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What's a Boy Ranger? He's a youngster with his dad in tow

Boy Rangers dress much like Boy Scouts; they have activities similar to those of Scouts. But their dads are as much a part of this Wellesley organization as are the lads -- and that has made a big difference to both fathers and sons.

In their neat khaki uniforms, they look like Boy Scouts. They act like Boy Scouts. They take on many of the projects of Boy Scouts.

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But there is one important difference: The fathers sign up as well. Father-son participation is what makes the Wellesley Boy Rangers unique among boys' clubs.

Instead of dropping off their sons and promising to collect them two hours later, the dads stay on and pitch in. The idea is that having the dads around encourages the boys to try harder. They're also exposed to a wide range of skills and interests that would not be possible if the fathers stayed at home.

Take the case of Mike Barton. By joining Boy Rangers, he and his son, Chris, were able to teach about 27 other boys and their dads how to assemble rockets from scratch and fire them 1,000 feet into the air.

``If I have a skill, it's seeking out the dads' skills and talents -- what their interests and hobbies are,'' says James Kirwin, who currently heads the organization as a ``ranger guide.'' When fathers and sons first sign up, he asks the dads to list their professions and their hobbies. With that information in his file, Mr. Kirwin quickly gets the adults involved.

As first violinist to the Boston Pops Orchestra, Maynard Goldman was a natural to do a workshop on the Nutcracker Suite just before the Christmas season. Suitably primed on the ballet, the boys, including his own ranger son, Noah, were then taken by Mr. Goldman the following week to the full dress rehearsal, plus a backstage visit.

With that kind of membership, the Ranger calendar of events, which changes every year depending on what newly joined fathers can contribute, is enough to make any vacation camp operator envious.

Last year's 1983-84 calendar shows that fathers and sons canoed on the Concord River, tried their hands at ham radio operation, learned bell ringing, attended computer workshops, applied their orienteering skills in a nearby forest, and ran a marathon.

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Although some of its activities reflect contemporary interests, the Wellesley Boy Rangers Lodge No. 527 was set up decades ago. Today it is apparently the only surviving lodge in the country, but it was once part of a vast organization that in the 1930s embraced some 200,000 members in 47 states. Lodges even sprang up in China, Japan, and India.

Working out of its prestigious Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York, the Boy Rangers of America counted among its honorary national officers such luminaries as Herbert Hoover; Chief Justice of the United States Charles Evans Hughes (honorary Rangers' president); Secretary of State Ray Lyman Wilbur; and John W. Davis, a Democratic Party presidential candidate. Boy Rangers of America, first organized in 1913, owes its existence to Emerson Brooks, a highly successful businessman. His passing in 1947 was a principal reason why the Boy Rangers faltered. The World War II years didn't help, either. The reason the largely moribund organization still thrived in Wellesley was largely due to the influence of Charlie McCullough, who headed the lodge for 41 years. His departure meant either the disbandment or the willingness of more fathers to help pick up the reins. The idea of the father-son relationship took root.

In recognition of its unique status the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded Wellesley Boy Rangers Lodge 527 a special citation in 1981.

But the Wellesley Boy Rangers say they have no desire to remain exclusive. If the organization could be resuscitated as a national movement by fathers across the country, nobody would be happier than Kirwin and the 27 other dads and their sons. In fact, the Wellesley promoters once tried to encourage a neighboring town to start its own lodge.

The response to the activities and goals of the organization was enthusiastic. But as soon as it dawned on many of the fathers that it would entail giving up a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons, their enthusiasm suddenly waned. Most of them were quite happy for their sons to join, but didn't feel they could spare the time themselves. The idea of setting up a new lodge was dropped. But regular participants in the Wellesley Boy Rangers (82 percent of the dads came to every meeting last year) see their participation not so much as time consumed as time invested in creating a special bond between fathers and sons.

While away on business, one father, computer representative Tom Sinopoli, regularly called in from various parts of the United States to get details about the next ranger meeting. On one occasion, he flew in from Texas for a meeting and flew out to West Germany the following day.

Bob Durbin has been a member of Wellesley Boy Rangers long enough to see three of his sons participate. ``When you have several children,'' says this father of five, ``it's important to see that each child spends exclusive time with his dad.''

Even chief ranger Kirwin has to admit he's not so sure he would spend quite so much time with his son, Jay, (since graduated from Boy Rangers) had the special discipline of a regular Saturday afternoon schedule not been imposed. ``No way on a particular Saturday afternoon would I say to Jay, `Let's go over to the Wellesley College golf course and go sledding,' '' he remarks. Yet he can recall the frigid experience of going ice fishing with the Boy Rangers at Lake Waban, which had 181/2 inches of ice. ``What do I care about ice fishing?'' he says he asked himself at the time.

The boys seem to get genuine pleasure from having their fathers around. At a reunion of graduated boy rangers, ex-ranger Jeff Sanger told what the organization had meant to him: ``For me Rangers was more than all the new skills I learned like whittling or building a bird house; more then just [playing] `capture the flag' out in the autumn foliage; more than the father-son soccer games out in Hunewell fields; but getting to know my dad better, and getting to know myself a little better, too.''

Ranger activities cover seven major categories or divisions: handicrafts, Indian crafts, prowess or sports, accomplishments, nature, art, and character. The diversity is intended to give each boy a chance at excelling in at least one or two categories, while encouraging him to give of his best in other areas. The result is that a boy who is outgunned in sports can gain valuable points for his team by playing a musical instrument or weaving a scarf on a loom.

How well the boys respond to these challenges -- and mature in the process -- is one of the great pleasures for observing fathers. Don Smith says his son, Andrew, came into the Wellesley schools in the third grade, but at first-grade reading level.

``He had a very tentative way of approaching things,'' Mr. Smith says. ``The dramatic thing was that he found he could run,'' after the Smiths won the Rangers' annual two-mile father-and-son race.

After attempting very few projects at first, Andrew racked up 93 in three years. How long does he spend on them? ``About an hour a week,'' Andrew replies. ``Sometimes more when I set my heart on it.''

Last year he won the best art project when he did a shadow box of an Indian tepee with Indians in the backgrand.

The Indian influence is strong because the organization is based on Indian lore. Each boy takes an Indian name, like Wolf Man, Shooting Fire, Fast Thunder, or Brave Bull. He belongs to any one of four tribes: Pawnee, Blackfoot, Iroquois, or Sioux. Each project a boy completes scores points for both the individual and his particular tribe.

As the boys progress (they start at 8 and graduate at 12), they are expected to move on to move advanced projects. As they do they graduate to higher honors.

In addition, each Boy Ranger is required to perform chores around his own home -- everthing from making his bed every day to helping clean up the kitchen after the evening meal (the list changes every week). If he satisfactorily completes his task, his parents pay him his ``wampum,'' 25 cents, which goes toward paying for trophies at the end of the year. It also earns points for the boy's tribe.

A code of behavior known as the Ranger Great Laws is recited at every Ranger meeting, as is the Lord's Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Rangers' pledge to their own constitution. -- 30 --

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