By the time Laurie Gilson was 3, she could hold up three fingers and recite “The Law.”
I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do,. and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.
Lots of multisyllabic words for someone so young. But that’s the kind of thing that’s bound to happen when you’re a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says 12-year-old Laurie, a seventh grader at Indian Trail in Olathe. Laurie’s mom, Susie Gilson, is her troop leader. Her grandmother, Susan Kimbrough, led her mom. And Kimbrough’s mom led her.
“I have the power and ability to do great things,” Laurie says. (And yes, that’s her talking, not reading from “The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting.”)
Together she and her family of Girl Scouts, which also includes her 18-year-old sister, Elizabeth Gilson, have camped for weeks, sold mountains of cookies and earned hundreds of badges. Most important, they’ve learned to lead — the whole mission of Girl Scouts. The American organization turns 100 on March 12.
To celebrate the centennial, daughter, mother and grandmother compared their Girl Scout adventures. Thin Mints play a small but significant role.
Becoming a Girl Scout
In 1949, when she was in second grade, Kimbrough joined Brownies.
“My mother told me to,” says Kimbrough, now 69 and living in Prairie Village. “It’s what you did back then to make friends.” Her mom was the leader.
Flash forward to when Kimbrough became a mom. She and her young family moved from Houston back to Kansas City. She started a Brownie troop so her daughter, Susie, could make friends.
“It worked,” says 43-year-old Susie Gilson of Olathe.
And when it came time for her daughters, “they just didn’t have a choice,” Gilson jokes. Besides their mom, their grandmothers and aunts on both sides of the family were Girl Scouts.
Kimbrough remembers going door to door with her sister and a little red wagon, selling cookies for 35 cents a box. She remembers the sandwich cookies, your choice of chocolate or vanilla stamped with a Girl Scout logo. No Caramel deLites. No Peanut Butter Patties.
For Gilson, cookie season involved taking orders for boxes. It meant going door-to-door twice because they had to be delivered later. She remembers organizing all of the cookie orders only to come back later and find that her younger brother built a fort out of them.
Now Laurie is selling cookies. The intent is the same as always — to learn money-handling and organizational skills and to raise funds for camp and troop projects.
After decades of taking orders, Girl Scouts recently returned to the old way of selling with cookies in tow.
“You sell more this way,” Laurie says. So it’s back to the little red wagon, but now with a cell phone.
Laurie’s older sister, Elizabeth, is still in Girl Scouts. She stayed with it in junior high: “Yeah, some kids made fun of me for it,” she says in a telephone interview from Manhattan, where she’s a freshman at Kansas State University.
And she stuck with Scouts in high school. “They didn’t make fun of me,” she says. “They liked that I sold cookies.”
Through Girl Scouts, Elizabeth made her mark at Olathe South High School by taking part in the flag ceremony at graduation. Traditionally, that honor was reserved for Eagle Scouts, so just boys. But she’d earned the comparable Girl Scout Gold Award, earned by completing an extensive project during high school.
“She contacted the principal about it when she was a junior,” says Gilson with a proud-parent smile. The principal hadn’t realized there was such a Girl Scout honor. And yes, Laurie plans to earn a Gold Award, too, when the time comes.
The Girl Scouts strongly encourage and promote female involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). But still, there’s a long way to go, organization leaders acknowledge. Women account for fewer than 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, computer science and physics. And women make up only 6.5 percent of science advisory board membership at high-tech firms.
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