Harold “Freck” Miller reflects on his experience in his seventh decade of scouting

Harold “Freck” Miller (left), Scout Master Emeritus, and his son, Dennis Miller, current Scout Master of Troop 184, Hamburg, look through photo albums chronicling Freck’s 70 years in the Boy Scout organization. Photo by Kollen Long — 21st Century Media

In 1939, FDR was president, a loaf of bread was eight cents and televisions were the newest technology available. Also that year, Hamburg native Harold “Freck” Miller became the first in his family to join the scouts. “At that time,” Freck said, “you had to wait until you were nine to join the cubs and you had to be 12 to be a scout.”

He was a cub scout in Pack 1, which met at the Methodist church in Hamburg. He spent three years as a cub, and recalls meeting weekly at the home of his den mother, Mrs. Mengel, with activities like soap carving or other crafts. Once a month, the den gathered with the rest of the pack for meetings held at the church.

Once he turned 12, Freck joined Troop 2 (now Troop 184) at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Hamburg. His friend, Tommy Confer, was in the Troop already and wanted Freck to join his patrol. The Scout Master, Bob Oberholtzer, had other plans and put him in the Pine Tree Patrol, where Freck remained for the rest of his time as a scout.

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Flipping through many photos in a scrap book, Freck shared many memories of these years. He recalled a father-son picnic with his dad, who worked for the post office. Freck also enjoyed hiking a trail that started near Kercher Creek and followed an old railroad cut to a location behind the current Hamburg High School.

“We would cook there, we’d pass our tests,” he said, noting that tests included tying knots and also reciting and explaining the Scout Oath and Law. “Other times, we’d walk to the Reservoir. A nice stream came out there. We’d put our packs on hike, things like that.”

During World War II, the scouts did their part to support their country. They sold war bonds and helped watch the skies from a tower erected near the high school. They also served their community by fighting fires on the mountains, which often broke out when blueberry patches were burned down.

As a teen, Freck also took a summer job at Hopewell, a camping site that welcomed boy scouts, girl scouts and other youth groups. “I was in charge of the canteen,” he recalled, where he sold craft items in the morning and limited snacks like candy in the afternoon. He also helped to pick up garbage at the camp sites, which would go to local farms to feed the pigs.

Freck enjoyed being a scout and advanced through the ranks until he graduated from high school. He was just a few badges short of earning his Eagle, but left the organization to start his adult life, working as a pattern maker in Hamburg and raising a family.

When he was still in his early 20s, however, scout leader Ash Miller approached him. “They needed an Explorer advisor, and he hit me up and I said, ‘Ok, I’ll do it,’” Freck said. Not two years later, he stepped up again and took the role of Scout Master, a post he held for 38 years.”

“If it wouldn’t have been for the assistant leaders, the troop committee members and the pastor of the church supporting me and the troop,” Freck said, “I wouldn’t have stayed in as long as I did.”

These years hold many more scouting memories, and Freck and his son, Dennis Miller (who joined the troop as a scout in 1971), have the scrapbooks to prove it. The scouts attended national Jamborees and created displays, which were placed in the storefront windows of the American Legion in town. They built signal towers in the Hamburg park and learned to cook over campfires.­­

Scrap drives were a long-standing tradition of the troop, dating back to Freck’s days as a scout. He recalls storing newspaper scraps in a barn on his pastor’s property. When he became Scout Master, the troop was given an old railroad box car, which they kept behind Hamburg’s bowling alley. Local companies helped provide electricity to the site, and the entire community participated in the scrap drive, leaving bundled papers at the curb for the boys to pick up or, sometimes, asking them to come into their basements and help themselves.

“You’d be sitting on the back of the truck, your feet dragging on the ground, all the way through town,” Dennis recalled.

“And we made some good money,” Freck said, explaining that they kept tallies at the twice-weekly scrapping nights to see who participated. “We kept a count and, if a boy was there or his father or someone, he got a credit.”

In the spring, the troop treasurer would total the money raised and divide it among the boys according to the tallies. “And they went to camp, they went to Canada, all for free,” Freck stated.

One of the changes in Troop 2/184 during Freck’s leadership was the opportunity to take many more trips. Freck organized monthly camping trips to camps in Schuylkill County, Pine Grove and Bay Shore. In 1946, the troop had opportunity to purchase two land parcels, totaling about 64 acres, in the outskirts of Hamburg off Port Clinton Avenue.

“We paid five dollars an acre,” Freck said, chuckling. “Now look at what it’s worth.”

This land, affectionately termed “Scoutland,” remains a key component of Troop 184 life. The scouts themselves have worked hard on the property, cutting down logs and scavenging wood to build a cabin from 1970 to 1971. They have also built pavilions, sheds, a gateway and shelters. Even the current entryway, off Port Clinton Avenue, is a latter improvement.

Freck remembers attending bigger scouting events with his son and later his grandsons, including one Jamboree where Troop 184 displayed patrol flags featuring hex signs and using “embroidery ink.” The judges took one look at the flags and thought they were commercially made. “They did not believe we made them,” Dennis said, and Freck confirmed, “They could not be convinced.”

The troop also participated regularly in Patriot Day in the Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro. He pulled out one picture of this event from 1976, the country’s bicentennial. The scouts had created a display featuring locally made brooms. “At that time, Hamburg was considered the broom factory of the world,” he explained.

Freck also took the troop on its first boating trip to Biscotasing, Ontario, in 1966, a trip which has become a tradition for the boys of 184. They rented a tour bus for the first leg of the trip, which took them north as far as road conditions would allow in the nickel-mining area. “There was no vegetation because of the smelting plants at that time,” Freck said. They camped by railroad tracks, which had active freight trains going on through the night, then took canoes to Bates Camp, a rural spot with no electricity but with a knowledgeable Indian guide, Joe.

“Then on our way back,” Freck recalled, “we stopped in Ottawa. We decided to set the tents up and, ‘til we started, this [storm] just came in over the water.” They herded the boys, 36 in all, into the back of the bus to ride out the storm, which left dents on the rented bus. Freck said he recently relived this memory when strong hail storms moved through Berks County this spring.

Troop 184 still takes this trek to Biscotasing every few years, camping by the lake and spending time hiking, fishing and cooking over the camp fire. Freck last joined them for the outing in 2000.

In 2004, Freck was named Scout Master Emeritus of Troop 184. He remains active with the troop and also as a lifelong member of St. John’s Lutheran Church. He can often be found in his basement workshop, which has a wall lined with photos of family and other memorabilia. He makes corner cabinets and beautifully crafted dollhouses for family and friends, and wooden chests, called “faith boxes,” for those receiving first baptisms at St. John’s. He and his wife have a certified Wildlife Habitat in their backyard and have been featured in local garden tours.

In 1995, Freck received the Lamb Award, the highest honor awarded by the Lutheran church, in recognition for his years in Scouting. A walk around his Hamburg home reveals his deep love of scouting, from the matted sketch of the Scoutland cabin in the hall to the many framed pictures and awards that line his walls.

“I just liked it,” he said of his reasons for staying in Scouts for seven decades. “I liked being a scout, liked leading the boys.”