In the 23 years since I became Scout Executive for the former York-Adams Area Council, I have enjoyed the privilege of getting to know and working with some of the most exceptional people in the community you could ever hope to meet. One such person was Bob Kinsley, a member of the New Birth of Freedom Council’s Advisory Board, who passed away Wednesday morning at age 79 after a courageous six-year-long battle with cancer.
Bob founded Kinsley Construction in 1963, and as his company thrived and grew exponentially over the decades, Bob’s charitable interests and care for the York community seemed without limit. The sheer number of non-profit and community organizations and good causes that Bob, his family, and his company have supported over the years is simply mind-boggling. It was an incredible blessing in so many ways for the Boy Scouts of America in south-central Pennsylvania that Bob was one of us.
Bob became a Scout later than most, joining the newly formed Troop 17 in Leader Heights at age 14. He nearly made it to Eagle Scout, ending up as a Life Scout. I remember Bob telling me the story that Troop 17 held its initial meetings in a refurbished chicken coop, but the values he learned in that humble setting would stick with him throughout his life.
“My Scouting experiences have had a positive impact on my life,” Bob said in a speech in 2002. “As I look back over my Scouting experience, I truly believe that is why I am so dedicated to community service and the Scouting movement – it makes dedicated citizens out of young men.”
Back in early 2001, when the York-Adams Area Council was planning an incredibly aggressive capital campaign to transform Camp Tuckahoe for the 21st century, there was little debate among the volunteers on the steering committee that Bob was the absolute best person to chair that campaign. As Chairman and CEO of Kinsley Construction, Bob’s hectic workdays started very early and ran late, and it would have been easy and undoubtedly understandable if he had declined. Thankfully, to my everlasting relief, he said yes.
When you look around Camp Tuckahoe today and see the Cub World, dining hall, and swimming pool, those fantastic facilities exist as a direct result of that campaign led by Bob. Over time, we tend to forget the challenging circumstances impacting that campaign, conducted in the months shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The impact on the economy from those attacks is reminiscent of what we see now thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. To me, raising $4.5 million in that environment was an astounding accomplishment.
Bob was no figurehead in leading that campaign either – he was hands-on all the way. I will tell you that some of the best memories of my career include calling on potential donors with Bob all over York and Adams Counties and watching him share his authentic passion for Scouting and Tuckahoe. It was very hard for people to say no after Bob made his pitch.
After winning out in a competitive bidding process, Kinsley Construction was named general contractor for Tuckahoe’s rebuild. With that, Bob and his colleagues at Kinsley moved into the next phase of the campaign, working closely with subcontractors and suppliers to donate equipment and materials for the work. We began construction efforts the day after summer camp closed in 2002, confident we’d be ready for summer camp to open on time next year. Heavy snow often fell that winter, and on more than one occasion, the only work that got done that day was to clear the road just to gain access to the Cub World. Thanks to a superhuman effort by everyone at Kinsley and their subcontractors, the camp was approved to open just hours before the first campers arrived. No one was happier or prouder (and probably more relieved) than Bob was when Tuckahoe welcomed back campers that summer.
A few years later, I was visiting one day with Bob in his office. I don’t remember exactly how we got there, but our conversation shifted to discussing the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and how Scouts from the York-Adams Area Council were very involved many years before in a gathering of former Union and Confederate soldiers in Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of that historic battle. Bob was the founder and was then serving as Chairman of The Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation, which partnered with The National Park Service to raise funds, build and operate the new Visitor’s Center and Museum at Gettysburg.
I mentioned to Bob that I thought it would be great if our Council could host an event for Scouts at Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle. But, I added, since there was only limited camping space available at McMillan Woods and no camping was permitted on the actual battlefield, that would limit any hopes of Scouts camping at the event. Bob’s face immediately lit up and said that the Gettysburg Foundation had just acquired the Spangler Farm, site of a large Union hospital during the battle. Perhaps he said, Scouts could be allowed to camp at Spangler and then hike over to the battlefield for programs. Bob immediately checked with the Foundation’s attorney to inquire if there were any covenants in the purchase agreement that would prohibit camping at Spangler Farm, and there were none.
From there, with incredible support from Bob, his business, the Gettysburg Foundation, and the National Park Service, nearly 3,000 Scouts and their leaders were able to camp on the battlefield to mark the 150thanniversary of the historic battle at Gettysburg. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for everyone fortunate enough to be there, and it would not have happened without Bob’s involvement. Quite simply, it was one of the best Scouting events I’ve ever experienced in my career.
To continue, the list of behind-the-scenes ways that Bob supported Scouting is indeed a very long one. Quite often, one of our board members would arrange (perhaps covertly) for some of Kinsley’s heavy equipment to show up at Tuckahoe or Wizard Ranch to work on the roads or other projects. Once Bob said to me with a grin, “I heard some of our heavy equipment is at the camp right now. You know we have GPS on that stuff, right?”
Every four years, when the Council would host the Wizard Safari, a wealth of resources and people from Kinsley Construction made the logistics for that event possible, and we never saw a bill for any of it. Reflecting Bob’s commitment to the community, our board of directors currently includes three senior managers from Kinsley Construction. I should also mention that the duo of Kinsley Construction and the Kinsley Family Foundation are among the Council’s most generous financial contributors every year. The ways Bob supported our mission just goes on and on and on.
Bob was genuinely content to support Scouting from behind the scenes, never seeking recognition for himself, and he steadfastly deferred all the credit to others. I was delighted to help present Bob with the Silver Beaver Award in 2003, the highest award a local council can bestow. Then in 2013, Bob graciously allowed our Council to honor him as our Distinguished Citizen at the Eagle Recognition Dinner in Hershey. I wish now that we could say thanks for everything one last time.
I’d like to close by sharing a few of Bob’s comments (lightly edited) from the video we produced for the Tuckahoe capital campaign. I remember watching Bob do multiple takes of his part for the video, the perfectionist in him wanting to get it just right. When I reread his words today, I just had to smile.
“The Scouting program does a remarkable job for young people – it teaches them strong personal skills and builds character, giving them a sense of self-worth and community service,” Bob said. “Scouting nurtures family relationships through the opportunities for creative use of time and a diverse and stimulating environment.”
“Camping programs are not just opportunities for fun outdoors … (they) create the optimal environment where Scouting’s core values can be best taught and learned. We need to ensure that future generations of Scouts will also have their own great memories and experiences at camping, even better than those special times that I and so many past generations of Scouts have enjoyed.”
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Bob’s wife, Anne, his five sons, and their families. We are so grateful for everything that Bob did to benefit south-central Pennsylvania Scouting.
Yours in Scouting,
Ronald M. Gardner, Jr.
Scout Executive & CEO