By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
OTTUMWA – Yes, there were Girl Scouts back in the 1920s. Just ask Dorothy Byers of Ottumwa.
That’s when, Byers, who will turn 99 years old in February, signed up.
“I joined at the end of 1928,” she told the Courier Wednesday.
That, said officials from the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa (GSGI), makes her the oldest Girl Scout in Iowa. She joined when she first found out about the opportunity. A couple had started some scouting groups in Ottumwa; the wife started a girl scout troop, her husband, whom Byers recalls was a 1920s Ottumwa Courier employee, started the Boy Scout troop. Since then, Byers has traveled the world as a Girl Scout, and, according to an email from the GSGI, received “countless awards for her service.”
“The neat thing is, once you’re a Girl Scout, you’re always a Girl Scout,” said Antoinette Bernich, communications director for the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa. “It’s wonderful as a girl, but as an adult, it can be even more fulfilling to go back and mentor young girls, to help them develop the skills they’ll need for the future, so they can be what they want to be. It’s very likely she has helped hundreds, if not thousands of girls. And that’s a great legacy to leave to the Girl Scouts.”
After she passed Girl Scout life saving courses, she was able to teach swimming.
“I taught several hundred children how to swim,” Byers said.
It’s an honor to interact with Iowa’s oldest Girl Scout, Bernich said. But, she added, the idea that a woman has been committed to the ideals of the organization for 85 years is truly impressive.
“I think for Girl Scouts everywhere, it’s very [powerful], seeing someone who has been involved in Girl Scouts for so long. That after 85 years, she is still celebrating that mission? That’s a great legacy, and is great for girls to see,” said Bernich.
Some of those ideals, said Byers, are important to remember for a lifetime. They’re the Eight Rules for being a Girl Scout, and “they are beautiful.”
Asked about examples, Byers said, “A Girl Scout is loyal, a Girl Scout is honest, a Girl Scout has courage...”
The Girl Scouts in the United States started before World War I, and by the time Byers joined her first Girl Scout troop in southern Iowa 85 years ago, there were around 200,000 Girl Scouts nationally.
What she liked about Girl Scouts as a child were some of the aspects she liked as she grew: “All the different things we did. There were so many girls who wanted to do different things, and I enjoyed everything we did. A lot of it was outdoors.”
Those activities, like camping and building campfires, were some of her favorite.
“My dad was a Navy man, and he taught me lots of things. And I taught them to the children,” she said.
Even as an adult leader, she enjoyed the weekly meetings, including planning for upcoming events like camping.
To celebrate 85 years of Girl Scout service, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa is honoring Dorothy Byers of Ottumwa at a private ceremony that will be held at her home on December 30. The event will begin with Ottumwa Girl Scouts and GSGI staff members leading a ceremony in tribute to Byers’ dedication and service to the Girl Scouts’ mission.
Following the ceremony, Byers will receive her 85-Year Pin.
Those wishing to congratulate Dorothy can send an email to email@example.com and the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa say they will share the messages with Dorothy.
To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark