“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.”
You’ve probably heard that powerful quote before. Or you’ve seen it — often attributed to “Anonymous” and usually misquoted (the last word changed to “child”) — on inspirational posters, wall art for sale on Amazon, or images posted on Pinterest or Facebook.
What you probably didn’t realize is that the quote first appeared in the pages of Scouting magazine as part of a longer, even more powerful piece.
And you probably didn’t know that its author, Forest Witcraft, was hardly Anonymous. He was a professional Scouter and onetime managing editor of Scouting magazine.
Read on for the full story of Witcraft’s timeless words.
The quote in context
First, take a second to read Forest Witcraft’s entire essay, called “Within My Power.” I’ve included it below.
In the essay, Witcraft shows that even someone who is “not very important” and a “humble citizen” — words he uses to describe himself — can have tremendous impact on the life of a boy.
“If I can have some part in guiding them up the trail of Scouting, on to the high road of noble character and constructive citizenship, I may prove to be the most important man in their lives, the most important man in my community.”
Strong words indeed. Here’s the full essay, which first appeared on Page 2 of the October 1950 issue of Scouting magazine.
Who was Forest Witcraft?
In his classic essay, Forest Witcraft says he’s “not a very important man.” He was wrong.
Not only did he craft a quote so powerful it’s still in heavy use more than a half-century later, he also served the BSA as a professional Scouter.
As a Scouting magazine editor myself, I felt a sense of pride to learn Witcraft was managing editor of Scouting magazine for seven years in the 1950s.
His name first appears on the Scouting masthead in the April 1951 issue. Seven years later, the April 1958 issue, was the last time he was listed as managing editor.
Here are those mastheads, first from April 1951 and then from April 1958. You’ll probably recognize some other names on these mastheads, too.
More about Forest Witcraft
Forest Witcraft’s quote is often attributed to “anonymous,” and the man himself kept a low profile.
You could say the quote was the most indelible part of his legacy.
What little I was able to learn about the man after some exhaustive research comes from this post on an unofficial Scouting message board.
In 2009, user dewASM posted that he had done some census research on Witcraft and found some facts. Here are the highlights, which piece together to form an impressive life:
- Aug. 23, 1894: Forest Eugene Witcraft born to Thomas and Rosa Devorse Witcraft.
- 1900: His father was listed on the 1900 census as a day laborer; his mother didn’t work.
- 1920: According to census data, Forest Witcraft and his sister, Vivian, lived with their mother in Chicago. His mother was the housekeeper for a college fraternity, and Forest listed no employment, possibly because he was a student at the time.
- June 19, 1921: Forest married Rose Winifred Whipple in Illinois.
- 1930: Forest was living in Hastings, Neb., with his wife, Winifred, and daughter Carol. His occupation was listed as “college professor.” That could have been at Hastings College, founded in 1882.
- 1936: Likely his first connection with Scouting. An article in the Newark (Ohio) Advocate stated, “With the final decision of the officials of the Licking County Council, Boy Scouts of America, to conduct summer camping activities for 1936 only on a troop camping basis, the training committee felt the need for conducting an intensive training course in troop camping, under the direction of Brandt Hervey and Professor Forest Witcraft of Denison University, who compose the training committee.” Denison University is a liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio.
- September 1936: An article states that “Training in the Principles of Scoutmastership will begin Sept. 24. This course is one of the required courses in the five-year progressive training for Scoutmasters and will be under the direction of Prof. Forest Witcraft of Denison University and Brandt Hervey, who compose the council training committee”
- Feb. 9, 1942: Forest’s wife, Winifred, died in Sioux Falls, S.D.
- Aug. 11, 1943: Forest remarried, wedding Neva Elizabeth Replogle.
- 1944: Forest and Neva were living in Sioux Falls where Forest was listed as Assistant Scout Executive.
- 1945 to 1947: Forest was listed as the Scout Executive of the Central South Dakota Council. His office was in the basement of City Hall. After this, it looks like he moved to Minnesota and possibly worked at Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minn.
- 1951 to 1958: Forest was managing editor of Scouting magazine and presumably worked at the BSA’s headquarters in New York and, later, New Jersey.
- 1963 to 1966: Forest, then referred to as Dr. Witcraft, is the Resident Administrator at Salem College in Salem, W.Va.
- 1967: Forest Witcraft died in West Virginia. He would have been 72 or 73.
- March 1968: As a tribute to Witcraft, Scouting magazine republished his classic essay in its March 1968 edition.
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