Every year, the North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting (which contains historic information and displays from scouting in and around Minnesota) inducts six community members into its Founders Hall. This year, one of the honorees was James “Dad” Drew, the founder and first scoutmaster for Troop 17 in St. Anthony Park.
The ceremony took place at the museum on Nov. 1, and was attended by nearly 75 people, including current scout leaders Mike Smith, Clay Helmer, Chris Jacobsen, Dean Schafer and Mark Hansen, as well as four current scouts—Nick Jacobsen, Ben Schafer, Ethan Helmer and Liam Anderson—who lead the flag ceremony at the opening.
Drew was honored in the category of Founder, defined as “a visionary leader who has played a meaningful role in the creation, innovation or direction of [Boy or Girl] Scout institutions over a significant number of years.”
James Meddick Drew was born on Feb. 17, 1863, in Rollingstone, Minn. He attended and taught at Cornell University in New York, later returning to his father’s farm. His articles on the value of having a forge on a farm caught the attention of the University of Minnesota, and in 1893 he joined the staff of the school of agriculture as an instructor of blacksmithing. He also taught mathematics and poultry raising, later becoming the registrar of the school.
The farm school of the university had strong ties with the earliest scouting programs in the Twin Cities, and Drew became a merit badge counselor for Minneapolis-area troops in 1910. He joined the board of directors of the Hennepin Council in 1913.
Drew lived on Commonwealth Avenue and had developed a special relationship with many of the neighborhood boys, including Gale Frost, Ken Boss and Gerald McKay. The boys asked him to start and lead a neighborhood Boy Scout troop, and in 1916 Troop 69 (quickly changed to Troop 17) was formed. It is the second oldest continuously registered troop in the council today.
Drew led the troop from 1916 to 1924 and was brought back as a committee member from 1942 to 1945, even serving as scoutmaster for a brief time at the age of 82. Drew served as the first chairman of the Scoutmaster’s Association in St. Paul, and connected scouting with the university’s desire to hold an older boy’s training experience at Itasca State Park. This experience was called the University of Scouting (formed in 1918), and Drew was on the faculty of this organization from then until 1943.
At Troop 17’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1994, Gale Frost told how Drew had taught the boys not only how to tie many different knots, but how to tie them quickly, helping them to win a citywide competition. He also taught them how to make and shoot a bow and arrow. Upon his death, St. Paul scouts raised funds to dedicate the new archery range at Tomahawk Scout Reservation in his honor.
Drew was recognized by both the local council and Region 10 with the Scoutmaster’s Key, the Silver Beaver and the Silver Antelope. When Drew was honored in The Agrarian (the yearbook of the university’s school of agriculture), his friend, Andrew Boss, wrote of him, “While teaching (young men) to tie knots in ropes and shoestrings, he taught them how to untie knots in their minds; while welding iron, to weld thoughts into good deeds; and while splicing rope to take firm hold upon the frayed ends of the strands of life and make the best possible out of it.”
His legacy is still important today.
Michelle Christianson is a piano teacher, musician and longtime contributor to the Park Bugle.