforms. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, and Kamin remembers her mother washing clothes in the bathtub. Her father was a grocer, and her mother was a housewife who, at one point, made money for the family by selling encyclopedias door to door.

Kamin recalls how difficult it was to sell Girl Scout cookies in those days. There was only one kind -- the Trefoils -- and they cost just 25 cents a box. There was no expectation that parents would help with sales the way they do today.

"There weren't many people that could afford to buy cookies, so you were lucky if you sold one box to a family," Kamin said. "Now I watch my granddaughter, who was selling cookies a couple of years ago, taking orders for six or eight boxes of cookies at $3.50 a box, and it's like, 'Wow, what a difference.' "

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