I first met Phil Nelson in 1948 shortly after my induction into the Order of the Arrow. He was lodge chief at the time and I had his signature on my first OA Shu-Shu-Gah Lodge membership card. It was something I treasured and after that first short conversation I came away in awe of that guy. In those days the few years of age that separated us seemed to be difficult to overcome but I thought that if I could ever make him a friend of mine it would be a feather in my cap. As the years passed we lost touch with each other but thankfully we renewed our acquaintance at our Arrowhead reunions. By that time the age difference was minimal and a warm friendship started.
After a lifetime of camp reunions, Manhattan winter dinners and Florida birdwalks the time came to retire from the work world and then through the good offices of Shelly Weil and Steve Herman I was recruited to come back to Scouting activity to assume the chairmanship of the Jewish Committee on Scouting in Theodore Roosevelt Council in Nassau County on Long Island.
About fifteen years ago Phil asked me to do a big favor for him. The hand tooled Eagle belt and buckle that he treasured all his life and which was presented to him by his pal, Harvey Lefkowitz, when he had his own Eagle Court of Honor in his teen years was an item that he felt he would like to pass on to a new worthy Eagle Scout. He approached me to find that youngster for him because I was still active in Scouting. That request was proof enough for me to truly appreciate the depth of our friendship, something I struggled to achieve down through the years. How thrilled I was to receive this request and to fulfill it for Phil.
I had recently passed a Scout on his Scouting Jewish Etz Chaim Religious Medal. It is an amazing achievement for a fourteen year old boy because the effort to earn the medal is reasonably the equivalent of passing a college seminar course. It requires a great deal of individual research and study and this Scout put in all the effort required for it. Soon afterwood I received an invitation from him to attend his Eagle Court of Honor.
I knew immediately that this was the Scout that Phil would be pleased to pass his belt to. I gift wrapped it with a letter explaining its history, that a hugely admired Scout who treasured it all his life was the prior owner. I also asked him to follow this “new tradition,” that after the many years that will ensue after his receipt of the belt, in the fullness of time, that he eventually find a brand new Eagle and pass it along to him.
A few days after the Court of Honor I received a call from the boy. He was thrilled with the gift and he asked me for Phil’s phone number so that he could properly thank him. The following day Phil called me, overwhelmed with the call he got from that Scout. “Can you imagine? This fourteen year old Scout calls up a strange man in his eighties and engages him in a forty-five minute conversation about Scouting and life in general and sends his profuse thanks? Alan, you made my day by doing this for me.” And I came away from this favor I did for my good friend, Phil Nelson, happy for him and for his many years of friendship. He was a straight Arrow and I loved him for being who he was.