Voice of the Eagle, February 18, 2013
It is with a sad heart that I write today of the death of my older brother Roman Potempa. Even though I am sad that he is gone, I am happy to tell you of his life as a Boy Scout.
He started his Boy Scout career as a Cub Scout in Pack 258 in Midlothian, Illinois. He graduated to Troop 358 in Pokagon Trails Council, which later became Calumet Council. We grew up in a poor family on a small farm with two other brothers and a sister. We were so poor we could not afford to go to summer camp. Roman figured out that if he went to work at summer camp he could enjoy all the fun-filled Scout activities that we were missing. So as a 15 year old Life Scout he went to work at Camp Betz in Berien Springs Michigan as a Counselor In Training, a "C I T" in the Handicraft area. There he taught leatherworking, woodworking and basketry. He spent the summer working for $5.00 a week plus all the delicious camp food he could eat. He slept in a small two man tent, but he got to enjoy the waterfront on beautiful Lake Chapin, hike the Nature Trails through the woods, and earn a bunch of merit badges towards his Eagle award. The main thing he did at Camp Betz was make a number of life long friends, who kept close to him for over 50 years.
He came home from Camp Betz with renewed enthusiasm for Scouting. He quickly earned his Eagle award, only the second scout to do so in our troop. (I was the fourth one.) He liked Camp Betz so much that he went back for many summers, eventually serving as the Director of Handicrafts and then Program Director. He earned his college degree from Illinois State University and started teaching under-privileged students at a middle school in Markham, Illinois. He did that for 35 years. During his summer vacations he worked at Boy Scout camps around the country, including Camp Betz in Michigan and Camp Schiff on the East Coast. He taught at the National Camp School for Boy Scout Leaders and served as Activities Director at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. He also served as Director of JLT and NYLT at Rainbow Council, spending time again at Camp Betz.
As a boy he was elected to the Order of the Arrow, eventually serving in various Lodge offices and earning his Vigil rank. When he served his Ordeal he became fascinated by the American Indian heritage, so he began to study our local Indian history. He not only served on the Lodge Ceremonial team, he actually made his own costumes. Two of his costumes won awards in National competition for authenticity. He developed a life long love of our American Indian Heritage and attended many Pow-Wows around the country. He was a skilled Indian dancer and gathered a large collection of authentic Indian artifacts and costumes. He even has a 100 year old map showing an Indian camp ground here in New Lenox. Some of the older boys in troop 49 may remember him coming to our meetings to teach Indian Lore merit badge.
Over his long scouting career he earned many awards including his Eagle Award, the St. George Award for Catholic Scouters, the Silver Beaver Award, and the Distinguished Service Award from his Lodge. He was so respected that over 100 O A members attended his wake and participated in the Broken Arrow ceremony before we buried him. (The arrow is a sign of war and strife, but when it is broken it is a sign of peace.)
He was a gifted artist who designed over 25 different Boy Scout patches and dozens of neckerchiefs. Next time you are at Camp Betz please take a note of the large, multi-color Thunderbird painted on the exterior of the Dinning Hall. He was the artist who designed and painted it.
For over fifty eight years Roman Potempa lived the Boy Scout Oath and Scout Law. He tried as hard as he could to help other people at all times. He truly believed that following what he learned as a young Boy Scout would show him how to lead his life, in cheerful service, doing his duty to God and Country. I will miss him dearly, but I know he taught me well. I hope you learned a little from his story, too.
Mr. Stan Potempa
Voice of the Eagle