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Weekly 150: Gwin ‘Granddaddy’ Crawford

Scoutmaster, Builder of Men

By Jason R. Martin
Posted 11/24/20

Until a few weeks ago, the name Gwin Crawford meant very little to me other than the sight of a large crypt headstone at Mount Olivet Cemetery. After I was asked to write a story on …

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Weekly 150: Gwin ‘Granddaddy’ Crawford

Scoutmaster, Builder of Men

Posted

Until a few weeks ago, the name Gwin Crawford meant very little to me other than the sight of a large crypt headstone at Mount Olivet Cemetery. After I was asked to write a story on “Granddaddy” Crawford, I was astonished to learn the enduring mark he left on McKenzie.

His accomplishments were not necessarily tangible but were priceless in the sense of the time and devotion he gave the youth of McKenzie.

William Gwin Crawford was born July 26, 1896, and for 75 years he led boys and developed men through the Boy Scouts. He became a Boy Scout leader two years after the program started in Carroll County (about 1915).

In McKenzie, he led hundreds of boys and dozens who became Eagle Scouts. When looking at the names of the strong leaders of McKenzie, many names, i.e., Kermit Holland, Bailey Moore Wrinkle, Harold Russell, Bill Kirk, pop up as Scouts under Granddaddy Crawford. Being a builder of so many great men makes his legacy that much more important to be recorded.

The McKenzie Banner featured Granddaddy Crawford in a 1983 special interest story. The following comes from The Banner archives entitled A Legend to Former McKenzie Boy Scouts:

Gwin Crawford has become a legend to former McKenzie Boy Scouts. Greatly revered through his seventy-one years of service, he continues his role as Scoutmaster in Dresden. He will celebrate his eighty-seventh birthday on July 26 (1983)... His face reflects his dedication of service to others and sparkles with an interest in life itself.

A veteran of the Merchant Marine in World War I, he was an instructor in sailing boats, lifeboats, cutters and gigs. The interest and expertise in boating continues today, and was a factor in McKenzie having a waiting list of fifty boys who wanted to become scouts. The boating, the love of the outdoors — Gwin was a naturalist and outdoorsman without realizing it.

The McKenzie Club House was located on Reelfoot Lake at the Mouth of Clear Creek Lake. Gwin and the scouts left every year for one week after school and for one week before.

There were always amusing incidents, “Discipline wasn’t much of a problem. If two boys started fighting, I just let them go at it and get it out of their system.”

Injuries and sickness were never a problem, either. He thinks that parents today may be too cautious. Warnings such as “Be careful. Don’t do that,” tend to make a youngster accident-prone.

He believed in making the youngsters tough. “Scouting was hard and tough back then... In earlier days they had to work really hard and be reviewed by a board. If the rules called for them to scale a ten-foot wall, they had to scale a ten-foot wall.”

“Scouting had changed. A kid has too many other activities such as organized sports that have crowded scouting out.”

Harmless pranks were numerous. Some examples: putting mud in a scout executive’s bed, placing a warm bowl of oatmeal in a strategic position so that another scout executive sat on it expectedly. Another time, Gwin put cement in the biscuit dough.

With Gwin’s help, boys could make boats from scrap materials. An old iron smokestack from a cotton gin, cut into two lengthwise, was fashioned into a boat by a couple of boys and carried them safely on the Tennessee River.

Gwin recalled some of the boys: Bob Goolsby, Howard Hunter, Joe David McClure, John Costen, Kermit Holland, Clifford Bateman, William Algae, Kent Jones, Sr., Herman Leach, R.C. Presson, Howard Sparks, Guy Kirk, Howard Smith, Bailey Moore Wrinkle, and so many more. (One of his regrets is that the scout logs which he had kept up for years, were lost in his move to Dresden).

Romance entered into the picture, and Gwin at age 30, announced his plans to marry. All of the boys were down-hearted and dreaded the wedding, certain that their days with Gwin would come to an end.

Their sadness didn’t last long, however, as the new bride, Julia turned out to be a good Scoutmaster’s wife. The boys were welcome as ever in their home and by 1:30 every Sunday afternoon the house would be full of kids. Julia worked at Black’s Department Store, and the boys would sometimes have supper ready when she got home, as well as help clean up.

The Scout Troops from McKenzie always did well in competition. They were the first in “Fire by Friction” accomplished by soaking the bark in hickory acid for 7 or 8 seconds. They also took first place in scaling the ten-foot wall and came within second of the world record. It was important to Gwin that his scouts win.

On scouting trips, Gwin solved the problem of being kept awake by young boys who didn’t want to sleep: “If they kept me awake, I’d appoint a committee to keep them awake the next night.”

A trip to the Smoky Mountains was made in a flat-bed truck with an open cab. They built up the sides so the boys wouldn’t fall out, and the bears wouldn’t tear into it and get at the food and supplies stored under the seats. They spent the night on the plateau and hiked up to Kingman’s Dome, seven miles up there and seven miles back.

Back in McKenzie, scouting was important. The boys would want to go on a trip and Gwin’s bosses would hire a man temporarily to replace him. The various McKenzie businessmen would take up a collection to pay for the trip and for Gwin’s lost wages. There was never a drive to keep things going.

In 1962, after his wife had died, Gwin moved to Dresden to make his home with one of his daughters, Patty and her husband, Dr. Joe Anderson. He hated to leave McKenzie — he knew everyone in town as well as the countryside.

He didn’t wait to be asked to help with scouting — he just pitched right in. In Dresden, he worked with Troop No. 40 and has taken them on some of the same trips as their McKenzie counterparts.

A self-taught artist, his paintings of outdoor scenes show remarkable talent. His interest in woodworking and boats keep him occupied.

He has won the Silver Beaver Award, the District Award of Merit and Scoutmaster’s Award. None of the awards measure his greatness and contribution as well as the fervent testimony of former scouts. Most of them have followed their Scoutmaster’s advice and have been successful in their professions and continue to help others.

When asked what Gwin Crawford meant to them, the following former scouts answered:

Joe David McClure: “He had more influence on more boys than any one man, outside of their families. Boys respected him. He had more influence than most churches and schools.”

Clifford Bateman: “There was never anyone, anywhere like Gwin Crawford — he was unique. He related to boys of all ages.”

Billy Kirk: “He had a caring attitude about boys. He pushed them to their limits and insisted on the best.”

Dr. Harold Russell: “He had a wonderful sense of humor. We always had good clean fun. Gwin’s house, although he had three daughters, was always filled with the scouts.”

Bailey Moore Wrinkle: “He was a fine fellow, a fixture of the town. He always had time for young people.”

Guy Kirk: “Gwin was always a real fine gentleman. He gave us a lot of time, and we all had fun. He was a great Scoutmaster.”

Kermit Holland: “Gwin was never too busy for the scouts. If we wanted him to take us swimming, and he was working on a project, he’d say, ‘Now you boys help me finish this and we’ll go.’ Everyone would pitch in and help. It was always important to Gwin, too, that we do our best to win.”

Howard Sparks: “He was the best scout leader in Tennessee. Only one boy out of three or four hundred scouts caused any trouble. He devoted almost off of his time to us.”

Dr. Howard Smith: “Gwin would always be ready to go on a trip. He not only gave of his time, but he helped finance most of the excursions.”

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