By Mitchell Slepian
Yesterday, I had the sad occasion to attend the memorial service for a dear friend and mentor “Scouuuut” Larry Leshay. I first met Larry during the summer of 1983 when I went up to Chappy Hill, Ten Mile River Scout Camps (TMR). My parents drove me up to camp for the first time. We pulled into Kunatah and were given permission to drive on the dirt road over to Chappy.
We climbed muddy steps and went into the “Palace,” our camp’s office. There was Larry sitting at his desk with the camp bank and his Smith-Corona typewriter. I made the rounds of the first day of camp and went to sleep. Actually, I didn’t sleep. I never slept in camp.
The next morning, I woke up much earlier than wakeup call and sat at the picnic table adjacent to the Palace and Larry’s leanto (a three walled structure with screening on the front that served as our sleeping quarters). Larry was coming back from his morning shower. He saw me and said what are you doing here? I said, I got up early and came here. He decided I was a vampire. And let the other scouuuts know. From that morning on, I was Chappy’s vampire. That name stuck with me during my entire TMR experience. Last summer, at the reunion weekend, people were talking about the day I became a vampire.
Under Larry’s leadership, I spent the best years of my life on the Hill. I became a patrol leader, senior patrol leader and was on staff for two years. Larry and I had many adventures. During my early years in camp, I earned several merit badges from him. One winter, I mailed him merit badge work. I hand wrote it. Those were the days before everyone had a printer or could email it. I didn’t have a typewriter as 12 or 13 year-old. My penmanship is poor. Up until the day we lost Larry, he still reminded me of the struggle he went through to read my work. He said I understood the badge requirements but it took him days to figure out my writing.
Every Saturday, we would swim in the Delaware and Ten Mile Rivers. Most of us would hike to and from the rivers. Larry always got a ride in the “Whomobile” or whatever beat up auto served as the camp car. Once Larry got back to the site, we would often stroll down to Rock Lake and I would paddle him around in a canoe.
Eventually, I was one of the people driving him around for the camp food pick-ups at the Kunatah or headquarters dining halls or the rides out to Peck’s and other stores. One day in the “Truckster,” a beat up blue station wagon, I got so lost. We wound up in Hawley, along the Lackawaxen River in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. We laughed about that trip forever.
One of the finer things about Larry was his graciousness and love of his scouts or “little funkys” (he used to broadcast a weekly or daily show “Uncle Funky”). I used to play Meteu in the Order of the Arrow ceremonies. So did he. I did many ceremonies in TMR. Sometimes older scouters would stand the during the ceremonies with the scripts and penlights to see how the kids playing the roles were doing. Then after the ceremony they’d tell you what mistakes you made. This infuriated Larry. None of these people ever did a ceremony and in most cases that were the first time they ever looked the script. Larry always let us know that. And let the kids know how well they did.
Our last summer was 1988, the OA’s highest honor, the Vigil was bestowed upon me three weeks before camp started. Every Wednesday night was OA night. We wore our sashes to the dining hall. Troops would line up and they would ask all of the Vigil members to march in first. There weren’t many. One night it was only Larry and myself. Everyone knew being Vigil meant the world to me. Much more than being Eagle. Of course, Larry helped me reach Eagle. They asked all the Vigil member to walk in. I started walking and realized I was alone. Larry hid in the back with his sash. He knew what it meant to me to be the only Vigil to enter when they called us.
That summer ended a few weeks later. But our friendship went on to the end. I will always have him in my thoughts.
Larry’s passing leaves a huge hole in my soul. I feel like we have an empty bucket. A little more than three years ago, Dr. Karl Bernstein, Larry’s closest friend passed away. Karl was TMR. In 2016, Staten Island Scouter Marty Poller left us. Marty, a Meteu taught me the role and how to build the fire. He was Aqeuhongian Lodge. His guidance when I was chief is immeasurable.
My dad passed away shortly before these great scouts. Of course, he played a monumental role in my scouting career. He had a similar scouting history.
I feel empty. I cling so much to my childhood. I cherish the learning, love and fun times I had with all of them. Until we meet again. Keep the fire burning.