The scouting movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lt. General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell. In 1909, Chicago newspaper publisher William D. Boyce lost his way in a dense London fog. A young Scout came to his aid, and, after guiding him to his destination, refused a tip. The youngster explained that he would not accept a reward for doing a good deed. That selfless gesture inspired Boyce to contact Baden-Powell to discuss the scouting program, and on February 8, 1910, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in the United States.
One of the earliest Scouts was George Freestone, who joined that year in Los Angeles at age 12. He died on February 13 of this year at age 104. He was our nation's (and possibly the world's) oldest Scout.
George E. Freestone was born in Safford, Ariz., on July 28, 1898. On one occasion when he was nine, he made the trip from his hometown to Bisbee, Ariz., in a covered wagon. The journey (about 100 miles) took four days. Also when he was nine, he and his family moved to Los Angeles.
In later years, George often reminisced about how he persuaded his mother to spend $4 for his first scout uniform: a Canadian Mountie-style hat, a shirt, breeches, and leggings. He also enjoyed discussing the Wild West show that William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody put on for his troop, and the opportunity he had to shake hands with legendary inventor Thomas Alva Edison.
The Freestones returned to Arizona when George was 15. He spent much of his adult life raising cotton and alfalfa on 160 acres east of Phoenix. He sought to enlist in World War I, but was turned down because farmers were sorely needed at home. He also worked for the Arizona Department of Agriculture, beginning as a field supervisor and rising to state agricultural director, a post he held from 1961 until his retirement in 1968.
He and his first wife, Vergel, were together for 62 years until her death. A second marriage to the former Mazzie Webb lasted for 18 years (she died in 2001).
Freestone lived in Tempe, Ariz., from 1962 until entering a Mesa nursing home in 2001. He remained an active member of Tempe Troop 74 during that time, making ceramic eagles for Scouts who earned the rank of Eagle in the Tempe area. Festivities for his 100th birthday in 1998 included an appearance (in his Scout uniform) on The David Letterman Show. In 2000, he celebrated his 102nd birthday in Provo, where he cut the ribbon dedicating the George E. Freestone Boy Scout Museum. Last year, Freestone was the oldest person to bear an Olympic torch in the relay that preceded the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He turned down on offer of a wheelchair, opting instead to walk.
A BSA news release at the time of the Provo museum dedication noted that Freestone was still striving to live he Boy Scout oath, encouragement he often shares with younger Scouts. "The oath they take is part of living right and helping other people, he said. "Try to live a good clean life, and they will live a long life."