The Marquette Trail

The Marquette Trail

By Pati Egan

While helping to organize the Archives Room at Camp, an unopened box caught my attention.  The box was full of approximately 100 individually-boxed medals.  The medals were for a long-gone program sponsored through Camp called the Marquette Trail.  In the 1960s to the mid-1970s, a popular Boy Scout program was sponsored by the Department of Outdoor Education in the Belleville Diocese through Camp Ondessonk.  Camp Ondessonk was the Department of Outdoor Education.

The Marquette Trail Dept Logo Camp Ondessonk

The Department of Outdoor Education no longer exists nor does the Marquette Trail.  According to Camp souvenir books from the early 60s to mid-70s, “This traveling Camp program, exclusively for boys in scouting, is primarily a religious pilgrimage to various parts of the United States and Canada.  Scouts who participate in this program may qualify for one phase of the Marquette Trail Award.”

The Marquette Trail Bronze Medal

The trips, usually held in early August, began at Camp Ondessonk, but the scouts were not there for long.  The trips went to places such as Notre Dame University, St. Augustine, Fla., St. Benedict’s Archabbey in Wisconsin, and Boys Town in Nebraska. 

Steve Rheinecker participated in a few of these trips and recalls that the scouts traveled on school buses from camp to the various destinations.  He recalls that they slept in canvas tents and had a central kitchen.

The Marquette Trail Mass

Boys celebrating mass in Florida

The Marquette Trail Meal

Scout troops provided leadership for the trips.  Two familiar names, Frank Stengel and Joe Surwald were legendary leaders from Holy Angels Parish in East St. Louis.  Frank Stengel was an Advisory member on Camp’s Board of Directors, specifically for the Marquette Trail.  Camp Ondessonk provided the logistics of transporting supplies for 400+ scouts and their leaders via the old Camp vans.  Joe, Frank, and others provided the job of taking care of the scouts and making the trip as enjoyable as possible!  That must have been quite a chore!    

There would usually be at least one procession at each site.  Steve recalls that the processions featured flags, the troops, and all of the scouts – about 440 scouts on each annual trip.

The Marquette Trail Parade

The trips were reasonably priced.  One mid-70s newsletter advertising the trip to Florida cost about $50; a little more if the scouts wanted to spend an extra day and travel to Disney World.

The Marquette Trail gathering field trip

Steve recalls that the troops once set up camp on a Notre Dame practice football field. 

The Marquette Trail Lecture

It wasn’t all just fun and games.  The scouts appear to be at a lecture, perhaps at Boys Town.

The famous “He ain’t heavy, Father…he’s my brother.” statue at Boys Town

Scouts are still a familiar sight at Camp Ondessonk in the fall, winter, and spring.  They can be found horseback riding, camping out in the units, hiking, and doing activities such as the climbing wall and high ropes course.  Camp Ondessonk has always had a close relationship to the Boy Scout program dating back to Camp Packentuk. 

Would parents let their kids travel all over the country in school buses?  Maybe a better question is would today’s kids ride on un-airconditioned school buses in August to camp out in canvas (meaning hot and stuffy) tents?  No electronics, no cell phones, and no comforts of home?  I think they might surprise us and say “Yes, sounds like fun!.”  Kids are resilient, adventuresome, and curious about their faith and the world around them.  This program is long gone, but the spirit of adventure continues to live on at Camp Ondessonk. 

If you attended this program – I’d love to hear your comments!

The Marquette Trail Award Ceremony

Click Here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.


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