The Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th birthday this year, and one local Scout has been with the organization since its early years. In fact, she’s been around longer than the organization itself.
Gertrude “Bobby” Lerch, a resident of Montgomery County, has been with the Girl Scouts in some capacity since 1924. In March, she will celebrate her 102nd birthday.
The Girl Scouts started as a small organization, but now has more than 3 million girl and adult members.
Lerch recalls the early days of the Capital Beltway and how it helped several local Girl Scout councils merge into one.
“I was able to find things or find places because we had camps all over, and we had to merge all of those things,” she said.
She was there for the programs and camps that helped to racially integrate the troops as well.
“It was a difficult time and an interesting time, but I think it worked out very well,” she said.
Lerch, who still volunteers for the organization and stays in touch often by e-mail, was the first president of the local chapter, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. Her memory is sound, her eyes are bright, her voice is still strong and she gets around pretty much on her own.
A mother of three sons, she studied to become a chemist with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She was unable to get hired as a chemist, but she taught at Mount Holyoke and worked as a secretary.
Lerch’s connection to Girl Scouts has remained constant throughout the years.
“I think it’s a very good program for girls,” she said. “I have no daughters. It was my contact with girls, after three boys.”
The organization gave her opportunities to go camping, her favorite part of being a scout. She worked with other scouts to develop new ideas on the pastime.
“A lot of those things we did, well they were different ideas and new ideas,” she said, “but they were good.”
She said the organization has changed over the years.
“When I became a scout, we had to find people to teach us things, and we had to go places to do it,” she said. “Whereas now, we have people that help us with the various projects.”
Lerch said Girl Scouts still teaches young women several important lessons.
“I think it teaches responsibility, leadership and followership (sic),” she said. “I think that’s part of it. It’s not just learning to be a leader, but it’s also learning to be a part of a group.”