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A lifelong bond: Former Kingsport Girl Scout troop still friends after 55 years

Holly Viers • Feb 17, 2020 at 9:15 AM

KINGSPORT — After graduating from high school, it’s not uncommon to lose touch with friends, especially if they move to different parts of the country.

But for the 11 members of Kingsport’s Girl Scout Troop 243, no amount of time or distance can weaken their lifelong bond.

Though the troop itself dissolved in 1965 once its members graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School, the women have kept in touch through email, phone calls, high school reunions and the occasional girls’ trip. And while they may not earn badges or sell Girl Scout cookies anymore, the lessons learned and memories made through scouting have stood the test of time.

“We still stay in touch,” said Mary McCoy-Owenby. “We may go for months and none of us even talk or text, and then one of us … will keep us up on things.”

Beginnings

The women’s time in Girl Scouts began in second grade, when they became Brownie Scouts at Andrew Johnson Elementary School. Two troops formed at the time, though one lasted only a couple of years.

Some of the girls from the disbanded troop joined the remaining troop, bringing the total number of members to 15. By the time high school rolled around, 11 girls were still involved: Mary Chase Austin, Frankie Eaton, Brenda Glass, Jenny Harris, Cindy Ketron, Mary McAlpine, Mary McCoy, Rosemary Sanders, Martha Snyder, Betsy Taylor and Susan Vines.

Jenny Harris-Clemmer, McCoy-Owenby and Brenda Glass-Johnson are the only three women who still live in Kingsport. Despite that, all 11 are still friends today.

Fond memories

After their high school graduation, the women often saw each other next at their wedding showers, where each bride got a hand towel with the troop logo silk-screened onto the fabric, Snyder said. But it wasn’t just the former Scouts who stayed close.

“Our mothers got really close and became good friends. They called themselves the rich widows, even though they weren’t rich, and most of them weren’t widows,” Vines said with a laugh.

Over the years, the former Scouts have also continued some of their scouting activities.

“Whenever we would have our Dobyns-Bennett class reunion, we would offer something for the Scouts to do,” McCoy-Owenby said. “Those have been well-attended. … We’ve went out to the park and set up and cooked, had a fire and did the whole thing like we would’ve when we camped.”

The women have also banded together at their parents’ funerals, including the one for their former troop leader, Helen Harris, Harris-Clemmer’s mother.

“At the closing of every one of our troop meetings, we always sang taps,” Harris-Clemmer said. “So (my mother) said, ‘I want the girls that come to my funeral to sing taps, and we did.”

A new tradition the former Scouts share is passing around a birthday card from 55 years ago. Harris, who led Troop 243 along with Virginia Taylor, purchased the birthday card in 1965 and started a round robin, whereby each woman received the card on her birthday and then passed it on to whoever had the next birthday.

The last Scout on the birthday list, Glass-Johnson, kept the card for 55 years and found it last fall while downsizing to a smaller home. At that point, Glass-Johnson said, she decided to start the round robin again, and the card is currently making its way back around the group.

Scout supporters

For some of the women, being involved with Girl Scouts didn’t end upon earning their high school diploma. A few have served as troop leaders in the past, while others have daughters who participated in Girl Scouts growing up.

Harris-Clemmer said she and her former troopmates support Scouts like many others do: by promoting or purchasing Girl Scout cookies. Cookies are now being sold through the Digital Cookie app, and cookie booths will be open from Feb. 28 to March 2.

For more information or to find a cookie booth near you, visit www.girlscouts.org.

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