A Scouter's Life

 By Helen Wolff, March 1994
Additions by Marty Tschetter, November 2007


This tribute to the genuineness of Bob Wolff's spirit has been prepared twenty-five years after his death. As his wife I was motivated to write this when repeatedly asked by Wayne Farrar, the initiator and director of the Hammerstone Scout Museum, to give or loan to the museum memoribilia of Bob's life. When I visited the museum in February 1994, Wayne told me that his information about Bob was primarily from hearing Scouters talk about him. "Bob's name comes up over and over again and I need a biography," he told me.

When I returned home and went through all the things, which I had saved and put away "for a later time." I knew that the time had come to record the facts as I understood them. The work has served as a catharsis, in that I have relived painful memories, as well as enjoyed, laughed and felt more deeply the sheer goodness of the man who had been my husband for twenty-five years.

 Background and Schooling

Robert Lee Wolff, Jr., son of Robert Lee Wolff and Alice Booker Wolff, was born January 24, 1915 in Greensboro, North Carolina. His parents were from Pinnacle, located in Surry County, North Carolina. It was there that his paternal grandparents, Dr. Nathaniel A. Wolff and Alethea Gordon Wolff had lived from 1830 to the early 1900's. His parents were in 1900 and moved to Guilford County in December 1911. Mr. Wolff purchased the historical house built in the 1850's by Robert C. Caldwell, son of Dr. David Caldwell. Know as the "The Black House." it was on Friendly Road about three miles west of Greensboro and near Guilford College. Here Robert and Alice lived with their six children: William, Edward, George, Julia, Dorothy, and Robert, Jr.

Bob was seven years old when his father died in 1922 after a prolonged illness. The Greensboro Daily News account of Mr. Wolff's stated: "He was one of the country's foremost farmers and was held in highest personal regard by all who knew him. He had the confidence of the general public as few mem of today can claim. He was an educated man and an earnest reader. It may be said of him that he was the most scientific and intensive farmers of the community."

It is noteworthy that each of his children valued an education and became well educated people. William earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Edward attended North Carolina State College for two years. George graduated from high school and immediately began working. Dorothy received a B.S. degree from Guilford College and was a high school biology teacher. Julia received an A.B. degree from Guilford College and did graduate work at Bryn Mawr. She taught high school English. Mrs. Wolff remained in the home until her death in 1941.

Bob attended elementary school at Guilford College. At age 12 he became a Boy Scout. Growing up in the country and encourgaged by his mother, he learned as a youngster to love and revere all living creatures, plants, and the earth itself. He acquired an amazing amount of knowledge through observation and reading. His particular interest in birds was well developed when he attended Greensboro Senior High School (later Grimsley High School), as evidenced by a paper he wrote for an English class titled "A Beginner's Obeservations of Bird Life." The paper earned an A- from Miss Laura Tillett, his renowned teacher.

 Camp Lenape, Burlington County Council, New Jersey

After graduating from high school in 1932, he attended the University of Pennsylvania. His brother William was on the faculty of the medical school and Bob lived with his and his wife Mabel. His Scouting interest continued there as he served as an Assistant Scoutmaster and was the nature counselor at the Boy Scout camp of Burlington County, New Jersey for three years.

His first year as a counselor he was voted by the campers as the best-liked staff member. His writing to his mother about this, he said "I think it was because I am a Southern Boy."  In the same letter he told how embarrassed he was because when his sister Dot came to see him, she said "O'mah honey chile, I certainly is glad to see ya!"  Some of the staff and campers heard her and after that they greeted him with "O'may honey chile."  His description of all the nature activities he directed indicates that his popularity was earned of this creative work rather than his Southern dialect.

Bob was intiated into Hunnikick Lodge #76 during the 1934 camp season for the Burlington County Council in New Jersey. In Philadelphia he was also a Neighborhood Committeman for two years. Notes and correspondance show that he and his friends explored many nature areas in the vincinity and took many bird trips.
Bob's pre-medical work at the university was halted because he lost all vision in his left eye. This tradegy brought him back to North Carolina where he enrolled at the University of North Carolina, where he earned a certificate of public health in 1938. 


Robert Lee Wolff, Jr.
Camp Lenape, New Jersey

Courtesy of the
Hammerstone Scout Museum
Lillington, NC

 Camp Greystone, Greensboro Council, North Carolina

Bob's early Scouting years were greatly enriched by time spent camping at Camp Greystone of the Greensboro Council. These experiences contributed to his achievement of the Eagle Scout rank. There are indications that he also served as the nature counselor at Graystone while he was in high school. Later when he was on the staff he composed "The Legend of the Greystone," which was passed on year after year to the boys and men who camped there.

Scouts on Greystone Rock, Camp Greystone
Far Right: Robert Wolff
 Tali Taktaki History File
Old North State Council, Greensboro, North Carolina

 1937 World Jamboree, Holland

One of the most exciting and interesting experiences of Bob's life occurred in 1937 when he was selected to be a member of the staff of the World Jamboree in Holland. He led a group of seven boys from Greensboro to the National Jamboree in Washington, DC and then on to Europe.

In a letter to his mother he wrote:

"There were 25,000 Scouts at the Jamboree and 43 countries represented. It was truly a grand sight to see the flags of the countries massed together and the thousands of boys marching by the reviewing stand where the Queen of Holland, Prince of Sweden, Lord Baden-Powell, and our own Dr. James E. West and others watched...........On one afternoon the American group demonstrated to a crowd of at least 50,000 the various phases of Scouting in the U.S.A.  Each activity was directed by an appointed man and of all things I had to direct, it was pioneering.

There were about 125 Scouts to direct and as they were willing to follow, we built a huge bridge, about 40 feet long and 15 feet high. We also built a smaller bridge and two towers about 20 feet high each, all being completed in 8 minutes."

"The rest of the demonstrations consisted of Scout games, signaling, first aid projects, and special camping scenes where tents were erected and fires built....I had a most wonderful time and made many friends from various countries."

The correspondence which Robert carried on with these new Scout friends continued into World War II. Letters from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland, Northern Ireland, Scottland, Nassau, and Brazil are on loan to the Hammerstone Scout Museum in Lillington.  The Greensboro  Scouts toured France, Switzerland, Brussells, and England. His letters to his mother are actually like a diary of the entire trip.


 1938 National OA Meeting
 Irondale Scout Reservation, St. Louis, Missouri

Tali Taktaki sent six delegates to the national meeting held at Irondale Scout Reservation. This was the only group from Region Six to attend. Wolff and Frank Dix received the Brotherhood honor at this fellowship, the first recipients in Region Six.

 Tali Taktaki History File
Old North State Council, Greensboro, North Carolina

 Top row, left to right: Frank Dix, Lloyd Nelson, Frank Braden, Joe Brinton, Bob Wolff.
Bottom row, left to right:
Bill Candle, Wade Fox, George Gibbs, Cluade O'Brien.

 Tali Taktaki History File
Old North State Council, Greensboro, North Carolina

Frank Dix: first man from Region Six to serve nationally. He received the Vigil Honor in 1947 from Tali Taktaki.
Lloyd Nelson: 1925 Unami Lodge Chief, National Chief 1942-1946, National Committee Chairman 1949-1955.
Frank Braden: Started Cherokee lodge 50, brought the OA to North Carolina in 1933.
Joe Brinton: National Chief 1936-1938.
Claude O'Brien: Early Tali Taktaki lodge chief.




 Department of Public Health


Following his studies at University of North Carolina, Bob worked with the North Carolina Department of Public Health. This took him to several areas of the state. Time was spent in Lumberton, Bryson City, and Leaksville and other areas. While in Bryson City, he worked with the Cherokees, where he served as an assistant Scoutmaster. The Cherokee Council presented to him the Acorn Award for his service. He enjoyed being with the Cherokees very much and often spoke of things he learned from them.

 Scout Executive Commission

Bob was greatly concerned that he was unable to serve in the Second World War due to his 4F classication. Many of his friends were serving and he had a strong desure to be engaged in the war with them. His disappointment was somewhat mitigated when in 1941 he accepted a request by the Greensboro Area Boy Scout Council to serve as assistant Scout executive. This appointment meant he had to leave public health work and take the National Training Course for Scout Executives at the Schiff Scout Reservation in Mendham, New Jersey. He completed the training April 30th, 1941. In the overall appraisal ranking in a class of thirty men, his rank was number one. He was selected permanent patrol leader of the class. His highest scores were on adaptability, sociability, tact, and sense of humor, followed closely by Scouting spirit, leadership of men and originality. His lowest score was punctuality!

His tenure with the Greensboro Council was from 1941 to April 1943. He was then sought by the Tuscorora Council based in Goldsboro. He accepted their invitation and served as Scout Executive through December 1948. He and Helen Donavant were married in April 1945. Helen was also from Greensboro and served as field secretary of the Greensboro Girl Scout Council for two years prior to their marriage.

While in Goldsboro, Bob's outstanding accomplishments were in the areas of camping, training of leaders and troop activities. However, he did not enjoy the executive role as it related to fund raising and office management. Bob excelled in directing Scout program of exceedingly high quality. He believed strongly in the values inculated in the regular Scout program and in the Order of the Arrow program.

He was the founder of the Nay-Win-Rar Lodge #296 in the Tuscarora Council in 1943. He was also active in assisting other lodges throughout the North Carolina and other states. He helped initiate annual state meetings and was involved in several national OA meetings.


 Tuscorara Council Scout Executive
Circa 1945

Courtesy of the
Hammerstone Scout Museum
Lillington, NC

 Early National Distinguished Service Award Recipient

The national committee of the Order of the Arrow selected Wolff to receive the Distinguished Service Award in 1946. Due to a professional conflict, Wolff was unable to receive the award in person. However, requested that it not be awarded through the Boy Scout Council but sent directly to him. However, Judge Paul Edmundson who was council president, was requested by the national OA executive committee to make the presentation. Ironically, at the time of the acknowledgement Wolff was only a Brotherhood member.

Bob's request not to receive any public recognition was typical of his attitude about his accomplishments. Essential, he was a very modest person. He was also a person who seldom shared his personal feelings, but was adept at being a good listener and "bringing out the best in others."

Dr. Roger Billica (DSA Class of 1975) holding Bob Wolff's
Distinguished Service Award and felt Vigil Honor sash

At the time of Wolff's selection, there were only twenty recipients, including Goodman and Edson.  The green ribbon was presented through 1963 representing the "Great Outdoors." The ribbon was changed to white with red arrows in 1967.

 1946 North Carolina State OA Meeting

Bob Wolff had been an advocate to other councils throughout the South of the important contributions a lodge could make to summer camp program. He played an integral role starting several lodges throughout the South, as well as, had an active role statewide OA fellowships held in 1940, 1942, 1945, and 1946. After the National OA Committee bestowed the DSA for his contributions, he received the Vigil Honor at the state meeting later that fall.

At this time in the Order, candidates would select their own Vigil name, which Wolff spent thoughtful time researching a "good fit."




 A New Career After Professional Scout Service

Following his work in Goldsboro, he worked for the F.E. Compton Encyclopedia Company. Later he was representative and manager for the American Guidance and Chronicle Guidance Publications in North and South Carolina. He achieved considerable success with the guidance publications and materials and enjoyed the work more than any he had done. His contacts were with the State Departments of Public Instruction personnel, high school administrators and counselors, and university campuses with vocation and counseling personnel.

Bob and Helen lived in Greenville from 1949 until 1967 when they returned to Greensboro. At this time his territory included in addition to the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

 A Volunteer in the East Carolina Council

As a volunteer his interest and work in Scouting continued. In the East Carolina Council, he was a merit badge counselor, member of the Council Camping Committee, and Assistant Commissioner. He continued to work with the Order of the Arrow and was invited by several lodges to speak on the history of the OA.

After a talk to the Tali Taktaki Lodge Christmas Banquet in 1965, the Vice Chief's letter to him stated,


"Your wit and generosity were the highlights of the banquet. Your wonderful memory of these many things which happened several years ago was inspiring to all of us. I think that in these times of war and rebellion we need more men with the sense of humor and ability to remember and to get along so well with others. Your challenge of service will always stick in my mind."


Young people in many different circumstances were attracted to Bob. Each of them felt his genuine interest in them. They have frequently spoiken and written of his understanding of them personally, his kindness, his honesty, and his wonderful wit and humor. They remember his expressing confidence in them when they were in trouble and then giving them the help they needed to get on the right track. He was particularly sensitive to the needs of boys who had little financial help or little support and guidance. Again and again, these people speak of him as the one to whom they owe their success. Once of the men writing of Bob's help when he was a pre-adolescent and teenager said: "I say a prayer and thank God for letting me know such a great understanding man. What would I have been without his help?"

 The Naturalist

 On a Bird Watch
Early 1960's

Courtesy of the
Hammerstone Scout Museum
Lillington, NC

From the study and observations of birds, Bob received much joy and personal pleasure. Up before daylight for bird walks was a regular activity for him. All through his life he continued to add to his knowledge. His special interest was in water fowl and shore birds. The proximity of Eastern North Carolina to the shores was one of the reasons he enjoyed living in the region so much. From an early age he participated in the annual December bird census. Copies of some of his reports, along with letters concerning indentification of birds were kept through the years. For many years he received from the North Carolina and the Federal Wildlife Commissions, Collecting and Bird Banding Permits. In return, he filed an annual report of his collecting and banding activities.

Aycock Brown, a naturalist who lived in Manteo, was a columnist for the Greensboro Daily News and the News and Observer. He and Bob were good friends and on occasion he invited Bob to be his guest columnist. One column Bob wrote was a description of his visit to the Pelican Rookery on Shell Island, about 4 miles southwest of Okracoke. Later he went with people from the State Wildlife Commission and they banded pelicans.

Bob had a continuing interest in the birds on the Wildlife Refuge of Pea Island and Mattamuskeet. This was the subject of an article he wrote as a member of the American Ornithology Society. Other groups with which he affiliated were the North Carolina Bird Club and the Piedmont Bird Club in Greensboro. He was active in the campaign to have the state legislature designate a state bird.

He revered his friendships with Dr. Arthir Allen, Professor of Ornithology at Cornell University and Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson, Editor in Chief of Birds of America and former President of the National Association of Audubon Societies. He also greatly honored the friendship of Dr. C.S. Brimley, a noted North Carolina Ornithologist with whom he had many bird walks in the Raleigh area.

Although birds were his special area of expertise, all of our natural environment held great appeal for him. He was inordinately knowledgeable about wild flowers, plants, trees, and animals. He had a great talent for making all of this interesting to young people.

 The Bob Wolff Nature Area at Camp Bonner

In the preface of the orange nature booklet dedicated to Bob Wolff is written.....


A tribute to Bob Wolff from a young Scout friend:

".........Bob had a deep and lasting influence on my life as I was growing up. Much of what success I've had, I attribute to Bob's wisdom and guidance when I needed it. His most direct influence was helping me develop as a nature counselor at Boy Scout summer camp. Bob always impressed me most with the unselfish way he gave of his time, energy, and especially himself to so many young boys year after year at summer camp. I know that he touched thousands of live and many were greatly enriched for it. They will continue to be a living memorial as fine citizens - to a truly great gentleman."



There as a great desire to have the beauty of the area enjoyed, appreciated and protected by Scouts and Scouters, thus honoring the man who fully demonstrated throughout his life a genuine joy and appreciation for our natural world and all the life within it.    

Dr. Roger Billica wrote a narrative about his friendship to Bob Wolff in the spring 2009 issue of The Silver Arrowhead, a newsletter for recipients of the OA Distinguished Service Award. The article can be viewed at: