“As Fine a Collection of Young America As One Would Care to See”: A Pass for the Pasadena-San Gabriel Valley Council Boy Scout Exposition, 27-28 April 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Just over two years ago, the Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910 on the model established in England and a fixture for so many millions of boys over the many decades, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of some 275 sex abuse lawsuits and the likelihood of many hundreds more. The organization paid some $150 million in settlements in the few years before the filing, but as with the Roman Catholic Church scandals, the psychological damage to an untold number of children cannot, of course, be quantified in dollars. As with those parishioners who found their spiritual needs met with the Church, there are many Scouts who had good experiences with the organization, so, clearly, the issue is complex.

The featured artifact from the Museum’s holdings for this post is a pass for a Boy Scout Exposition held on 27-28 April 1928 in Pasadena under the auspices of the Pasadena-San Gabriel Valley Council, now the San Gabriel Valley Council, of the BSA. The holder was 14 year-old Boardman C. Reed, a member of Troop #1 of San Marino and on the reverse he wrote his initials and the days and dates of the event, which was held at the Flower Show Tent, soon to be the site of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Pasadena Post, 13 April 1928.

The exposition, of course, focused on the merit badge subjects for which Scouts have so long been known with an early photo published in the Pasadena Post showing a trio of young men, from Pasadena Troop #5, planting a tree for the earning of their badge in forestry. Booths staffed by between four and eight Scouts from 83 troops in the San Gabriel Valley (as well as from Avalon on Santa Catalina Island) were to cover each of the 75 subjects for merit badges and demonstrations were to be given. Among these were archery; astronomy; aviation; botany; camping; chemistry; cement work; first aid; journalism; mining; personal health; photography; plumbing; printing; radio; surveying and taxidermy.

Meanwhile, music was supplied by a quartet of bands and two drum corps from the Pasadena Firemen’s band, the band from the California Institute of Technology, the city’s American Legion drum corps of 95 members, and the Los Angeles Boy Scouts band, which appeared on the Orpheum Theatre circuit, among others. Sponsors included a number of city and valley service clubs.

Post, 16 April 1928.

The Friday evening proceedings lasted two hours and involved the firefighters’ band concert, a first-aid contest, and a life-saving demonstration by Glendora’s Troop #1. On the morning of Saturday the 28th, a parade began at Memorial Park and then, accompanied by Pasadena police officers on motorcycle and including the city’s police chief, several hundred Scouts marched through downtown to the event site with the Los Angeles Boy Scouts band at its head. In addition to more music during that day, which lasted from 10 a.m. to Midnight, there were contests for fire-by-friction and bugling, staff drills, and an archery drill by Reed’s San Marino troop.

Just prior to the exposition, the Post of the 25th noted that it “is expected to be the biggest Scout event ever held in Southern California and gave several examples of merit badge booths. The city’s Troop #9, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, focused on insects and reptiles and borrowed specimens from the Pasadena High School Biology department. Covina’s Troop #1 highlighted agriculture and its display showed fruits, vegetables, seeds and soil types and images of birds and insects both destructive to and necessary for farming. San Gabriel’s Troop #1 featured gardening and its exhibit showed a miniature house with its landscaping including a lawn, flower garden, vegetable garden and chicken yard.

Post, 18 April 1928.

The following day’s edition of the paper promoted the display of Alhambra’s Troop #9 and its miniature replica of an airplane, piloted by George Wilkins and Carl Eilson, which had just flown over the North Pole, but which was also a working model of the actual craft built by Western Air Express, which loaned the item for the troop’s booth, which “is expected to be the center of attraction at the exhibition.”

It also noted that the 30-member Avalon troop #2 would focus on seamanship using a boat built by members and Pasadena’s Troop #25 would highlight radio and include sets built by members during the event, including one for transmission and the other for receiving, while a radio technician assisted in preparation. Monterey Park’s Troop #1 and its chemistry display included such aspects as plaster, hydrogen, batteries, fire extinguishers and flashlight powder.

Post, 25 April 1928.

The Post’s edition of that first day added that two large tepees from Camp Huntington at Altadena were to greet those who entered the circus tent, while “occupying 80 feet of wall space is a complete display of every available supply for the Boy Scouts . . . this includes everything from emblems to badges and implements they use in their work.” The official tally of the attendees on that first evening was not far south of 1,800.

On the second day, Post publisher F.F. Runyon, in his “Our City Comment and Discussion” column, opined that if all boys had “the wholesome, outdoor life that Boy Scouts lead” so many “might be saved from disgrace and started on the road which leads to happiness and success.” He went on to observe:

Organizations like the Boy Scouts impress this upon boys. Give a lad the chance to enjoy life in a manner in which boys like to enjoy life and he will respond to its splendidly. You can see this exemplified in the Boy Scout exposition which is being held in a circus tent on the civic auditorium site. And if you would see it, go immediately for it closes tonight.

Runyon added that visitors would see young men who were trained in first aid and lifesaving techniques, could start a fire without matches, tie good knots, cook, building bridges “and do a thousand and one other things that might at any time come in handy.” For the boy who rose to be an Eagle Scout, “he has developed character that makes him a leader” and Scouts generally “develop in proportion to the effort he puts into his work.” Working up through the ranks, a young man “improves his mind and stores away information that is valuable.”

Post, 27 April 1928.

Observing that “there is something splendid in a movement that is based on such a firm foundation,” the publisher declared, “Boy Scouts are not militant” as “they are under military discipline” and “must live clean, wholesome lives.” In this environment, he continued, “they must be alert and proficient in their work, able to do things in a proper manner and strive to do at least one good turn each day.”

In concluding his paean to Scouting, Runyon proclaimed,

Today Pasadena had the pleasure of seeing Boy Scouts march through the business section of the city to where they are holding their exposition. They marched with Old Glory flying to the breeze, their faces wreathed in smiles, as fine a collection of young America as one would care to see. The lad who is not a Boy Scout is missing something big in his life.

In its edition of the 30th, the Post reported that there were 6,000 persons in attendance at the exhibition, which means there were about 4,200 persons on Saturday, an impressive turnout, and it noted that the event not only showed “the splendid accomplishments of the Boy Scout movement” but also “set a precedent on the Pacific coast” for programs of the kind.

Post, 28 April 1928.

Among the leadership mentioned was Crown City optician Arthur Heimann, who chaired the committee that planned and carried out the exhibition and regional Boy Scouts executives H. Benjamin Robeson and Tallman H. Trask, the latter having a long career for the organization (and whose grandson, Tallman H. Trask III, rose to be top administrator at Duke University in North Carolina, though a 2014 on-campus incident in which he struck a Black parking attendant with his car and reportedly called her a racial slur tarnished his career.)

As for young Boardman Reed, he had an interesting family history. His grandfather William Boardman Reed, known commonly by his middle name, a native of New York and long a resident of Wisconsin, fought for the Union Army at the Second Battle of Bull Run and then served in campaigns against Native Americans after the war’s end. Having attended Wisconsin colleges before and after the war, he went to the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree, working first as a journalist and then following with medical study at the university, from where he earned his M.D.

Post, 30 April 1928.

Dr. Reed long practiced in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which he avidly promoted for its health benefits and studied extensively in Europe along with taking post-graduate courses. By the mid-1890s, he was working with diseases of the gastro-intestinal system and became a widely recognized expert in that field. He moved to Los Angeles in the first years of the new century and opened a practice and later settled in Alhambra, where he also worked with a local sanitarium, of which there were many in the mountain foothill region. Reed died in 1917 and one of his two children was H. Phelps, Boardman’s father.

Phelps Reed worked as a glass manufacturer, as well as in the butter trade, before he turned to real estate after joining his parents in the San Gabriel Valley and he also worked in mining and finance. He and his wife Blanche Colwell only had one child, Boardman, born in July 1913. While his troop demonstrated archery at the exhibition, the teenager, as so many young people did, developed an early fascination with the rapidly developing field of aviation and began flying in 1929.

After completing his education at Pasadena City College, Boardman later became a cadet with the Army’s Air Corps, forerunner of the Air Force, and became a B-17 pilot and instructor. With America’s entry into World War II, he was a squadron commander, based out of England, and was involved in many bombing missions in Europe, earning many medals and commendations during his service. He remained a reservist and worked for Lockheed after the war, but when the Korean War broke out, he returned to active duty and became a squadron commander with his flying the P-51 “Mustang.”

With the war’s end in 1953, Boardman retired as a lieutenant colonel and shocked his family and friends by entering an Episcopalian seminary and becoming ordained in 1958. His last post, among several in the Golden State, was in Chico in northern California and he was a active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as general and military aviation associations, including chaplain for the Military Officers Association of America. He authored a book on his military flying experience and was honored by France for his wartime service just before his death at age 98 in 2013.

This little pass is not only interesting for its representation of the Boy Scouts in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, but for its association for a notable military pilot and commander, who found new purpose in his later years as a priest.

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