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.