Saturday, November 26, 2022

The End of an Era: Delose Conner Passes


There has never been anyone quite like Delose Conner and there will never be another quite like him.

Delose lived life passionately. He held strongly to deeply rooted principles and he constantly strove to effusively enact those principles in his life and to instill the best of those principles in others.

Many know "Mr. Conner" through his long career teaching demanding high school history courses and advising school clubs or activities. But my association with Delose came through his lifelong love of Scouting.

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with many people who have been dedicated to the Scouting program throughout my life. But Delose's devotion to the program was unusual even among this elevated group because he was deeply committed to the program's noble principles and aims. The more time I spent with Delose, the more it became clear that those principles undergirded everything he did in the program. He was serious about them

My memories of Delose after four and a half decades of association are many and varied. It's difficult to know what to share. Here are some things I learned from Delose.

The first thing I learned from Delose is that he saw me as a leader and respected me, despite me being a 16-year-old kid who lacked confidence. I had just returned from a summer of planting pineapples in Hawaii. (Which sounds far more glamorous than it really was.) I had been active in a fraternal Scouting organization called the Order of the Arrow. But my term as chapter chief would end in a few weeks and I was thinking that would be the end of my Scouting pursuits.

Delose was a recent college graduate and a newly minted district Scouting professional who had spent many summers working at Scout camp. He called me to arrange a meeting with me and my chapter adviser. We had no functional chapter adviser at the time, so I met with Delose on my own. He clearly expected me to step up and fill the leadership role to which I had been elected and expressed complete confidence in my ability to do so.

The next two and a half years led me through a growth experience that included two summers working as a commissioner at Camp Loll, many OA events and activities, and a trip to the Explorer President's Congress in Washington DC. I met people, engaged in activities, and learned new things that fundamentally changed the way I thought about and approached life. I still relish many of those relationships. Delose was with me and helping me each step of the way as I became the OA lodge chief and then section chief. He even spoke at my missionary farewell.

I learned from Delose how to do hard things and to even have fun while doing them. Working on Camp Loll Staff was physically and mentally demanding. Delose taught me to regularly step out of my comfort zone and find the glory in doing so. Where else can you spend a summer living in a tent, being chewed on by bugs, working 16-hour days while being on call 24x7, covering miles of trail by foot daily, and doing crazy skits and songs, all while getting paid next to nothing, and then hunger to do it again the following summer?

Some of the things I learned during those years were to take care of and spend time with my troops, work together with other people in the program, make it fun, develop meaningful relationships, be proud to wear the Scout uniform in public, do what needs to be done.

I also learned about priorities. Delose and I had been nominated to keep the Vigil early one June at Camp Bartlett. There were no cell phones back then, nor was there a telephone at the camp. A car arrived in camp and its driver told Delose that his wife Janice was in labor with their first child. Delose dropped the tools he was holding, ran to his car, and drove out of camp with impressive haste. He arrived at the hospital minutes after his oldest son was born. Family trumped Scouting, although time would cause the two to intertwine quite often.

By the way, Delose told me that as he admired his newborn son, his dad told him not to give the child a strange name. He said that he turned to his father and told him that he had no room to talk about giving a child an odd name. Yet, Delose seemed to quite like his unusual name.

Did I mention that Delose taught me that fun was important? Once as our camp cook made a batch of chocolate cake donuts, she put the donut holes in a large bowl. They were oblong rather than round and they looked exactly like moose droppings, of which there were many piles around camp back in those days. Delose walked up to Jed Stringham, who was a hard-working no-nonsense Scouting professional with a handful of the donut holes, asking Jed to look at the moose scat he had just found. Jed was a great naturalist. As he leaned over to take a look, Delose popped a donut hole into his mouth and gobbled it up. Jed just shook his head and walked away. But to those of us who saw it happen, it was pretty hilarious.

As the years passed, I moved from being a teenager to being a young adult OA adviser, and then to being an adult Scouter. I took my own troops to camp and accompanied my sons as they went to camp with their troops. I ran large Scout camping events, teaching younger Scouters the skills I had learned under Delose's tutelage. I brought my own sons to camp to work on camp staff. I returned many times to camp to do volunteer work.

I deeply cherish the times when I got to sit and chat with Delose, usually in his office at camp, but sometimes out in the camp. During one of these sessions, Delose told me about the months he and his family cared for his dying father in their home. Some of the duties and experiences didn't sound very pleasant to me, but Delose assured me that taking care of an elderly parent's end of life experience would be one of the most beautiful and rewarding things I would ever do.

Sometimes our chats would turn to philosophy. I will never forget the time he compared artists Norman Rockwell and Pablo Picasso. In Delose's mind, one of these men was the greatest artist of the 20th Century and a truly great soul, while the other was a selfish opportunist. Ask me about it sometime if you want more details. We didn't always agree but we could always be respectful of each other.

Delose loved to sing songs that were appropriate for Scout camp. To be honest, Delose was not a great musician. His formation of a tune could vary significantly from the original. But whatever musical deficits he might have had were more than compensated for by passion and enthusiasm. Those who have worked on Delose's camp staffs know that singing is more than fun; it's essential.

Photographs were very important to Delose. He took lots of photos of Scouting escapades throughout the years and filled volumes of photo albums. No one was to be forgotten. They were all important. Delose was a devoted naturalist and a lifelong artist. He deliberately worked throughout his life to hone his art skills and he even wrote a book about essential art basics.

Several months ago, my son Ben and I went to visit Delose and Janice. I had heard that Delose was grappling with prostate cancer. He didn't look well at all, but his spirits were strong. Despite his great difficulty traversing the basement stairs, Delose insisted on taking Ben and me down there to see the room that has been converted into a type of Scout shrine or museum. It was wonderful.

I felt bad about being unable to make it to Delose's art exhibit three weeks ago. I had church responsibilities that coincided with the event, and I simply could not make it work. The news of Delose's passing was not surprising to me. I find myself experiencing an odd mixture of melancholy, gratitude, and joy. He lived a beautiful life. He positively influenced thousands and deeply influenced hundreds. Perhaps in his passing, Delose has taught me a final lesson about dying well.

Godspeed, my friend. Until we meet again.

Addendum 11/30/2022

My son Ben wrote the following tribute for Delose:

I've always loved fantasy books, enough that I've written a few. Delose somehow turned a patch of wilderness into one of the only places on earth that ever felt like I was living in one. 

Amidst the temples of dust and pine, he the oracle of lake and fire. Beneath the vault of heaven's glittering treasures, he the warden of our futures. Howl not now at the moon, for he was its friend too. Softly now, softly now; day is done.