Scouting has long been an integral part of the youth program at St. Timothy Community Church in Gary, Indiana.
It’s believed that the relationship began with Rev. Robert Lowery, who came to the church from Chicago in 1957. Lowery would eventually become the Scoutmaster of Troop 53 and would later be presented with the Silver Beaver Award.
“Growing up, it was just always expected that any young boy that came through our church would join Scouts,” says longtime member Kellauna Mack.
Sadly, as Mack and other church members were preparing a celebration to commemorate his 50th year of service to the church, Lowery died.
But thanks to Mack and other members like her, Scouting at St. Timothy lives on. The church currently charters a Cub Scout pack, a Scouts BSA troop for boys, a Scouts BSA troop for girls and a Venturing crew as part of its youth program.
“Don’t let my troop die,” Lowery pleaded with Mack after he became seriously ill.
From Webelos leader …
Though she had been around Scouting most of her life, Mack’s induction into the world of official Scouting leadership began when her first child joined the program.
Ken Whisenton was born in 1994. As soon as he was old enough, Mack signed him up for the church’s Cub Scout pack. Like many of the other moms, Mack made herself available to help out as needed.
Then came the moment that all Cub Scout leaders remember.
“They didn’t have a Webelos leader, and my pastor was like, ‘You should do that,’ ” says Mack. “And I was like, ‘no … no … no …’ ”
You can probably guess what happened next.
First, she was the Webelos leader.
Then, she became Scoutmaster, as her son moved up to what at the time was called Boy Scouts.
And when her son earned Eagle and moved away from home, she didn’t leave the troop.
… to Scoutmaster
Mack’s second child, Kendall, was born 9 years after Ken. Back then, she wasn’t allowed to join Cub Scouts, but she was allowed to attend family camping activities.
“Scouting really was a family thing for us,” says Kendall. “My whole family was there.”
When she turned 14, she helped create a Venturing crew from scratch so she could officially be a member of the BSA. She served as crew president.
Then, the day finally came when she could join an actual troop as part of the Scouts BSA program.
“I never thought the day would come for girls to join Scouting,” says Kendall. “I remember my mom waking me up on that day and saying, ‘We’re going to register you as a Scout today.’
“It was time for me to lock in. I was on a mission. We got to work.”
Ken remembers those times as well.
“I was a huge advocate for (girls in Scouting),” he says. “Why wouldn’t I want my baby sister to be equipped to handle life? There are so many things I’ve encountered in life that don’t phase me. These are skills and a mindset I wanted my sister to have. Those should be universal skills, not only male or female.”
A few years later, Kendall was part of the BSA’s inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. She was the first Black female Eagle Scout in her area, and one of the first in the nation.
Kendall Jackson is one of 14 young women in the Chicago metropolitan area to earn the Eagle Scout rank and the area's first Black woman to do so.
“To say I have made Black history is a blessing. It is very humbling.” https://t.co/jd775TrXmt
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) February 19, 2021
Sticking with Scouting
Ken, now 28, is currently a community development reporting manager at Huntington Bank. He regularly commutes to Chicago, New York or Pittsburgh for his job.
Kendall, 19, is studying radiation therapy at Howard University.
With both of her kids out of the home, Mack has never seriously considered quitting Scouting.
She is now a field director at The Pathway to Adventure Council, a committee member for Pack 53, an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 53G, Scoutmaster for Troop 53B, and an Advisor for Crew 53.
In her office, there’s a poster marketing Scouting to girls, featuring a picture of Kendall.
“The program works,” she says. “It teaches kids to Be Prepared for life. I believe in the program. It makes all the difference in the world. I will always support the program.”
St. Timothy’s congregation is predominately Black, as are the Scouts in the units it charters.
Selling Scouting to the Black community has its challenges, says Mack. But she has a hard time taking no for an answer.
“I tell them Scouting is for life, and life is for everybody,” she says. “I tell them all the things and the skills that the children learn. I talk about being prepared.”
Thankfully, she doesn’t do it alone.
Rallying the community
When she first became Scoutmaster, she went to Scout leaders from other units in her area.
“I linked up with them right away,” she says. “I said, ‘What’s this all about? Help me!’ And they really stepped up to the plate.”
Later, she found support from her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
And, through it all, there’s been the support of St. Timothy, which provides a place for the units to meet and volunteers to help with a variety of tasks as part of the church youth program.
The youth play a major role in the annual Scout Sunday service, and Mack does a presentation recapping everything the kids have done in the previous year.
“Because we have four units, we take over everything,” she says.
After seeing that, the congregation inevitably steps up with whatever the kids need.
“Every year, it always helps to remind people what we’re doing,” she says. “One time, I heard from a lady who was like, ‘You know I can teach first aid, right?’ And another lady called and said she can teach swimming.
“My ex-husband still helps out. I’ll call him up like, ‘Guess what? You’re driving the trailer this weekend.’ ”
It’s been 16 years since Rev. Lowery’s death.
A section of nearby 25th Avenue was renamed Rev. Dr. Robert E. Lowery Drive. Many Scout activities take place in the Rev. Dr. Robert E. Lowery Ministry Center, the church’s banquet facility that was remodeled in 2015.
“We discovered our main focus was our youth,” Rev. Alfred Johnson, who took over the position of pastor after Lowery, told The 411 Weekly News Magazine back in 2016. “This new building was designed to minister to youth.”
Scouts have formed the foundation of its church youth program, and Scouts from St. Timothy have been to high-adventure bases, traveled overseas, visited big cities and tiny communities, and done countless service projects in between.
It’s not all because of Kellauna Mack, but a lot of it is.
This summer, she’ll take a contingent to the National Scout Jamboree. After that, they’ll go to Puerto Rico to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. And after that, it’s off to summer camp.
Solid as steel
Gary, Indiana, is home to the largest steel mill complex in North America. Mack calls Crew 53 the Steel City Crew. She says S.T.E.E.L. stands for service, travel, education, entrepreneurship and leadership, named after the tenets upon which they’ve built that unit.
But I was thinking it could just as well refer to the strong-as-steel foundation that Scouting has established within the church and surrounding community.
“You know, we’re alive and well,” says Mack. “And our church — those who have been with us and understand the legacy of what we’re trying to do — they support us greatly.”
Rev. Lowery is certainly proud.