Web Site Dedication
In 2002, Terry Fethe developed the first district website for the Westmoreland District by launching the WestmorelandDistrict.com website as a Wood Badge project. What began as one man’s contribution to his district became a vital communication tool to scouters across Northwest Alabama and the council. In 2010 the council website, 1bsa.org, became the official host of district websites providing every district a place to publish their website where it could be easily integrated into the council site.
Terry passed away in 2002 shortly after the website’s successful launch. The Westmoreland site is dedicated to his memory. In 2007, Terry’s brother Harold, an Eagle Scout himself, came across the dedication noted on the original site’s homepage and the following is a result of his efforts to pay tribute to his brother’s life.
Terrance Patrick Fethe, my younger brother, was born in 1946, the first year of the postwar baby boom. With his arrival, our family outgrew accommodations at the maternal in-laws’ home in Jacksonville, Florida. So, Terry’s young life began with a move to the suburbs.
Terry was diagnosed with severe allergic asthma as a toddler. Gloria, our mother, was sympathetic, having experienced asthma herself. Our father was a returning soldier and a staunch believer in mind-over-matter. He treated both boys like recruits who needed to be whipped into shape. He encouraged and challenged Terry to believe that he could suppress or overcome the disease with mental toughness. Terry bounced between our achievement-oriented father and sympathetic, indulgent mother, keeping his head above water most of the time, and gaining developmental influence from both parents. In grade school, he often made honor roll grades despite sometimes missing nearly half the available school days due to asthma. A few close friends, who were willing to play indoors when Terry couldn’t go out, sustained him through the worst years of his illness.
Though I was an uneven and lackadaisical scholar, I excelled at spelling. As four-time, undefeated spelling champion of our school and district, it was much more fun when my younger brother joined me as runner-up. Once Terry was old enough to enter the spelling bees, we had a lock on the contest, and advanced to district competition together in every eligible year. When I graduated, Terry went undefeated thereafter.
During those years, Terry and I joined Troop 136, led by Scoutmaster Wesley Leake. Leake ran a small industrial boatyard near our home. He was a colorful, competent and entertaining character, and the only Scoutmaster we’d ever seen who wore a Clint Eastwood-style drill instructor’s hat with a wide brim. Scout leaders from the other troops all wore flat garrison caps that folded over their belts. After a few hikes and camping trips, Leake’s famous hat acquired a buzzard feather and a decided up-curl to the edges, and we Scouts knew our guy was the real deal.
Our troop went camping once a month, regardless of cold weather, hurricanes, or any other challenge from Nature. We won awards, and regularly excelled against larger, better-organized and better-funded troops in knot-tying contests, swimming and other competitions.
Scoutmaster Leake was a district counselor for Morse code proficiency, with exams held at Leake’s Boatyard on Trout River. To send a message, Leake required Scouts to sit in his ancient black sedan and spell out the words by honking the horn in dots and dashes. Then, to test the candidate’s receiving proficiency, the Scout would trade places and transcribe, while Leake honked out the letters of another message on the car horn.
Terry progressed to Life Scout, and I made Eagle with Bronze Palm. Our troop leadership and our parents observed strict interpretations of the rank steps and the merit badge requirements. For example: I would have been one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in the North Florida Council, had it not taken over a year to truly, faithfully catch a fish on an artificial lure. Neither I, nor anyone in our troop or family suggested lowering the bar.
It was on Troop 136 camping trips that Terry found and solidified his fascination with woodlands. By the time he entered the University of Florida, he knew forestry was his career. He made friendships among his forester colleagues that would last a lifetime. The River Returns, a widely heralded documentary about a search for the sources of Florida’s St. Johns River, features Terry’s college roommate, environmental scientist Tom Morris. Terry’s gifted intellect and boundless appetite for learning took him through career steps as timber cruiser, forest manager, and satellite-and-computer modeler of forest growth patterns. Through the ups and downs of the forest products industry, he never lost his love of woodlands.
After surgery for lung cancer, Terry retired from forestry in Florence, Alabama. He turned full-time to parenting, Scouting, and service to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shoals.
In the summer of 2002, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I moved to Florence and stayed there--our last adventure together--until his death on December 13, 2002. When his strength was so reduced that he could only perform a few tasks a day, he spent time helping his youngest son with his homework and Scouting assignments, and serving as a civic-minded environmental expert.
A photo of Terry with his family.
Both sons were Scouts.
Eric, in cap and gown, is an Eagle Scout.
On one of our last rides out into the countryside, he wanted to stop by a local construction site to be sure they had put up silt fencing to protect an adjacent waterway. They had. If they hadn’t, they’d have gotten a scholarly but firm letter from Forester Terry, outlining the reasons they should do the right thing, and suggesting what action he would take if they didn’t!
When Terry and I were Scouts, our troop sometimes went on “survival hikes,” purposely routed through the deep muck and tall, sharp-edged sawgrass of the North Florida swamps. On Terry’s first survival hike, the troop had to cross a stream by walking a fallen tree trunk that served as a bridge. Some boys had the heavy packs and inappropriate footwear of inexperienced campers. I was older, a strong swimmer, and not particularly fearful of the task, so I walked out onto the tree trunk first, to see what the footing and handholds were like. Then, we older Scouts ferried all the backpacks across, so the younger Scouts could walk the tree trunk unencumbered.
Terry told me that he had been worried when he first saw the tree-bridge and the dark water, but when I stepped onto it without hesitation, he knew everything would be all right. During the last few days of his life, we were reminiscing about that episode. He paused, and in an obvious reference to his rapidly worsening condition, looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve got to cross this bridge by myself.”
Submitted by Harold Fethe, March 2009