As he spoke Ronald Lewbel handed me a 1939 Mercury Dime. Like its owner, the slim silver disk was still bright, but worn with age. “The last time I was in camp I found that dime,” he says. “It was laying in the woods on an old path behind Suanhacky Lodge.”
Ron explains, “In 1944 Troop 149 was camping in Wipoch, a tenting site a little past the old amphitheater, not far from where the dime was sitting. That was the summer I became an Assistant Scoutmaster, I got to drive the camp truck and I also lost my penknife and my money.”
He stops to point to an old camp map. “I was fifteen years old and America was still at war. Just before camp our assistant scoutmaster was drafted and had to report for induction. My friend Seymour Tindell, who worked on the waterfront, and I were the most experienced Scouts in the troop and I was selected to be the Acting Assistant Scoutmaster.”
It would be the first of many leadership roles for the now 84 year-old Scout Commissioner for the West Orange District of Central Florida. Over the next 67 years Ron Lewbel would serve in almost every scouting role one could imagine first in Queens, and later in Florida. A scoutmaster, committeeman and national jamboree staff member, he earned the Shofar Award, Wood Badge and Fifty-Year Service Award. Two of his sons are Eagle Scouts and three generations of Lewbels have been campers at Ten Mile River.
“Troop 149 in Richmond Hill was sponsored by Beth Israel Temple in Queens,” Ron explains. “To get to camp we took the elevator train and then the subway to the upper west-side of Manhattan. From there we walked across the George Washington Bridge and boarded a bus. With a stop for hot dogs at The Red Apple Rest on Route 17, we sat on that bus for five hours before we finally arrived at the camp road. Our trunks, shipped earlier by train, were sitting on the parade field. In pairs we carried them to our campsite.”
While many aspects of camp life have changed over the past six decades some have remained the same. For one, Scouts still have to eat. “That year even though I didn’t have my license yet I was allowed to drive the camp truck over the dirt roads to a local farm where we picked up corn and potatoes,” he recounts. “We also had to use ration coupons at a gas station in White Lake to buy fuel.”
Ron especially liked the waterfront. War canoe races were a favorite activity when parents came to visit during the middle weekend and provided the best laugh of the summer. “A troop from the Bronx was much better than everyone else,” he recalls. “So the night before, someone booby trapped their canoe. As they paddled for the finish line in front of parents and cheering Scouts their boat mysteriously sprang a huge leak. We were able to pull ahead as they suddenly found themselves shoulder deep in Crystal Lake. But, it was all in good fun.”
That summer Ron’s future wife Phyllis visited camp on family day. While Ron and Phyllis have now been married for 62 years, it was actually Seymour who she came to see. On the pretext of missing her younger brother Buddy, who was also a camper, Phyllis endured five hours of carsickness because Seymour had promised her a canoe ride.
However, the day before he and Ron had taken the old truck for supplies. When it broke down they had to leave it with a local farmer for repairs. With no telephone there was no way to contact the camp, so the pair had to hike the many miles back in the hot sun. Before sending them on their way, the farmer offered the boys a cup of Narrowsburg moonshine to fortify themselves for the long walk. While Ron declined, Seymour downed the bitter brew. Between the hike and the rot gut moonshine Seymour was as sick as a dog the next day. Phyllis says she still hasn’t gotten her canoe ride.
Ron returned to TMR many times in the following decades, camping with his sons first at Lakeside and later in Kernochan. After his own boys had grown he continued, assisting first Walter Engel and later Dan O’Shea of Troops 42 and 427 Queens. Today, his Florida license plates are “Troop 42” and “B.S.A. 1” a special issue honoring his service as a Florida Scout Commissioner. For a number of years Ron brought Florida Scouts to share summer camp at Kunatah with his New York troop.
In the summer of 2004, sixty years after his memorable summer of 1944, Ron returned to Camp Man with David Malatzky, the author of Summer Camp! David was using a GPS to trace the long gone road that once led from the waterfront to an amphitheater in the woods near the Wipoch tentsite. The road was originally cleared to allow then Governor Franklin Roosevelt to visit.
As they were walking Ron, who after 70 years as a watchmaker still has an eye for detail, spotted a small disk on the sun dappled forest floor. Leaning on his cane, he slowly bent down to pick up the object. It was a coin – the silver 1939 Mercury dime he had just handed me.
“You know,” Ron says, shaking his head in disbelief, “I had forgotten all about this. You always wanted to have a little money with you to buy an O’Henry or a Baby Ruth bar in the commissary. One evening Seymour and I were late and had to run down that very trail to get back to camp in time for light’s out. I didn’t realize it but I had a hole in my pocket. Back in camp I discovered that I had lost my penknife and a few coins. I went back the next day but never found anything.”
Dave Malatzky asked if he thought the dime was one of the coins he had lost as a TMR camper that summer in 1944. “I guess we’ll never know the answer to that question,” says Ron. “But how many pre-World War II coins could possibly have been lost on a path buried in the forest for over half a century?”