A holiday tradition: Troop 52 has been selling Christmas trees for 49 years

John Thompson, assistant Scoutmaster, from left, Raymond Stifke, 11, a Tenderfoot Scout, Pamela Thompson, community member, and Roan Sudermann, 16, senior patrol leader greet Christmas tree shoppers at their lot in Front Royal. Ashley Miller/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – This Christmas marks the 49th year that Boy Scout Troop 52 has been selling Christmas trees as its main fundraiser to support its operating costs and to send Scouts to summer camp.

“It all started around a 5-gallon drum, to keep warm,” said John Thompson, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 52.

Today, local residents recognize the red and green shed standing in front of the Rural King store as a holiday tradition.

“We see many of the same faces ever year,” Thompson said. “We’re much more than just a Scout group. We’re a family.”

In December 1968, Christmas tree sales were first introduced to the troop by the efforts of Ken Fortune, assistant Scoutmaster and Ken Bovard, Scoutmaster. During their first year, the Scouts purchased trees from a farm in Bentonville, then branched out and purchased some from the Rudacille farm.

During its first 20 years, Troop 52 bought Christmas trees from various tree farms in Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1979 Dr. Craig Zunka, a long-time member and Eagle Scout, agreed that the troop could plant trees on his farm in Browntown.

“The boys do all the planting,”  Thompson said, adding that the Scouts plant up to 1,500 seedlings in the spring, depending on the weather.

“Some trees can take well up to 11 years to grow, from the time a Scout plants it to the time we harvest it in the fall,” he said, noting that the trees are cut down the week of Thanksgiving.

The Scouts, through various classes, have learned how to plant the seedlings, how to properly trim the trees, and how to keep the weeds from growing around the bases. Zunka maintains the mowing between the rows and spraying to reduce insect or disease damage to the trees during the summer months.

The first tree sales were held on the “Weaver Lot” across from the old Front Royal Volunteer Fire Station. It was just after the 1969 holiday season that Bill Ollinger, manager of the Safeway Store at the Royal Plaza shopping center, invited the troop to set up the 1970 tree sales next to his grocery store. Troop 52 has been there ever since.

Since 1968, it’s estimated that Troop 52 has sold over 15,000 trees. Through the Christmas tree sales program, the Scouts have learned the basics of salesmanship, marketing and commercial forestry.

Tenderfoot Scout Raymond Slifke, 11, of Blue Mountain, joined the Boy Scouts as a way to give back to his community.

“Being a Scout has taught me that if something goes wrong, fix it,” Raymond said. “If someone needs help, help them.”

Roan Sudermann, 16, of Middletown, the senior patrol leader, agreed with Raymond’s statement.

“We’re here to provide a service for our community,” Roan said, adding that being a Scout will help him later in life. “Being a Scout makes me a trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent individual.”

Profits from the tree sales goes into the troop’s operating account to pay for advancement awards and activities of the troop. The funds also help send scouts to summer camp.

“We have a few single parents in our group,” Thompson said. “Being able to provide summer camp for their boys means a lot.”

Pamela Thompson, Thompson’s wife and a Scouting community member, said the most heart-warming moments are when a customer donates toward a tree or a Scout.

“We had a former Eagle Scout stop by and donate $300 for a Scout to go to camp for free,” she said.

This past year the troop covered just over $200 for each Scout to attend Boy Scout Camp and the cost for the Scouts’ trip in June to a rope course. The troop also covers the cost of camping trips and other activities for the Scouts, including hiking and fishing.

“It’s our way to show the boys there’s a bigger world out there than just video games,” John Thompson said.

Those wishing to join Troop 52 can either stop by at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday nights at the Front Royal United Methodist Church, 1 W. Main St. in Front Royal, or can email the troop at
Donations may be sent to Troop 52 in care of P. Thompson, 59 S. Charles St., Front Royal, Virginia 22630

The Scouts have sold all of their trees for this holiday season, but they will be back for their 50th year in 2018.