In The Beginning – 1930s
According to lodge records, Aina Topa Hutsi was founded in 1931, the 60th Order of the Arrow lodge in the nation. The first lodge chief was John Ackerman and the second Jack Lee, after which the lodge charter lapsed until 1938. Jack Lee retired from a successful career as an eye doctor in 1977, and enrolled at St. Mary’s University Law School. We interviewed Lee as part of an effort to gather information on lodge history for the 50th anniversary of the lodge.
The most interesting information to come out of the interview is that 1981 may not have been the lodge’s 50th anniversary after all. Looking over the history page in the lodge manual, Lee commented, “I can assure you that the lodge’s first calling-out was not held in the summer of 1932, because in the summer of 1932, which was at the end of my first year of pre-medical work, I did not go to camp. I went straight to work for Western Union. My last experience in Boy Scout Camp was in 1931 and I was already a member of the Order of the Arrow at that time. I was taken into the Order of the Arrow in 1930, and the first calling-out that I knew anything about was in 1929. I witnessed that and wondered what it was all about.”
The oldest charter for Aina Topa Hutsi at the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America is dated September 9, 1931. However, this does not necessarily mean there was not a local organization here before then that did not charter through the national organization. Lee, who joined Troop 1 of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in 1926 and became an Eagle with second combination palm, remembered the first call-out he witnessed. The Scouts were gathered at a campfire at old Camp Comal, on the Guadalupe River north of New Braunfels.
“At a given moment,” he says, “wreaths prepared from natural leaves were placed over the head of selected boys. This was the way they were designated.”
After everyone else had left the campfire area, the boys selected were told that from that moment on until noon the next day they were not to speak. They were instructed to take a blanket and two matches, and go to sleep in the woods.
“The next day we came back into camp still not speaking. For every word we spoke the time period of silence was extended for one hour. Part of our initiation was to wait on tables for the other boys at breakfast. The hardest thing for me was to keep my mouth shut,” Lee remembers.
Lee says in those days the OA was strictly a summer camp operation and did not meet at other times of the year. “Keep in mind that you could count the members on your fingers and toes,” he says. He remembers that the OA members selected the new boys to be inducted. Each member was allowed to propose candidates for membership. They then closed their eyes and voted by holding thumbs up for yea and thumbs down for nay, while the adviser counted the votes.
Lee does not recall the use of the name “Aina Topa Hutsi” during this period. The only insignia was the felt sash with arrow, which Ordeal members wore over the right shoulder, and moved to the left shoulder when they achieved Brotherhood.
Elections and inductions took place at Camp Comal, which was owned by City Public Service and made available to the Scouts by William B. Tuttle, then CPS director. The camp ran for three periods of ten days each.
“The camp was always full,” recalls Lee, “because it was a lot of fun and a wonderful vacation. And the price was right — $7 for ten days.”
The Scouts were housed in 30 converted street cars, sleeping eight to a car in double-decked bunks. They took great pride in cleaning and decorating their cabins. They swam and boated on the Guadalupe River. One of Lee’s clearest memories is of the pit latrines and the black widow spiders which frequently inhabited them.
The Scouts took turns waiting on tables and doing kitchen police duty. The cook was always an Army mess sergeant on 30-day leave. “And the food was delicious,” says Lee. The day’s schedule of reveille, retreat and taps were sounded by bugler Johnny Haynes.
Campfires featuring instruction, skits and stunts were held each night. The OA ceremony took place at the campfire on the next to last day of the 10-day period.
The BSA National Headquarters has only limited records on early lodge histories, as these records were kept by the local councils until recent times. However, the national office does hold in its files some copies of correspondence relating to the early years of Aina Topa Hutsi.
The first item of interest is a copy of the first application for a charter for our lodge, dated August 11, 1931. It is signed by the Scout Executive of that time, Carl Bryan, and states that the lodge will function at “Camp Comal” in New Braunfels.
It is interesting to note that the first check written by our lodge for supplies evidently bounced. There is correspondence in the records for $4.97 drawn on the Commonwealth Bank and Trust Company, which had closed. This was during the Great Depression when many banks were failing and closing their doors. Happily, the matter was evidently resolved when the bank reopened.
The next correspondence on file is from March 1936. The Philadelphia Council office responded to a request from Marshall Matteson for information on OA. The letter includes a notation that “according to the records of the national treasurer the lodge is not very active.”
In April 1936, Scout Executive Bryan wrote to National OA Scribe H. Lloyd Nelson as follows: “In making a check up of the membership of our lodge number 60, I find that there are only two of the members besides myself left in San Antonio, as most of them have moved to other parts.
“We have not used the Order of the Arrow for the past three years because the plan, under which I was inducted as a member, did not seem to be the plan of organization, and we decided to let it smolder unless we could be organized according to the national standards. Apparently, the man under whom I secured my first information, did not proceed according to the National Program.
“We expect to open our camp in June, and are in hopes that the Order of the Arrow can be organized according to the National Standards.”
Apparently, the lodge did not get started again that summer, for one year later, in 1937, Nelson and National Chief J. H. Brinton were corresponding about the reorganization of the San Antonio lodge. It seems we were the first lodge to lapse and then try to recharter, and they didn’t quite know how to handle our paperwork. They decided we should file another charter application, just like a new lodge.
This was done the next year, and the reorganized lodge’s application was approved August 22, 1938. The lodge name of Aina Topa Hutsi is listed, along with the Arrow Head as totem. It is stated the lodge will function at the Boy Scout Camp at Ingram (Indian Creek Camp). Marshall Matteson is listed as
The War Years – 1940s
The greatest event of the 1940s, of course, was World War II. This had a great effect on the lodge as many leaders were called into military service. Still, the program prospered with new leadership, chiefly from Manuel DeLarrea. He was a lodge officer through the war years, lodge chief in 1944-45, a leader of ceremony and dance teams, and editor of the first lodge manual. Dr. Jerome Weynand, his contemporary on camp staff and ceremony teams, calls DeLarrea “a legend in his own times.”
In 1946, DeLarrea became Aina Topa Hutsi’s first Vigil Honor member. He was one of 28 men inducted into the Vigil at the 1946 National Lodge Meeting held at Chanute Army Airfield in Illinois. There were so few Vigil Honor members across the nation at that time that Vigil call-outs were held at the national meetings. In 1949, he was among the first area chiefs selected to help plan the National OA Conference, and he served on the program and resolutions committees of the 1950 conference staff. Tragically, DeLarrea contracted polio while camping, and died in 1952.
One of the memorable activities for Alamo Area Council Scouts of the ‘40s was a trip to Mexico City in 1947. Some 200 Scouts participated in the two-week trip, touring the city and sharing activities with Mexican Scouts. During the tour, a team led by Weynand and Xavier Vazquez inducted Miguel Aleman, Jr., the son of the Mexican president, as a member of the Order. Vazquez remembers the team had no paint, so decorated their faces with colored tape for the ceremony, which took place before a large audience and received wide media attention. He also recalls the rough tapping-out dismayed Aleman’s bodyguards, who drew their pistols to ensure their charge was not injured.
There were other activities of interest during the decade. In 1940, Marshall Matteson led a small group to the Order’s 25th anniversary celebration in Pennsylvania. In 1941, our area’s first section conference was held at Camp Tom Wooten near Austin. Tom Petray Sr., who attended the 1945 conference, recalls the program featured training sessions, dancing competition, swimming, canoeing and a Brotherhood ceremony.
The lodge program centered around the summer camp, although Weynand remembers at least two Christmas dances. A lodge manual from 1949 describes lodge campouts held at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. “At least one of these,” it says, “is to test the camping ability of the lodge, for the members build their own shelter, fireplaces and cook their own meals.”
Tapouts were held each Friday during summer camp, and the candidates slept alone that night.
“It was a very beautiful ceremony, because they really put a lot of effort in it,” says Vazquez. After the fire was lit with flint and steel, the team marched around the circle. They suddenly stopped before each candidate, tapped on his shoulder and marked an arrow on his palm. The candidates were given wreaths of sumac and were led away blindfolded and bound together by rope around their ankles. Vazquez says he was given instruction in Morse code, informing him where he was to sleep. The next day, the candidates performed service work while maintaining silence – those who spoke had to work an extra hour for each word. Sashes were presented after retreat that day.
Weynand remembers that the OA members in camp elected the candidates from among all second-year campers approved by their Scoutmasters. Petray, however, says he was elected by a vote of his troop in 1943, possibly the first year the lodge chose members in that manner. One item of interest in the 1949 lodge manual is a slight difference in the Obligation. It closed with the sentence, “I will attend, so far as I am able, all regular and special meetings of the Order and do what I can to promote interest in them.”
Matteson designed a round lodge patch featuring the Alamo in 1940, but is not sure it was issued. Petray was given a patch in 1943 consisting of red cloth in the shape of an arrowhead, with a fire and an arrow in the center.
The Modern Era Begins – 1950s
The 1950s saw many changes in Aina Topa Hutsi’s programs. The lodge reached a new high of activity. The decade did not start well, however. The lodge was dominated by members of an outstanding Indian dance team, who did not enjoy a good relationship with the council executive, and were accused of being the “tail wagging the dog.” The lodge suffered as a result.
Between 1951 and 1957 the program was rebuilt by a series of capable youth leaders, including James B. Rives Jr., Ted Don Cox and Sterly G. Dossmann, aided by advisers like Gus Rehberg and Merrill D. “Doc” Doyle.
Several innovations were introduced during this period. Chapters (called clans) were first organized in 1953, with a clan in each district of the council. Clan functions became an important aspect of the OA program. In the mid-‘50s, a system of lodge committees was developed to carry out lodge programs. Committees were organized for unit elections, ceremonies, service, membership and activities.
The tradition of an annual winter banquet began in 1953, with a dinner held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Gunter Hotel. During the early ‘50s, Ordeals held each week during summer camp were replaced by a single Ordeal weekend at the end of the summer. Ordeal candidates still burned an oak wreath during their night alone. The Fall and Spring Fellowships were also introduced during this period, as the lodge calendar came to resemble its modern appearance.
Important changes were made in Brotherhood membership, which in the early years of the Order was an honor reached through election, much like Vigil. After 1954, however, Brotherhood was seen as the natural completion of the induction process, and could be attained by any member through his own efforts.
The Brotherhood sash with two bars was introduced in the early ‘50s, replacing the custom of Brotherhood members wearing their Ordeal sash over the left shoulder. The practice of shedding blood by pricking the candidate’s finger during the Brotherhood ceremony was replaced by a symbolic mixing of blood in 1956. Hazing and blindfolds during ceremonies also were prohibited.In 1953, four members – Lodge Adviser Gus Rehberg, Ted Don Cox, James Chism, and G. E. “Pop” Mellinger – were inducted into the Vigil Honor, the first in the lodge since Weynand was inducted in 1948. Vigil members have been chosen each year since. As there were no active Vigils in the lodge at the time, the group had to travel to Waco to go through the ceremony.
The ceremonies of the day were much as they are now. Excellent callouts for the Ordeal and Vigil were developed, and became popular attractions.
Aina Topa Hutsi participated in meetings with other lodges in Texas at area conference meetings, the ancestors of today’s section conclaves. Area meetings were held at Indian Creek Scout Camp in 1949, 1951 and 1957. Lodge Chief Ted Don Cox presided over the 1951 area conference, where J. B. Rives became the first elected chief of the area. Lodge Adviser Gus Rehberg, Staff Adviser Bob Garretson, Frank Steinle, John Phillips, Bob Baker, and Forrest Fitzhugh attended a national training meeting for lodge officers in Austin in 1957.
During the late ‘40s, a lodge pin had been introduced as distinctive insignia. It was an arrow, with an arrowhead attached for Brotherhood members, and a triangle added for Vigil members. In 1953 Rives designed a round lodge pocket patch featuring the Alamo against an orange background. This was
replaced in 1956 by another round patch, with a design of a flame and the words “Honor Scout.” The next year, the lodge’s first pocket flap patch was designed by Merrill Doyle. It featured a flame over a blue arrowhead and a red arrow against a white background.
Lodge handbooks were printed in 1957 and 1958, written by committees headed by Sterly Dossmann.
An interesting sidelight of the late ‘50s was the “Mexico Chapter,” made up of American Scouts from Rosita, Mexico. These were members of the now defunct Cuahtli Lodge who regularly attended summer camp at Indian Creek and came to some of the lodge functions. Their adult leader, Richard Forns, was given the Vigil Honor by ATH in 1959.
Toil and Trouble – 1960s
The 1960s were a decade of turmoil in the United States, and this was also a turbulent period for Aina Topa Hutsi. Even as the lodge membership grew to record numbers, its program was reduced.
The lodge’s relationship with the Alamo Area Council leadership began to deteriorate after George Holland became council executive in 1958. It reached crisis proportions during the mid-60s. For example:
There were persistent charges that lodge funds were being misused by professional staff. Though never proven, they were believed due to the lodge’s inability to get an accurate statement of its financial balance.
In 1965, the lodge staff adviser changed the program of the Spring Fellowship without consulting the lodge leaders. This had been planned as a make-up Ordeal and general lodge meeting but became an Ordeal only with members’ attendance strictly limited. Lodge Chief Harley Harben was not informed of this change, but heard of it from his Scoutmaster a week before the Fellowship.
Later in 1965, Staff Adviser Carlos Baker threatened to “break the lodge charter over the end of the table” at a lodge executive committee meeting.
The frustrations of the period can be seen in the lodge service committee’s report of the projects for 1965: “Camping Award – not approved by council office; ‘Where to Go Camping’ and ‘Historic Trails’ pamphlets – original copy misplaced, service committee again trying to compile necessary data; OA booth at Scout Show – not approved by council; Camp Promotion teams — could not function properly because of lack of materials; Camp Promotion Bulletin – never printed; Gateway to Bear Creek – no word received from council.”
The situation came to a head in 1966 when Baker persuaded the council camping and activities committee to “revitalize” the lodge through a series of drastic measures. These abolished the lodge’s chapter organization, ended the collection of dues, limited lodge officers to a chief, one vice-chief, and a secretary/treasurer, and ruled that only high school juniors and seniors could hold lodge office. Since there could be no accurate membership roster without dues, lodge mailings were sent only to Scoutmasters, who were asked to inform OA members in their troops.
In District One, the west/central side of San Antonio, long-time personal relationships kept the chapter program alive. Nelson Block was senior patrol leader of Troop 9 in the district. He later became lodge chief, and as an adult served on the National OA Committee and authored or co-authored two popular books on Scouting, A Thing of the Spirit: The Life of E. Urner Goodman, and Bound in Brotherhood: The Order of the Arrow Centennial Scrapbook. In 1966, Block asked district executive and Vigil Honor member Marvin Pedlar if the district’s Arrowmen could form a chapter, and Pedlar allowed it. Block recalls that members gathered on the hillside topped by the Scout hut of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. Pedlar chaired the meeting until a chapter chief was elected, then turned the program over to the youth.
In the mid-’60s, a council-approved slate of lodge officer nominees usually consisted of summer camp staff members. Other candidates could be nominated from the floor. In 1967, when a slate of five officers was restored, Block recalls that he maneuvered the election in favor of Jerry Harben, who had not served on camp staff but was lodge vice chief and had attended the 1965 NOAC. After the nominating committee gave its report, nominating Block for lodge chief, Harben was nominated from the floor. The nominations closed, then Block removed his name from consideration, and Harben was elected. Laughing at being bested by the boys, Baker suggested amending the lodge rules to add a third vice-chief, to which position Block was elected by acclamation.
By 1968, lodge leaders were able to gain approval to remove the restrictions on officers, while reinstituting chapters and annual lodge dues.
The lodge kept up activities despite its problems. The calendar normally consisted of a Fall Fellowship and Ordeal Camp in August, a Lodge Banquet in December, and a Spring Fellowship in May. The opening of Bear Creek Scout Reservation as a permanent summer camp in 1965 brought changes, as callouts were held there and at Indian Creek. The 1967 and ’68 Fall Fellowship/Ordeal Camps used both camps, with the two groups coming together only for the Vigil Callout and lodge elections.
Even as the program struggled, enrollment increased. Most years saw more than 300 new members inducted. The 1969 Fall Fellowship/Ordeal Camp inundated Bear Creek with more than 1,100 members and candidates.
In the late ‘50s and ‘60s, callouts and many induction ceremonies took place in the impressive call-out ring at Indian Creek, where the Scouts and visitors sat in a dry creek bed, entered via a bridge, with the ceremony team performing on the heights on the opposite slope. Ceremonial aids included:
Arrows and three Ws made of iron rebar wrapped in burlap and doused with kerosene, then set aflame.
The lodge totem, the perpetual burning fire, represented by a coffee can set in concrete painted white with a red W on each side, and suspended by chains from two poles. The can held a small amount of sand with a burlap wick doused with kerosene.
Punk cans – cans filled with sand and burlap wicks soaked in kerosene – lining the trail into the ceremony site, and also suspended from trees behind the audience to give them the impression they were surrounded
A large bass drum painted with American Indian designs, which beat a serious tone as the audience entered and left the ring in complete silence.
Unpredictable Hill Country weather sometimes played havoc with program. W. E. Moerner, a chapter officer of the era who in 2014 received a Nobel Prize in chemistry while a Stanford University professor, recalls being stranded at camp during the Fall Fellowship/Ordeal Camp of 1966, when the Guadalupe River flooded and washed a car from the bridge on the road leading to camp. Unable to evacuate, lodge leaders simply continued the event until the waters receded.
One notable success during the decade was the creation of the Missions Historical Trail in 1968. A lodge committee led by Earle Harben and his son, Jerry Harben, mapped the trail, designed a patch, printed informational pamphlets and won approval from council and national authorities.
Other special projects did not do as well. A proposed Lodge Camping Award was disapproved as being too similar to the National Camping Award, and an offer to build a gateway to Bear Creek was never accepted.
The lodge’s problems did not prevent it from making a good showing at area conferences. The ATH dance team won against strong competition in 1962, ’63 and ’64. The lodge displays frequently won awards. A very successful conference was held at Indian Creek in ’64 with Carl Forrester as lodge chief, and Richard Cardiel and Forrester were elected area chief in 1962 and 1965, respectively.
The lodge patch design remained unchanged through the decade, but the patch became fully embroidered in 1964. Unsuccessful attempts were made to obtain a lodge neckerchief. A tradition began in 1962, when the lodge chief’s peace pipe and bag were presented to Richard Cardiel. This same
pipe and bag are still the chief’s tokens of office.
As the decade drew to a close, there was some hope for the future. Chapters and dues were reestablished, and lodge mailings to all members were resumed. In 1969, Herb Wilkins became council executive, and an improved relationship with the council was possible.
A new spirit of optimism led to reorganization of the lodge, and new written rules were adopted in 1969. These rules were prepared by a committee led by Tom Petray Jr., and committee adviser Carl Forrester. To go with the rules, a new lodge manual was written by Jerry Harben.
Climb to the Top – 1970s
Rebounding from the depths of the 1960s, Aina Topa Hutsi soared to its greatest heights during the 1970s. The lodge’s recovery began in 1973, when a new and energetic council camping committee was organized. Under the leadership of Jimmy Zintgraff and former Lodge Chief Sterly Dossmann, this committee realized the value of an effective OA lodge and set out to make Aina Topa Hutsi the council’s strong right arm.
The lodge was reorganized and new rules were written. A key factor was the recruiting of two dynamic adults, Section Adviser and former Lodge Chief Carl X. Forrester and Bob DiMambro Sr., to serve as lodge co-advisers. Supporting Forrester and DiMambro was a new staff adviser and director of camping, John D. Johnson.
During the middle years of the decade it seemed the lodge constantly had new and exciting projects in planning, being developed, or nearing completion. Not everything was successful, but the record was outstanding.
The new rules expanded the lodge’s committee structure, and several of these committees built notable records. The Indian heritage dance team won section competition in 1976, ’78, ’79, and ’80. More importantly, they provided a valuable service by performing at countless unit, district, council, and community events. Under leaders like five-time chairman Paul Pilcher, the dancers became an annual highlight of summer camp and Scout Country Fair, the council’s headline annual event.
The publications committee fulfilled a long-frustrated ambition by producing a regular lodge bulletin. Editors Mike Holder and Richard Dees and committee adviser Jerry Harben made The Flame one of the best OA publications in the country (rated third in national competition at the 1975 National OA Conference).
The camp promotion committee produced a series of slide shows about summer camp and began presenting programs at troop meetings. The lodge purchased eight slide projectors for this effort. A small where-to-go camping guidebook was printed in 1974, then five years of effort went into a much larger edition in 1980. A particularly good campaign in 1979 crowned the committee’s record for the decade by winning the national E. Urner Goodman Camping Promotion Award.
The induction and indoctrination of new members was the focus of much attention during the decade. In 1972 and 1973 weekly Ordeals during summer camp were tried, then the lodge returned to holding separate Ordeals at the end of summer. Former Lodge Chief Nelson Block wrote an excellent lodge manual in 1973. Extensive slide presentations were produced, designed to ensure that new members understood the Order, and to encourage them to become active members. Training was also created specifically for adult new Ordeals explaining the adults’ supportive role in the OA and stressing the youth leadership role in the OA program. Most of these programs were stopped in 1977 and 1978, when new member orientation was turned over to Elangomats, members who took individual responsibility for training a group of new members. A shortage of properly dedicated Elangomats ended that experiment in 1979.
In 1974, Indian Creek Scout Camp was closed and the lodge took an active role in preparing facilities for the new Rickenbacker Camp at Bear Creek Scout Reservation. As a service project and major contribution to the camp, the lodge assumed total responsibility in 1975 for designing, financing, and construction of the new Brotherhood council ring by the creek. Members gathered rock, dug footings and cemented rock walls and seats seven or eight weekends a year, completing the ring in time for the 1978 camp season.
Upon the 1980 death of the OA’s founder, E. Urner Goodman, Brotherhood ring was renamed the E. Urner Goodman Memorial Campfire Ring. The Goodman Ring was designed by Cesar Ponce, and construction was led by Ponce and Bob DiMambro Sr.
Service work performed by the chapters took a jump with the incentive provided by the Earle Harben Service Trophy, first presented in 1974. At first, this award recognized the chapter which did the most service during the year, but later the rules were changed so all chapters who met a service goal could win.
ATH hosted the section conference at Indian Creek in 1971, the last conference help at a Scout camp until 1981. Robert DiMambro Jr. and Frank Thompson Jr. served as section chief in 1974 and 1975, respectively. Fanatic promotion efforts brought 56 ATH delegates (plus six staff members) to the 1975 National OA Conference in Ohio, and more than 200 to the joint Sections 3A-3B Conference at Waco in 1976, giving the lodge “largest delegation” honors at both meetings.
A highlight of the 1975 National Conference was the presentation of the OA’s Distinguished Service Award to former ATH Lodge Chiefs Carl X. Forrester and Sterly G. Dossmann. Forrester and Dossmann were the first members of Aina Topa Hutsi to be selected for this national honor. The DSA, the highest honor the National OA Committee can award, recognizes outstanding service to the Order of the Arrow at the national, region or section level.
The lodge had a neckerchief in 1970, but after a few years it became too expensive to continue. The lodge trading post continued to grow, however, with special lodge coffee mugs, neckerchief slides, T-shirts, and bolo ties.
A small red patch was issued to mark the lodge’s 40th anniversary in 1971. It used the same design as the 1943 lodge patch.
Continued Success – 1980s
In August 1981, ATH celebrated its 50th anniversary with a weekend event at McGimsey Scout Camp. Arrowmen from several states joined the lodge as we recalled our past and rededicated ourselves to unwavering cheerful service.
That same summer the national OA conference was held close to home at the University of Texas in Austin. The highlight of the conference was the bestowing of the Distinguished Service Award to former Lodge Chief Jerry Harben and council professional staff member James “Skip” Montgomery.
Enthusiastic ceremonies committee Adviser Charles Denison, an amateur metalworker, created belt buckles to recognize each member of the ceremony teams. He and ceremonies Chairman Jake Frazier instituted a competition between chapter teams, with the winning performers receiving an outsized (rodeo champion-style) buckle. He also welded a large metal arrow with a solid base which, when wrapped in burlap, was burned at the top of the bluff overlooking the Goodman Ring during callouts.
In the summer of 1982, ATH members joined brothers from south central and southeast Texas lodges at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville to bid farewell to SC Section 3-A and SC Section 3-B and welcome newly-formed SC Section 5. At this conclave the lodge ceremony teams won the overall ceremonial championship. By 1986, ATH had added another overall championship and a section Brotherhood championship. At the 1986 National OA Conference in Michigan, a team of John Pena, Fred Lahser, Jason Salinas and Russell Murrie won a national Brotherhood championship, while Pena received
the second place award in Vigil Honor competition.
At the 1982 Lodge Banquet, Aina Topa Hutsi first presented the Founder’s Award, a newlyestablished award created by the National OA Committee for exemplary service to the lodge. Bob DiMambro Sr. and Mark A. Lyons were the first recipients.
Texas Lutheran College in Seguin became the annual home of Section 5 conclaves between 1983 and 1987.
In 1983, Alamo Area Council Scout Executive (and Lodge Supreme Chief of the Fire) Robert Shoemaker became the fifth member of Aina Topa Hutsi to receive the national Distinguished Service Award.
In 1984, officers of Aina Topa Hutsi and Tonkawa lodge in Austin decided to facilitate communication between the lodges at a joint fellowship. The event was held at Lost Pines Scout Reservation near Bastrop, a camp of Austin’s Capitol Area Council. The Inter-Lodge Fellowship was a rousing success, featuring training sessions, patch trading, fun and games, a Brotherhood ceremony and a Vigil Honor callout.
At the 1984 Section Conclave, the lodge received the Lodge Achievement Award, recognizing ATH as the best lodge in the section. The lodge neckerchief, discontinued in the mid-1970s, was reintroduced with an attractive new design. Other items added to the lodge’s trading post included a baseball-style cap and a lodge hat pin in the shape and design of the flap patch.
In the spring of 1985, the council celebrated the 75th anniversary of the BSA with a council-wide camp-o-all involving all the council’s districts. The OA lodge provided the main entertainment for the event, a multimedia extravaganza exploring the BSA theme of “Footsteps of the Past, Foundation of the
That same year, several ATH Arrowmen joined brothers from across the nation at the National OA Philmont Trek, the OA’s first national outdoors-emphasis event. Held at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, this event marked the 70th anniversary of the Order.
The Alamo Area Council underwent a major reorganization in 1987, expanding from eight to fourteen districts. With some of the new districts having only a handful of OA members, the lodge executive committee voted to suspend chapter operations for one year. During this trial period it became evident that an organization so large and geographically dispersed needed some structure below the council level for effective administration and leadership development. The next year new chapters, some covering several districts, were organized. Lodge rules and officer leadership structure also were revised at the 1988 Fall Fellowship.
Transition to the Camp Staff Years – 1988 to 2006
The redrawing of chapter boundaries precipitated two major effects: first, the slow but steady exoduses of several lodge leaders, and second, a membership recession that resulted in a smaller and less visible lodge. It was also about this time that two future leaders of ATH would be inducted. Dylan Ashworth and Brian Strye were assigned to the same clan for their Ordeal weekend in the Fall of 1987. Brian and Dylan, in very different ways, were responsible for leading the lodge into a new era of lodge dynamics that would be largely defined by an ascendant Indian Heritage committee and a lodge leadership cadre formed almost entirely by camp staffers.
Between 1988 and 1993, the lodge also saw a transition in adult leadership as several advisers retired from the OA and Scouting. In this time period, Gary Evans, Jim Baker, and Jerry Harben exited, while Bill Ellis, Leroy Garcia, Herman Hauschildt and David Evans ascended. Specifically, Bill Ellis and Leroy Garcia were instrumental in forging a new identity for the lodge that focused more on the support of Bear Creek Scout Reservation. Bill Ellis was a former ATH Lodge Chief (two terms, 1981-1983) and had risen to become the Bear Creek Program Director in 1990. He would serve three terms as Program Director (1990-1993) and one year as Camp Director (1994). Due to their high amounts of co-leadership Bill had a profound impact on the development of many youth at Bear Creek and Aina Topa Hutsi. This was particularly the case for Dylan Ashworth (Lodge Chief, 1993-1994) who, along with Billy Rice (Lodge Chief, 1996-1997) and Jeremiah Birmingham (Lodge Chief, 1997-2000), improved the lodge’s support of Bear Creek by serving on camp staff.
The rise in significance of Bear Creek at this time was fortuitous because the lodge’s composition and purpose was redefined after the reorganization of chapters in 1988. Chapters had provided the keel to the lodge for many years by generating strong youth and adult leaders. The combined consequences of restructuring the chapter lines and the retirement of several key lodge leaders created a vacuum that was filled by a renewed focus on Bear Creek and camp staff. By the late nineties, the emphasis on improving and supporting Bear Creek came to a climax as council-level discussions began to privately consider the idea of selling the camp. Many individuals provided feedback regarding the proposed sale; whether because of this outspoken response or due to other
considerations, the council subsequently determined to retain the property and considered measures to improve the camp.
Chiefs Dylan Ashworth (1993-95), Marcus Glasgow (1995-96), and Billy Rice (1996-97) collectively infused great energies into resuscitating chapter leadership and membership. Strong ceremony teams were almost exclusively grown in the organic environs of chapters. In many ways, the lodge was bolstered by chapter involvement and participation; whereas, the lodge as an overarching entity was deeply tied to Bear Creek camp staff members, the majority base of the lodge existed increasingly in the confines of the chapters where unit relationships flourished. Perhaps the most ideal and nuanced aspect of this lodge-chapter-unit dynamic was that the lodge’s relationship with Bear Creek became a mutually symbiotic recruitment tool for staffing the camp and developing senior leadership for the lodge. As an example, Billy Rice simultaneously became a member of Bear Creek Camp staff and a lodge leadership protégé, even though his troop neither utilized Bear Creek for summer camp nor had any interest in lodge affairs.
Following Billy Rice, Jeremiah Birmingham served as Lodge Chief for 3 years—an unprecedented tenure in ATH’s history. From all accounts, Jeremiah brought a tremendous amount of charisma and excitement to lodge events. Consequently, the energy he infused into the lodge became infectious. Having served for three consecutive years, Jeremiah projected a bigger-than-life personality that, like many legends, became inextricably linked to the identity of the lodge in the late 1990s.
Walter Ball succeeded Jeremiah Birmingham, and, although he served on staff at Bear Creek one time, he began the lodge’s new focus on contributing more to the section. Walter represented for the first time in a long period an overlap and transition from camp staff to non-camp staff leadership of the lodge. Walter spent one summer on Bear Creek staff, but whereas Jeremiah, Billy, and Dylan’s involvement in the lodge was linkable to Bill Ellis and longstanding service on camp staff, he chose not to serve on camp staff again and instead focused on improving lodge events. This period in ATH’s history also reflected a growing trend away from exclusive focus on the “honor camper” side of the Order, and an increased focus on youth leadership development. Walter excelled at increasing the importance of lodge fellowships, banquets, and, perhaps most foretelling, section conclaves.
The next four years were led by capable young chiefs, including Eric Hauschildt (2001-02), Alex Rowell (2002-03), Geoffery Candia (2003-04), and Nathan Woodward (2004-05).
Distinction within the Section – 2006 to Current Day
James McClelland was elected Lodge Chief in 2006, and under his leadership the lodge oversaw the rewriting of the lodge bylaws and an increased focus on making LEC meetings more productive. A change in two of the Key 3 occurred as Ted Borcherding and Glen Ball finished their terms as Staff Adviser and Lodge Adviser, respectively. Larry Peabody and Marc Smith replaced them and the general feeling within the new group of leaders was that a new era had dawned in favor of prioritizing professionalism within the lodge.
Rich Shelton, a transplant from Atlanta, ran for lodge chief in 2007 and won. Rich’s term as Lodge Chief proved a challenging time for him as conflicting personalities and ideas created factions within the lodge; however, Rich helped implement the four Vice Chief system and effectively enacted the new set of bylaws. James went on to represent our lodge well with two terms as Chief of the newly-minted SR2-3S Section, and Rich served as Section Vice Chief for one half-term.
Chris Gower ran for Chief in 2008 and won. Chris was at this point a young, physically strong chief who entered the lodge at a difficult stage for the lodge in terms of politics. Chris successfully steered the lodge toward calmer waters and began a legacy of service to OA High Adventure (OAHA)programs that he has continued to advance. Chris served on the OAHA crews of each of the three high adventure bases and also has served on staff of the OAHA program at the national Summit Bechtel Reserve.
Chris Weldon was a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, but originally hailed from Houston, Texas. With his move to San Antonio for college, he also transplanted his involvement in the Order and thus ran for and was elected Lodge Chief in 2009. All things considered, Chris really did a remarkable job leading the lodge. At this point, Aina Topa Hutsi had a fractured talent pipeline and poor succession planning. With these circumstances came some harsh consequences: specifically, vacuums of decision–making and youth development for all lodge offices except the Chief. If the lodge gained anything during this period, it was because its leadership realized the importance of identifying and mentoring talented youth and advisers.
Chris oversaw one very important project during his tenure: he introduced and advanced a new lodge flame design. James McClelland’s brother, Albert “Sonny” McClelland provided the design-work and Chris promoted it. It was introduced with a three-flap set and subsequently sold with great popularity. As per usual, the 2010 lodge elections were held in conjunction with the Council-wide Roundtable; however, this was the last time either event was hosted at Robert E. Lee High School. The lodge packed into the band hall and held its 2010-2011 elections. Josiah Garza was elected Chief, Will Lynch as Vice Chief of Programs, and Reed Johnson as Vice Chief of Administration.
Within a few months, Josiah stepped down as Chief and Reed Johnson was subsequently elected Chief. Will Lynch stayed on as Vice Chief of Programs, and under the wise counsel of James McClelland, his new Associate Lodge Adviser for Programs, he focused on buttressing the basic dynamics of lodge events and participation.
Will and James assembled a team of youth chairmen and correlating advisers to help improve the Lodge’s events. The Winter Banquet in 2011 was improved by the attendance and participation of former National Chairman, Ed Pease and the newly-elected Southern Region Chief, Dwayne Fontenette. Will and James worked to ensure he was invited, delivered, and well-cared for. After the banquet, the next major event and first real experiment with challenging the status quo was the Spring Fellowship restructured as an “OA Day.” Intentionally smaller in scope than a full-weekend event, the OA Day was a marginal success. Still, it was not consistent with the lofty goals James and Will had set for their area to accomplish.
Conclave was the next significant hurdle for ATH. Many hours were spent creating displays and developing strategy. Hasinai Lodge out of East Texas Council in Beaumont had won the Lone Star Fellowship’s Spirit Award three consecutive years prior to 2011. But, ATH showed up in big fashion— or at least bigger style than previous years—bringing an ATH Fiesta theme to Texas A&M University. Hasinai let its guard down at the same time Will Lynch was leading our lodge’s forces forward with fresh vigor behind a bullhorn. This proved to hasten a fatal blow to Hasinai’s attempt at a fourth title; instead, ATH proudly summoned all the energy it could behind the enthusiastic efforts of our youth, including Max Yamane, Bobby Ferguson, the rest of the Indian Heritage team, and our ceremonialists. Max Yamane took home 1st place for Fancy Dance, Bobby Ferguson 1st place for Traditional, and thelodge’s ceremonial teams proudly represented its growing talent. ATH did work hard to increase its enthusiasm for conclave, but many people were surprised by its win, even by some of its members. Nonetheless, the victory was legitimate, and in this case, no asterisks were necessary to justify the lodge’s achievement—it won fairly and definitively.
Just a few weeks later the lodge held its Summer Ordeal and Lodge elections. The August Ordeal was held the second weekend in August and the Lodge elections were held the Thursday before at the AT&T Center in conjunction with the Council-wide Roundtable. The youth elected Will Lynch their new Lodge Chief for 2011-2012, a seemingly apt reward for his strong leadership at conclave just a few weeks prior.
It was about this time that the lodge was first introduced to its new Supreme Chief of the Fire, Scout Executive Michael De Los Santos. The previous Scout Executive, John Coyle, had been promoted up a council echelon and transferred to Longhorn Council in Fort Worth, Texas, to become Scout Executive in the Spring of 2011. Michael was selected among a caste of several well-qualified applicants. A positive, mutually-beneficial relationship was fostered immediately between the new Scout Executive and the Lodge leadership. And, thus began the reinvigorated era of Aina Topa Hutsi in which was infused great care and energy by youth, Scouters, and professional Scouters alike.
Larry Peabody was ATH’s Staff Adviser between 2007 and 2013, and by this point in 2011 and 2012, he was very much integral to the lodge’s renewed success. Perhaps most important, the council selected A. Kirk McClelland as Lodge Adviser as of January 2012. The near-simultaneous infusion of strong leaders such as James McClelland, Kirk McClelland, Richard Gower and Julie DeLaurier presented a strong front of adult leadership not seen since the Ball-Borcherding era some ten years prior. Moreover, Nick Gower proved to be a strong Lodge Chief who spent ample time building-up youth leaders within the lodge. In July 2012, ATH faced the first opportunity to defend its Spirit Award title. Its effort would not go completely uncontested.
In 2012 the lodge took a hunting theme to conclave. A third of the lodges in our section had birds as part of their totems. And, one of these lodge’s totems was Hasinai’s duck. So, the lodge went hunting—not only metaphorically against all the “birds” in SR2-3S, but also for its 2nd consecutive Spirit Award. ATH brought vast amounts of camouflage and returned to Texas A&M’s campus a very loud and proud lodge. ATH was convinced that it would encounter some stiff counterattacks from not only Hasinai, the spurned loser the previous year, but also from other sleeping giants like Tonkawa and Colonneh. Occasionally, ATH would contend with ad hoc energy from these lodges; but, as a general rule, which would remain true through 2014, ATH suffered very little competition. In fact, ATH won handily in 2013 and 2014, almost entirely securing its victories the Friday night of each of the weekends. ATH simply took more passion and energy to the start of conclaves and this inertia paid-off over the course of the weekends—in essence the lodge had established a Friday night tradition of a
modern day Blitzkrieg of enthusiasm.
ATH took 27 members to NOAC in 2012 at Michigan State University. Max Yamane won 2nd place for Fancy Dance, but many lodge members felt he had been unfairly judged and should have received 1st place. The lodge also entered its first team dance since 1988. Many youth were inspired by Max’s performance and vowed to increase their participation with the Indian Heritage committee.
In 2013, due to being a Jamboree year, the section chose a Spring encampment location at Lost Pines Scout Reservation for the Lone Star Fellowship; thus, Tonkawa was the host lodge and the obvious advantage this gave them toward potentially winning the Spirit Award was not lost on ATH’s lodge leadership. Tonkawa was tasked with hosting conclave and it was clear that they did in fact work extremely hard to pull off the event. But the amount of work that was required of Tonkawa was also its Achilles heel. They simply had no energy or lodge resources to expend on competition for the award. Colonneh had not yet awoken to the idea that perhaps they might want to compete for the Spirit Award, and Hasinai had been decimated by chapter and unit attrition due to the BSA policy change of just a few months prior.
Most importantly, and entirely attributable to ATH’s youth’s efforts, the lodge had begun to develop formidable lodge leadership. Nick Gower and Rod Reyna deserve much of the credit for assembling and developing a high-functioning team. This was comprised of the following officers in 2013-2014: Rod Reyna, Lodge Chief; Sean Dooley, Vice Chief of Chapters; Tanner Maris, Vice Chief of Programs; Chandler Via, Vice Chief of Inductions; and Brett Skogman, Vice Chief of Administration. From mid-2013 to present day, ATH has been blessed to have capable youth leadership in the five main officer roles. After 2014, the lodge was able to fill the Treasurer and Secretary appointments as well.
At the 2013 Lone Star Fellowship, Nik Newman approached Jim Strye and asked him if he would jointly work with him to help organize a Pow Wow in the Spring of 2014. Jim gladly accepted. By June, Rod Reyna and Paul Aguilar Jr. had assembled a large committee that would meet many times over the course of the next nine months to plan ATH’s Spring Fellowship and Pow Wow. Overall, the event was a success because it brought different elements of the lodge together to witness the strength of the Indian Heritage team.
The theme for ATH’s contingent to the Lone Star Fellowship in 2013 was college fraternity. The youth especially liked this theme: it gave them the opportunity to play as if they were college students—even if it was set amidst a campground backdrop, the theme fed their swagger and confidence. Other highlights from 2013 included the debut of the new Brotherhood ceremony and another successful year for our Indian Heritage dancers and chapter ceremony teams. And, finally, for the first time since James McClelland’s term as Section Chief, our youth were beginning to be recognized at the Section level as excellent candidates to serve on conclave staff. In 2013, Nick Gower and Rod Reyna served as Conference Vice Chiefs. Brett Skogman, Sean Dooley and Tanner Maris began to serve as Chairmen or Conference Vice Chiefs in 2014 and 2015.
The Section chose Texas State University for its conclave site in 2014 and 2015. Both years the lodge took home the Spirit Award thus completing a total of 5 consecutive years of winning the Spirit Award. ATH’s very own former lodge chief, Rod Reyna, was elected SR2-3S Section Chief in January 2015 after Alex Call was elected the 2015 National Chief. The lodge took 60 members to the Centennial NOAC Celebration. National created the Centurion award to allow lodges an opportunity to uniquely honor their members and, in a rare move, also allowed them to choose not only livingmembers but also deceased members. Each lodge was given one Centurion Award to present for every 100 members currently registered in their lodge. ATH, having over 1200 members, was able to
round-up and select 13 Centurion Award recipients. The lodge chose the following members:
1) Manuel de Larrea
2) Gary Evans
3) James Strye
4) Maxwell Yamane
5) Julian “Rod” Reyna
6) James W. McClelland
7) Nelson R. Block
8) Carl X. Forrester
9) Jerry Harben
10) Chris Gower
11) Walter Ball
12) Cesar M. Ponce
13) Robert DiMambro, Sr.
Sadly, our lodge lost two monumental members toward the end of 2015. Cesar Ponce passed away on December 12th, 2015 not even six months since having attended the Centennial NOAC, and Sterly Dossmann passed away just a day before Cesar’s Rosary, December 17th, 2015. Several members attended Cesar’s funeral, and three were pallbearers—Tripp Holmgrain, Tom Welsh, and Nik Newman. Dr. Twain Tharp organized a special tribute to Sterly and was attended by many OA members including Dabney Kenedy. Cesar and Sterly provided many years of dedicated service to Aina Topa Hutsi and the Order of the Arrow at large. Cesar Ponce’s Rosary was a beautiful testament to his character, kindness, and strength. Although they will be greatly missed, the spiritual fire that burns brightly in the hearts of Aina Topa Hutsi’s lodge members honors their legacies.
Many Arrowmen have passed through the ranks of the Aina Topa Hutsi; yet, in a sense, they and we are one—united in the spirit of Uncas. Therefore, we perpetuate to them the names and tokens of this Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.
(First published by The Aina Topa Hutsi Press in 1981. Updated in 1988. Revised in 2016 with assistance from Carl X. Forrester, Nelson R. Block, and Nikolaus K. Newman)
Sterly G. Dossmann
“He Who Blossoms Out”
March 6th, 1938 – December 17th, 2015
Cesar M. Ponce
September 24th, 1932 – December 12th, 2015