The adventures of Scouter Russ
He leads children on hikes along the Bruce Trail.
He can light a fire with wet wood and one match.
“It's called a barbecue lighter,” he says with just a hint of a smirk.
He can run (and keep up) with a bunch of five to seven-year olds.
“But not far,” he says.
He's taken Scouts on canoe trips to Algonquin. Repaired outhouses and cleaned windows. And he's attended more gone home ceremonies than he would like for Scouter friends who have died.
He can also make a turtle from an egg carton cell then race it along an upside down along a drapery track. Indeed, all part of the adventures he's experienced in his 65 years as a volunteer Scouter.
And at 82, Grimsby's Russ Kelk has no immediate thoughts of slowing down.
“Life is fun,” he says. “I like to help people grow.”
On this day, he sits inside Scout Hut, a one-room meeting place beside Beamer Falls for 1st North Grimsby youth and reflects on more than six decades of service.
He points to a piece of paper posted on a nearby wall. The Scout Law:
A Scout is helpful and trustworthy,
kind and cheerful,
considerate and clean,
wise in the use of all resources.
“That's the way you're supposed to live your life,” he says.
His service to Scouts Canada was celebrated recently at a ceremony honouring volunteers across the province for their years of service to local organizations. In Niagara, 355 residents received an Ontario Volunteer Service Award.
In Scouting, Kelk has earned many awards, including the Bar to the Silver Acorn for continued distinguished service. He has been a Scouter in all sections, from Beavers to Rovers, in Toronto, Peterborough and Grimsby for the Fruitbelt area. He's trained other Scouters. He's served as the Fruitbelt's group commissioner. And he has so many crests, from so many camps and other events, he has three campfire blankets to display them all.
These days, he is Beaver leader to a group of five-to-seven-year-old girls and boys.
The kids call him Bubbles.
That's his scouting name, chosen for him by one of his beaver colonies to reflect the exuberance of his
personality. He likes to laugh and joke around. His Fruitland hat – a brimmed cap covered with grapes and other assorted plastic fruit – is one of his many trademarks. And he always has plenty of stories to tell.
Years ago, Kelk wore a beige felt hat as a new leader. In Toronto, it was tradition to take his group of Cubs to the end of the Bloor streetcar line and hike to the Humber River. They'd carry large pots and cobs of corn to have a roast. On one particular occasion, they were short one pot lid.
“I said, 'I know what to do',” says Kelk, smiling.
His Scouts Canada-issued hat was just the right size to cover the pot opening.
And it worked, right up to the point when one of the Cubs informed it that it was floating in the churning water.
“It softened the brim,” says Kelk. “Made it wavy.”
Years later, his wife ordered him a new Stetson from Eaton's. He wore it to at least one Cub Halloween party, dressed up as Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting.
Indeed, his propensity to appear at meetings in costume has earned him the nickname, Mr. Dressup.
He's dressed up as a pirate. At a Circus-themed Cuboree, he wore a frizzy rainbow clown wig and blue polka dotted suit . And for a St. Patrick's Day meeting he came dressed in a blazing orange beard and green hat and vest.
He's taken a group of Venturers to Ireland. He's been to three Canadian jamborees and one world. He's attended countless Gilwell reunions, an annual gathering of scouters with advanced leadership training. “I'm now at an age where I get to sit in the front row,” he says, laughing.
And he can tell many stories created in the wilderness of Algonquin.
On one trip with his Scout troop, he was ahead of them portaging a canoe and came upon a bear on the trail.
“What should I do? Drop the canoe and run? No, I yelled and the bear left,” he says.
“I didn't tell the kids about it.”
Preparing for another trip, his Scouts were practising their cooking skills by making mashed potatoes from dehydrated flakes.
One of the Scouts came up to him. “Something's wrong with the potatoes. They don't look right,” reported the Scout.
“Did you follow the directions?” asked Kelk.
Sure enough, when Kelk observed the contents inside the pot, it resembled potato soup. The Scout had added too much water.
“What do I do now?” he asked Kelk.
“Put some oatmeal in it and it will be fine.”
And it was.
As a boy, Kelk joined Cubs younger than usual because his sister's boyfriend was Akela – the pack's leader. “So I got in a bit early,” he says.
In those days, the uniform was made from wool and featured knee-high socks, shorts and a green wool cap with six yellow stripes converging at the top. As a Scout, he earned the top Queen's Scout award and was given a Bushman's Thong, a braided leather strap worn around the shoulder.
It symbolized proficiency with outdoor survival skills like snaring an animal or starting a friction fire with a bow drill. Kelk used it to make one memorable fire -- on his mother's linoleum kitchen floor.
“That was the only place I got it to work,” he says.
Kelk has been in Scouting so long, he has danced with the wives of Cubs who were in his first packs. Indeed, scouting is part of his family. Part of his life.
According to Scouts Canada, Kelk does not have the most years served. Yet. There are two active members with 70 years of service, said John Petitti, Executive Director, Marketing and Communications.
“We deeply appreciate Scouter Russ’ commitment to Scouting,” said Petitti in an email. “His positive impact has been felt by thousands of Canadian youth over the past six and a half decades.”
When Kelk met his wife, Yvonne, he politely suggested that if she wanted to spend more time with him, she should join Scouting. She did. Sixty years ago when they married, a few Cubs from his pack were part of the ceremony, carrying the Union Jack and Cub pack flags.
All part of the passion he has for youth.
“The fun makes it not work,” said Kelk, “And you're helping young people grow and develop.”