Ron Nyman, Director of Field Services (DFS) has attended many jamborees but his first jamboree is his most memorable because it planted a seed about the importance of the jamboree experience in the life of a boy that has sprouted and grown.
In 1975, I was asked by a friend of mine who was a Scoutmaster for the jamboree in Cache Valley to be his assistant Scoutmaster. I went to my boss and I said, “He wants me to do this.” And he said, “I will send you, if you’ll fill it up.” I didn’t know what that meant, because I had never been to a jamboree. So I talked to LaVar and we developed a strategy and I started visiting parents and talking and doing promotional things. Eventually, we not only filled it up, but we filled up an additional half of a troop that we didn’t have. Back then they allocated how many troops you could have. So we combined a half of a troop with some kids down in Santaquin, so that those kids could all go to the jamboree.
The jamboree that year was held in Pennsylvania at a place called Moraine State Park which is just outside of Pittsburgh. It was an old landfill that they had reclaimed, planted a bunch of trees and brought in some fill and made it a campsite.
At jamborees you arrive on a Monday and leave on a Wednesday. So Monday we came into the jamboree site, set up, and whatever. It started to rain Monday night late-ish. It rained essentially all day Tuesday, all day Wednesday, all day Thursday, all day Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, all day Monday, half a day Tuesday. The weather finally broke on Tuesday around noon as we were tearing down the campsite and doing what we needed to do to go home.
The repercussion of all this rain was that, by the time we were ready to go, the level of mud at the camping place was anywhere from 6 – 12” deep. Because it was on a landfill, it smelled really bad. Plastic bags, cans, all kinds of things were resurging to the top of the pile.
Tragedy at Jamboree
On Saturday afternoon, we were sitting down for lunch and the kids were out in a small open area by the campsite. It was raining, but they were out playing frisbee. Out of nowhere a lightning strike came and struck one of the kids. He took a direct shot, hitting him in the ear. There was a guy in the campsite next to me who knew first aid. He was a highway patrolman. He got to the kid first and announced him dead. Medical support came and did artificial respiration and were able to revive the Scout and took him to the hospital. The parents were notified and flew out from Salt Lake City to the jamboree site that evening and they stayed with their son until he ultimately passed away.
Sunday Morning Miracle
For the LDS contingent, the miracle that occurred was on Sunday morning. At jamborees, everyone goes to church – no, you don’t have to go to church – but there is nothing being held at the jamboree in the morning hours. From 9 a.m. to noon, the place is shut down and your choice is go to church or sit in camp. Every religious denomination, except The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, postponed their religious service. Ours was supposed to start at 9 a.m. in a big assembly area. We walked over there at 8:30 a.m. in the rain. We went in and sat down with our ponchos on. We were sitting on a piece of ground that had now had five days of rain on it. Everything was muddy, smelly and awful. But about 5-10 minutes to the hour, the rain stopped, the skies parted and there was a ray of sunshine that shined down upon that field for the period of time that we were in Sacrament meeting. Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve at that time was present and was in attendance at that church service.
As soon as the church service was completed, on the way back to camp it started to rain again and it rained all the rest of that day. We had scheduled that evening a 7 p.m. Fireside with Marion D. Hanks. So we started over at 6:30 and marched over to the same field and sat down in the same conditions that we had done that morning. About 5-10 minutes to the hour, the skies parted again, the sun came out, and shone for the period of time as long as we had daylight.
The interesting thing about the experience was that you could look 360 degrees and everywhere you looked it was raining, except for right there. I don’t know how many of the 12 and 13-year-old kids realized what kind of a miracle they saw, they felt, were a part of, but I realized it. It was one of those phenomenal experiences that says to me that the Lord cares #1 about kids, but #2 about National Jamborees as an important event in the lives of young boys.
As a consequence, I have been tacitly involved with jamborees ever since. I haven’t attended all of them but I’ve been six or seven times. My goal, when I am invited, is to help parents understand how life-changing this experience can be for their son. I’ve learned that when I approach mothers and talk to them about the value added benefit of the jamboree in the life of their son, then parents see this and figure out a way to get their son to go to the jamboree. Obviously, I am not 100% successful.
President Benson said in a talk titled, “When I Was Called as a Scoutmaster:”
It is one of the choicest experiences in my life to serve in and participate in Scouting, which I have done for almost sixty-five years. Scouting is a great program for leadership training, teaching patriotism and love of country, and building strong character. It is a builder of men, men of character and spirituality…
My first jamboree experience is one of the choicest memories in my life. It opened my eyes to the benefits of a jamboree experience in the life of a boy and in the life of a leader. The miracle that took place that day changed me and changed my direction. I have devoted my service in the Scouts to helping families and young boys partake of the opportunities and growth that comes from attending a national jamboree.
Author: Ron Nyman | Director of Field Services, Utah National Parks Council