Adults work hard to offer a fun camp for Scouts

Girl Scout overnight camp was never scary, even when I found boy’s underwear left on my tent pole, because my mother was a leader. If your flashlight went dead, there was always an adult around with batteries.

Len Derby is one of those nice folks who make Scout camp a lifelong memory. He’ll be back at it next week.

His family spent a lot of time outdoors when he was a kid in New Mexico and Arizona. He joined the Boy Scouts in the fourth grade. Derby went to YMCA camp with his cousins in the mountains near Los Angeles.

Married with two daughters, he moved to Lake Stevens 30 years ago.

“My oldest daughter wanted to join the Brownies in the first grade,” Derby said. “They were recruiting leaders.”

He led the troop with his wife for the next eight years. That involved organizing and directing camps, sometimes with Lura Smith, who they met at a Girl Scout Camporee.

In the early 1980s, they were invited to volunteer at a weeklong camp for Girls Scouts. They decided to start their own program at Camp Lyle McLeod on Lake Bennettsen in Kitsap County.

“In 1984 we held our first all-volunteer staffed camp with approximately 23 volunteers and 72 Girl Scout campers,” Derby said. “The cost was $50 for the week for the girls.”

It’s grown to only $135 for the week. The resident camp has operated for more than 20 years, said Jan Viney, outdoor program manager with the Scouts.

“Len has worked in partnership with Lura Smith, an 87-year-old dynamic, young woman,” Viney said. “With Len’s gentle nature, and a passion to create a safe nurturing environment, he and the staff have served over 2,500 girls.”

Derby, who owns a welding business, has a key role in creating a camp community where the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” truly happens, Viney said.

“Our Girl Scout volunteers are the heart of our programs,” Viney said. “They give their time, their love of children, fun and a passion to make our world a better place for all.”

Smith, who lives in Arlington, kept bumping into Derby at camps.

“Len came over and introduced himself,” Smith said. “We kept running into each other at Scout events, and a friendship developed.”

Derby eventually asked if she would add her skills to a weeklong program. Smith had been a Troop leader, worked at day camps and had been a business manager and cook at a similar camp.

“I directed Camporee for several years, was on the committee for Totem Councils Challenge of the Totem, and was for several years a trainer for Totem Council,” Smith said. “My daughter joined the Girl Scouts as a Brownie and when she became a Junior, I became troop leader.”

When her daughter left Scouts, Smith missed it, she said.

“I enjoyed it so much I continued,” Smith said. “I have always liked the outdoor program and truly enjoyed working with girls and adults in that area. That is why I continue.”

She said adults bring their own talents to the successful camp.

“I take care of the paperwork, officiate at flag ceremonies and am available if needed,” Smith said. “Len takes care of seeing that the camp runs smoothly, and he is very good at it. Any problems that occur at camp Len and I discuss and solve to the best of our abilities.”

Smith is both a mentor and good friend, Derby said.

“Her consistency and dedication never fail to amaze me,” Derby said. “I’m always confident that whatever challenges we may face, we can discuss them openly and come to the best decision for the camp.”

The volunteers plan the program nearly year-round. Camp Lyle McLeod is a popular adventure.

“My oldest daughter, Shawna, after attending camp as long as she could, volunteered as a staff member,” Derby said. “She is our waterfront camp director and this will be her 22nd year at camp.”

Starting Sunday, they expect to work with 39 staff members and 121 girls.

“My simple answer, when people ask me why I’m a Girl Scout volunteer, is that I have two daughters,” Derby said. “It I had sons, I would have been involved in Boy Scouts.”

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or

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