STORIES FROM DAVIDSON COLLEGE
Do a Good Turn Daily: 1909 Davidson Grad Inspires 2020 Scouts
by: Danielle Strickland – Davidson College
When a flu pandemic swept the world, most schools and churches in North Carolina closed. In response to the sudden shift in the rhythms of daily life, Robert E. Denny sent a letter to his scouts that drew inspiration from the Boy Scouts of America slogan, “Do a good turn daily.”At that time, Denny, a 1909 Davidson graduate, led the Greensboro Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as the organization’s first scout executive.
A century later, Mike Matzinger, an organic chemist who lives just outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, learned of a deep connection with Denny.
Matzinger also serves as the unit leader for more than 100 young people through the BSA, including a troop of young women and a co-ed Sea Scout Ship.
“The granddaughter of one of the young men who received the letter in 1920 found the letter in her grandfather’s mementos box and brought it to me,” Matzinger said. “It was important enough to a 13-year-old to keep it for the rest of his life.”
The letter offers much of the advice today’s troops under Matzinger’s direction are encouraged to follow. During the pandemic then, just like now, many of the businesses and organizations that drive social and economic life were closed. But in the letter, Denny urges the scouts to use the extra time they have for good, rather than waste it. He implores scouts to help people in their homes, help people in their neighborhoods and, at the end of each day, share how they tried to make a difference.
“Denny wanted to give the scouts accountability by asking, ‘What did I do today to help someone other than myself?,” Matzinger said. “If you failed, you have the next day to do better. His words are eerily similar to what I tell my scouts today.”
A letter written by a Davidson College alumnus a century ago still inspires scouts to do a good turn daily. [screenshot from Davidson.edu] Full text provided at the end of the article.[/caption]Denny’s influence did not end with the letter. Scouts from Matzinger’s groups have the opportunity to earn a patch created in Denny’s likeness and receive the honor of being named “R.E. Denny Good Turn Ambassador” if they do at least one “good turn” a day for 14 straight days.
The scouts have stepped up to meet the challenge. They’ve made blankets for the homeless, collected more than 11,000 pounds of food for a local pantry, taught adults how to read, made devices to make masks more comfortable for healthcare workers, taken meals to neighbors and written cards to shut-ins.
“I keep telling them… 100 years from now, a family member is going to open a box of your mementos,” Matzinger said. “Do you want that story to be that you played the Xbox, or do you want that story to be that you fed the hungry and helped the homeless—that you took care of your community?”
Matzinger learned through scouting and through church that he had an opportunity to serve others. As a young person, he worked with inner-city youth who were trafficked or homeless. When his own children were old enough to join the organization, he expanded his own involvement.
“Like Denny, many of us go into our lives as servant leaders, never knowing the legacy we might be leaving behind,” he said. “You can do good at 11, and you can do good at 88. His story reminds us that a habit of doing a good turn daily can impact others beyond our expectation.”
Denny transferred to Davidson after a year at Guilford College. He jumped in wholeheartedly, playing football and baseball and running track. He served as president of his sophomore class, was involved with the YMCA and participated in student activities ranging from the Glee Club to the debate team.
Full text of the original letter:
THE WAR IS OVER – BUT OUR WORK IS NOT.
The “Flu” is on. “Good Turn” week is here.
Scouts, at Ease.
I want to have a personal word with you about the situation.
The schools are closed. WHY? TO PREVENT THE SCATTERING OF “FLU.” Therefore, this is not an extra holiday – and we scouts know that it simply gives us time to improve our scoting and to do many “good turns.”
Now what shall we do about it?
First. By authority of the Activities Committee I am calling off all regular scout meetings this Friday night, February 6, 1920.
Second. What about our SCOUT SUNDAY? If the Churches hold services Sunday, of course, we will be there with our “good turn” knots for those who will do a good turn daily for the week – and Sunday night every scout that can will attend Church and at the proper time stand and repeat the scout oath.
Third. There is hardly need for me to tell you, but a scout MUST first keep himself fit. A scout will keep his feet dry, keep his bowels open and only eat proper food at proper time.
NOW, “HELP OTHER PEOPLE AT ALL TIMES.”
- In your own home.
2. In your own neighborhood.
(A scout will not come in contact with “Flu” patients. A scout is an outside worker.)
Fourth. If you have time for good turns elsewhere come to Scout Headquarters and report to me or the office secretary.
Fifth. On the enclosed “good turn” blank keep a careful, neat record of your good turns, and turn them in either to your Scoutmaster or to scout headquarters.
And remember, Scouts, this is a fine time to get ahead in Scouting. How about a little signaling and First Aid?
All work and no play never did pay.
Scouts, Attention. Repeat the Scout Law—-. Scouts Dismissed.
February 8, 1920 R. E. Denny
Greensboro, N.C. Scout Executive