Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image In January, the Tooele County School District opted to sell Harris Elementary School after the new Sterling Elementary opened. Staff Writer Tim Gillie asks how much time will pass before the next generation of Tooeleans don’t know the story of Sterl Harris.

May 24, 2018
Don’t let moss cover our memories of Tooele

I received news a year ago from my Scouting friends in Washington state that the Scout camp I attended and worked at for 25 years was going to be resurrected.

Pacific Harbors Council, the Boy Scout organization that now occupies southwest Washington state from Tacoma almost to Oregon and stretches from the peaks of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, announced a new long-range plan for its camping properties.

With a decline in membership and a more than corresponding decrease in summer campers, Scout officials in the area decided to abandon their large Boy Scout summer camp on the Olympic Peninsula and let it revert to the U.S. Forest Service.

Instead of maintaining their own Boy Scout summer camp, Pacific Harbors Council officials said they would work cooperatively with the other two Boy Scout councils that serve Western Washington to provide a quality outdoor experience for all Scouts.

They also announced at the same time that they would retain ownership of the 200-acre Scout camp 20 miles northwest of Olympia, Washington, that they inherited when they absorbed the former Tumwater Area Council many years ago.

Nestled in the peaks of the Black Hills on the shores of Summit Lake, I spent at least one week at Camp Thunderbird every summer from the time I was 12 through my 33rd year of this life, except for two years that I served a mission for the LDS Church in Scotland.

I rose through the ranks as a camper and counselor-in-training to eventually serve as the Camp Director.

The Pacific Harbors Council’s intentions for Camp Thunderbird, as I understand them, are to develop the property into a top-notch facility for Cub Scout camping, with the thought that if they can get the younger generation hooked on camping and the outdoors, they will grow up to be campers as Boy Scouts.

I don’t know what Pacific Harbors Council has been doing with my camp for the last 20 or 30 years, but the pictures I have seen of some of the facilities make it look kind of dilapidated and abandoned.

I saw a recent picture of the washstand in the campsite where I camped as a youth. Covered with thick green moss, you would never know it was really constructed out of sheet metal and wood.

The campsite obviously hasn’t been used in a long time.

I don’t blame them, though. I know firsthand that maintaining an outdoor education facility takes a lot of resources, and with dwindling funds, some maintenance and even use of facilities has to be scaled back.

Instead, I applaud the Pacific Harbors Council for a positive, forward thinking, long-range plan to continue to influence the lives of young people for the better with the attractive lure of the outdoors.

I mourn, along with the former Scouts and leaders who attended and sacrificed to build Camp Hahobas, the loss of their camp. 

Hahobas is one of several properties under the stewardship of the Pacific Harbors Council that will never feel the footsteps of scouts again.

Earlier this week, the person who I assume is the professional Scouter assigned to developing the new program for Camp Thunderbird, posted a plea for help on the “Camp Thunderbird Alumni” Facebook page.

She asked for help identifying biographical information for some of the names of buildings, campsites, trails, and other features at Camp Thunderbird. 

Who was Walt Hohl, Al Lewis, E.K. Bishop, and who was Thurston Trail named after, she asked.

Fortunately we were able to help her. 

A man named Jim Phillips offered his memories. Phillips was the Scout Executive of Tumwater Area Council for many years. His leadership helped develop Thunderbird’s facilities and program into one of the premier Scout camps in the northwest. 

We drew Scouts from Oregon, Tacoma, the Olympic Peninsula, the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and Canada, to our little camp near Olympia.

Phillips proffered that if the Scout professional had time for a long lunch, he would be happy to tell her the camp’s history and all about the people. (If you are reading this Jim, please be kind to me.)

Institutional memory is the collected set of facts, concepts, experiences, and knowledge held by a group of people. 

In the workplace, employees often pass informal institutional knowledge on from worker to worker. That knowledge preserves a sense of corporate history. It also perpetuates efficiencies as unwritten knowledge is preserved for the betterment of the institution.

Communities, like Camp Thunderbird, also have institutional knowledge, but somewhere the collected institutional knowledge of Thunderbird was lost. 

It appears that institutional knowledge, like my memory, can fade with time.

That thought made me think about the for sale sign in front of Harris Elementary School. 

When it was dedicated in 1953 the school’s name was Sterling R. Harris Elementary School. With the passage of time the school become simply “Harris Elementary.”

With the property declared surplus and a new building named “Sterling Elementary” built in a different location, the former Harris Elementary School will soon find out its new fate.

I suspect it will either be flattened by a wrecking ball and bulldozer or the inside gutted and remodeled into something unrecognizable by the school’s former students.

The legend of Sterling Harris will be preserved by a display in the new school for those who take time to view it. 

I know Sterling Harris’ story because I heard it from Joel Dunn, publisher emeritus of this newspaper. He knows the story because he lived it.

There are written records of Harris in books. I read one of them, too.

But in the not too distant future, I imagine there will arise a new generation of Tooeleans who don’t know the story of Sterling Harris. 

They will think of “Sterling” as the adjective for something excellent or of good value and think that it is an apt name for a good school.

There are already people in Tooele who don’t know who Red Delpapa was or why a ballpark was name after him.

I wouldn’t know about Delpapa either, if I hadn’t met a man while I was working on a story about Tooele’s social clubs and bars, who knew Delpapa and told me his story.

I wonder how long it will be before people ask, “Who was Clarke N. Johnsen?”

Do people in Wendover remember Anna Smith and are memories of her being passed on to inspire younger generations?

When I write about the county buying the Mantes Building, do I need to explain who Mantes was or why the building bears his name?

The employees of Tooele City honored former Mayor Patrick Dunlavy, who had worked for Tooele City in various positions for 50 years, by putting up a little green street sign at the entrance from Main Street to the City Hall’s parking lot that reads “Dunlavy Way.”

I wonder how long it will be until somebody asks, “Who’s Dunlavy?” and the quick reply, “I dunno.”

While the past may not determine our future, the knowledge of how we arrived at our current location may help us map the route to our future.

Let us not forget.


Tim Gillie

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim covers education, Tooele City government, business, real estate, politics and the state Legislature. He became a journalist after a long career as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Tim is a native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University.

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