DENNISVILLE – Robert Grace did something few Scouts have ever done, at least from Cape May County. On Nov. 24, 2012, he visited the grave of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts in Nyeri, Kenya.
Grace was on his fourth trip to Word of Life Mission in Mombasa and Kabete, Kenya, from Nov. 16 to Dec. 23. Taking time for a side trek, he ventured to the site where Powell, along with his wife Olave’s ashes are buried facing Mount Kenya. Olave was founder of Girl Guides, a similar organization to Girl Scouts.
Grace is marking his 53rd year in Scouting. He as risen through every scouting rank, been an assistant scoutmaster, then scoutmaster, spent five years as district chairman of Baysea District, spent three years on the council’s executive board and is presently a member at large of the sprawling district.
He has been honored to receive the Silver Beaver Award, “the council-level distinguished service award of the Boy Scouts of America. Recipients of this award are registered adult leaders who have made an impact on the lives of youth through service given to the council. The Silver Beaver is an award given to those who implement the Scouting program and perform community service through hard work, self-sacrifice, dedication, and many years of service,” according to the Boy Scout website.
A Freemason, Grace proudly displays the Daniel Carter beard Award, which is given to scouters by the Masonic Lodge. It is an award he is permitted to wear on his Scout uniform which incorporated the Masonic square, compass and letter “G.”
An avowed outdoorsman, Grace has taken his scouts along the Appalachian Trail many times. Thus, he was quite familiar with the symbol on Powell’s white marble gravestone, a circle with dot in the middle, signifying the hiker has gone home.
“Baden-Powell spent a lot of time in Africa when he was in military service,” said Grace, pointing to a photo of him reverently placing a small memento amid the grave’s white marble chips.
Because Baden-Powell was familiar with the outdoor life, living on trails and learning survival, the elements Boy Scouts were natural to him.
As one enters Baden Powell Cemetery Municipal Park, on the left side is the Boy Scout oath, on the right side, the Girl Guide oath. Others are buried there, most are military, and most passed on early in the 1900s, but none were as famous as the Powells.
Grace said a $3 charge to enter the cemetery helps with upkeep as well as a nearby house, Paxtu, where the Powells lived. Entering there gave Grace “the chills,” he said, thinking that the man who began Boy Scouting sat in the same chairs, ate at the table, and looked out the windows to his beloved Mount Kenya.
“There were cards he wrote, and drawings, as well as Olave’s hat,” said Grace.
In the British military, Baden-Powell “spent a lot of time in Africa. He loved the scenery, the animals and the people. They were British subjects until about 30 years ago, and that is where he wanted to be buried,” said Grace.
Almost like his hero, Grace said, “There isn’t anything in Africa I didn’t like.”
Grace left a Southern New Jersey Council patch in the place where hundreds of other similar patches have been placed over the years, and neckerchiefs placed as a tribute to the originator’s impact on many lives.