The Virtual Museum
The Staff Hat
For anyone associated with Boxwell over the last forty years, the staff hat is probably something with which you are quite familiar. To leaders and Scouts, the staff hat, quite simply, has been the symbol of who is staff and who is not. To the staff, it is a symbol of being part of a unique group, for many, a surrogate family. With each summer, staff members often anxiously await to see what the new hat is going to look like. Will it be something to be proud of or something that they will have to bear for a summer, hoping for a new design next year?
At this point, the staff hat has a long history at Boxwell Reservation. It is a symbol unique to the fourth incarnation of camp; Linton, Narrows of the Harpeth, and Rock Island had no such symbol. Indeed, even Boxwell Reservation had no staff hat throughout the 1960s. A staff shirt, yes, but no staff hat. In fact, it wasn't until the late 1970s that the hat itself became a permanent and expected feature of staff life.
The Human Era, 1970-1975
The first staff hat appeared under Reservation Director Ed Human. At this point, staff shirts had been a regular feature of the staff. Indeed, Human had also introduced name tags: a white name tage with a red "label maker" sticker on it with the staff member's last name. In 1972, Human introduced the first staff hat. It was a green hat with a black patch with gold lettering that simply stated, "Boxwell Reservation Staff, 1972." Human brought back the hat in 1973, this time red with a grey patch with blue lettering. However, Human was not happy with the hats. As Russ Parham explains, "I recall Ed Human saying something to the effect that these hats lead to inflated egos by the staff so he dropped the idea in 1974." Thus the first hats passed into history.
The Willhite Era, 1976-1996
Tom Willhite took the reigns of the Reservation in 1976, but if you recall, times were tough. Following what is commonly known as "The Akers Debacle" as well as a staff walk-out that summer, money was tight in 1976. Thus, the hat did not make an immediate reappearance. It was 1977 before the staff hat returned. Willhite managed to get the staff hat donated by the Murfreesboro Farmer's Coop, thus why the hat was red. The patch that adorned these first hats was a modification of the Human patch. Simple background with simple wording on it.
In 1980, the patch on the staff entered a new era. This patch was a modification of the standard Boxwell patch given to Scouts. Instead of the blue outline and a grey background, the staff hat patch had a yellow outline and blue background. There was no date on this first hat and thus the patch was recycled through 1983. These particular staff hats were solid cloth and became the "gold standard" for later generations. Throughout the Willhite Era, the staff hat was always red, though the patch generally changed. Some of the patches--like this Boxwell Reservation patch--were revered. Others, like the 1986 patch, earned the staff hat the nickname "the Amoco Hat," referencing the symbol of the Amoco gas symbol.
Willhite himself was well aware of the power of the staff hat he delivered. "Every boy who worked on the staff wanted the red hat," stated Willhite in 2002. "And we had a special patch made each year. And if a boy on the front end, he understood that if he didn’t live up to what we set at the starting of camp, as far as the rules and regulations, his cap could be confiscated; he could be sent home." Thus, for many years, a ritual ensued. A staff member came and worked during Staff Week. On Friday nights, a staff dinner was given and the camp leadership served the staff. A "ceremony" of sorts ended the dinner with the new staff hat being given out. The hat changed over the years from solid cloth to mesh, but to new staff members the difference didn't matter. And, while most didn't know it at the time, every patch was sewn onto the bright red new hat by none other than Tom Willhite's wife, Marie.
Willhite retired from Scouting in 1995, but his immediate successor Larry Green continued the red hat tradition. A staff member himself on several occassions, Green understood the power of the red hat. However, he still wanted to make his own mark. The staff hats in 1996 were still red mesh, as they had been for many years by this point. However, instead of patch, for the first time, the new logo was embroided directly onto the hat, a tradition that continues to this day.
The Turpin Era, 1997-2005
When Ron Turpin returned to Middle Tennessee Council in 1996, the staff hat--specifically, the red staff hat--had been a long tradition. Still, as is the right of any new Reservation Director, changes can be made. For the first time since 1978, the staff hat was not red. While a silly thing on one level--after all, it is just a hat!--many staff members were unsettled by a new hat that was two-tone (red bill, white hat) and said "Staff" on the back, notifying people that someone was staff once they passed, not as they approached.
Nevertheless, a new era for hats had arrived. Turpin brought back the much desired full cloth staff hat. Indeed, the full cloth hat would become standard equipment throughout the Turpin years. The patch was now gone, so the embroidered emblem changed every summer as did the color of the hat. The logo varied as well, sometimes including nothing more than a capital "B". Moving away from the Co-Op, Turpin used Sports Promotions, Inc. in Mt. Juliet for the staff hats. The hat of Pat Scales' one year as Reservation Director (2005) is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the Turpin hats, likely because Turpin himself was still so involved in camp!
The Adkins Era, 2006-present
Having been a Camp Director himself during the Willhite years, Carl Adkins was well aware of the importance of the staff hat. By 2006, the tradition was almost thirty years old and a well-established part of camp staff life. Indeed, a nod to this tradition came in 2014, when the hat that year had a "T.W." logo on the side for "Tom Willhite"--a salute to the Reservation Director who died in 2013.
As with the t-shirts, the staff hats during the Adkins era would come from Screen Art in Murfreeboro, TN.The hats themselves demonstrate a wide variety of styles and colors. Most of the hats have an emblem or wording embroidered directly onto the hat, though the 2013 hat did have a patch. The hats have varied from a cloth-mesh combo to all cloth and have come in a variety of colors, including purple, yellow, blue, and two-tones. Indeed, in the most interesting incarnation yet, the 2012 hat was a visor!
The 2015 Staff Hat Project
Staff hats will undoubtedly continue for many more years to come. Former staff members often still hold onto the hats, or at least the patches from the hats. They are link to a powerful and a shared experience. To see the entire, unedited collection of contributions of Boxwell's Staff hats, please visit our Flickr site.