Fran the Scoutmaster
by Bill Roberts
We rightly consider Fran Petersen, who died May 23, to be one of the four cofounders of White Stag, but he was quite different from the other three.
Béla Bánáthy, Joe St. Clair and Paul Sujan were all Hungarian refugees who fled the Nazis and later the Communists who ruled their native land. They all wound up at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey as teachers of their native tongue. They all remained in education for the rest of their careers - St. Clair and Sujan at DLI, Bánáthy moving onto the Far West Laboratory for Education Research and Development in San Francisco.
Fran was a native Californian who came from the business world. He inherited and ran his father's beer distributorship in Chualar about ten miles south of Salinas, delivering beer up and down the Salinas Valley. After he sold the business, Fran became an entrepreneur, serving as general manager of Skia Corp., Saratoga, CA, a high-tech startup founded by Dr. Maurice Tripp, who was also active in White Stag for many years. Skia developed a fiber optic-based X ray system that would require less radiation than standard X ray technology. I'm not sure what happened but the company eventually folded.
After Skia, Fran joined the Far West Laboratory, where his job was to recruit large and small companies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in a program the lab was developing under the leadership of Béla Bánáthy: Employer-based career education. Fran spoke the language of businessmen, and could explain to them what this educational alternative to the traditional high school was trying to accomplish.
If Fran had not existed, White Stag would have had to invent a man like him. The program owes much of its cache locally and at the national level to Fran's understanding of what leadership training could mean for management in both the private and public sectors. It was especially important that he spoke the language of business and was artful at selling ideas. He convinced many a skeptical Scouter at the Council and National levels of the value of leadership trained as defined by Bánáthy. Behind the scenes, Fran also contributed to White Stag's own business-like approach to the fiscal aspects of running this Council-wide program.
I have so many fond memories of Fran that I could probably write a book. But let me recount just a few. By way of introduction, I participated in what we now call Troop Leader Development (TLD) as a candidate in 1964 and served on staff for that program as a Patrol Advisor in 1968. Then with Jim Said and George St. Clair, I was one of three Scoutmasters for TLD in 1970. And I was the sole Scoutmaster (with help from many assistants) in 1974 and 1975.
In 1968, I only became Patrol Advisor for TLD when Jim Said had to drop out at the last minute. When I heard the program was running a staff member short, I offered my services. George St. Clair, my best friend, was one of the other Patrol Advisors. He put in a good word for me with Dr. Tripp, the Scoutmaster that year. I had good leadership experience including three years as a key member of the Pico Blanco camp staff and serving on the Host Corps at the 1967 World Jamboree in Idaho.
Fran was program director. When Tripp broached the topic with Fran he was against the idea of bringing in someone who had not participated in the staff development. Tripp prevailed and I think everyone was more than happy with the outcome. But this was my first real experience with Fran and we did not get off on the best foot.
We became very close, though, in 1970 when he served as mentor and guide to the three "youngsters" (Said, St. Clair and me) who were tackling the the Scoutmastership (the role of Program Director) collectively. We called ourselves the "Troika." I'll never forget the night before camp began that year. As usual, the Scoutmasters and staff were up late hammering out last details of the program that would begin the next day. We were doing this in the little room at the back of the Catholic Chapel at Pico Blanco. We must have been arguing, debating and discussing for hours. It got very late - maybe 2 in the morning. We all had to be up around 6 the next day.
Suddenly, I saw a shadow on the wall up the staircase that led to the loft bedroom. It was Fran. He had been in the loft, listening to us for hours. I learned quickly that he did this a lot. Stood in the shadows at night while patrols debated, or staffs met. I learned the technique from him and used it to my own benefit over the years. In 1974 I convinced my own staff to take the "patrol" name of "Impeesa" which was Zulu for "the wolf that never sleeps." The inspiration for the Zulu name came from Baden Powell but the concept was pure Fran.
By 1975, which was my third year as Scoutmaster, I personally needed a new challenge. Fran and I had had several conversations about why White Stag should go co-ed someday. He planted an idea and I ran with it - with much help from him. It was the first year we had girls in TLD. Recruiting the girls from Explorer Posts was the easy part. We also needed at least one female Patrol Adviser and a female Assistant Scoutmaster. Fran recruited both of them.
You can imagine the eyebrows that raised when we first proposed bringing women into the program at one of the monthly steering committee meetings. I made the proposal. But at 25 years old, full of radical ideas for education and wearing shaggy long hair, I was not a credible witness. Fran, as usual, was persuasive and the steering committee voted unanimously to approve the plan.
Fran had a huge impact on both my personal and Scouting careers. He recruited me to work on the career education program at Far West Lab when I graduated from University of California at Davis. I spent about three years at the lab before deciding that education research and development was not for me. I think Fran and Béla, with whom I worked there, were somewhat disappointed, but like the good fathers that they were, they were just happy that I had found my passion - journalism.
Thanks to Fran, I also attended the 1973 National Jamboree West as manager of the Youth Forum. Fran, who was manager of Youth Programs, was my boss. Through the Youth Forum we brought some of the White Stag way of thinking to the National Jamboree.
In recent years Fran and I discovered that we may have been distant relatives. My grandmother on my mother's side was Norwegian. Her last name was Hauge. Fran told me his - can't recall here exactly - grandmother or great grandmother was a Hauge, from the same village in Norway - Hauge - that my grandmother came from. That must make us like fourth cousins three times removed or something.
Before he was known for White Stag, Fran was an ardent life-long Scouter at local and national levels. I don't know which year he joined the National Committee, but I believe he did serve on it.
In some ways his White Stag, Jamboree and other big event accomplishments overshadow the everyday work he did as a Scoutmaster in Chualar. Fran had a troop for years that consisted largely of kids of migrant families. He might have a kid for six months then not see him again for a year and then have him for six months again.
Fran demonstrated his versatility by adapting Scouting to the needs of this special kids. When badges required written tests, Fran let kids do them orally. They were especially good at hand skills, so Fran's troop put a big emphasis on woodcraft and other hand-oriented skill sets.
I don't know that his troop produced many Eagle scouts - something other Scoutmasters might use as a measure of success. He had a lot of Tenderfeet, and Second Class Scouts and a few First Class Scouts. He was as proud of them as if they were all Eagles and he molded their characters as best he could through Scouting as adapted to their needs.
He loved talking about these kids and his days as their Scoutmaster. He told me many stories over the years about these kids and their special attributes and accomplishments. In fact, he told many more stories about his Chualar troop than all the Jamborees he had attended.