Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Honoring a Nation of Preparedness via Cocktails

You probably haven't thought about the Boy Scout motto of being prepared or the slogan of doing a good turn every day since you were about 10 years old. And yet, for some citizens of the world, the Boy Scouts oath, motto and law are a part of their daily life. Since 1910 the Boy Scouts of America has been building character, developing personal fitness ideals and training youths to be responsible participating citizens. The Greater New York Councils Boy Scouts of America (GNYC-BSA) has been fulfilling this mission for over 130,000 NYC boys and girls and since 1993 the GNYC-BSA has been honoring a different country each year for its "International Good Turn" Award. Usually the Consul General of the honored country accepts the award. This year the honorary award recipient was the overwhelmingly ever-present, sharp-witted, intelligent and charitable Olle Wastberg, the Consul General of Sweden.

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who is also honorary president of the World Scout Foundation, was to be present at the ceremony. However, due to the September 11th tragedy, it was decided it was not safe for him to come on the original date of the ceremony (September 21st) nor on the new date (December 18th). A big Scout himself, the King of Sweden will be present next October, when they felt it would be more appropriate for a celebration.

Among those who did make it was the honoree himself, Consul General Olle Wastberg and the master of ceremonies, Inside Edition's Debra Norville. Ms. Norville happens to be an active Scout herself--and in fact, she actively serves as Director of the New York City GIRL Scouting organization. So between this connection and her and her husband's Swedish background plus her ability to speak Swedish, she fit right in and was able to really connect with the fifty guests at the Plaza Hotel for the reception.

Other notable guests who came to honor Consul Wastberg and celebrate the power of Scouting were Mrs. Inger Claesson Wastberg, who has played a central role in Sweden's Disability policy-making efforts; Alzar Ohlsson; Philip Morris International EVP David E.R. Dangoor, West Glen Communications president Stan Zeitlin; Dr. Chris Kirka of the Bronx Borough President's Office and Scandinavian Airlines Systems' Lennart Johansson.

After receiving the award, Consul Wastberg responded with comments that reinforced the King's reputation of being very involved in scouting and the historical close link between Swedes and Americans. There was so much affinity for the US from Swedes that in the last part of the 19th century that almost 2 million, or 20%, of their population immigrated to the US. Of course, instead of going somewhere warm like Florida, they went to Minnesota where the weather is worse and the soil is rockier. Hence, actually, quite a few Swedes ended up going back to Sweden. But when they did, they brought back with them a few key-American features like the ideas of democracy. Although Sweden is a true kingdom, the government is a Constitutional Monarchy.

Event coordinator for the GNYC-BSA John Tuthill told me this is just one of fifty events he plans for the GNYC-BSA. Each one focuses on a different industry and helps raise much-needed money for the operating budget. Since this chapter buys uniforms and sends the kids to camps so they can have the same experiences as children in other chapters and towns, the funds from these benefits are much needed. Mr. Tuthill said, in an interview after the event, that they would especially appreciate any tax-deductible contributions to their "Tribute to Sweden" reception and all contributions we receive will be noted in their final report to Mr. Wastberg.