BOSTON TWP.: The wayside cross that campers at the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Manatoc made serves as a symbol of home far away.
The cross — made of two small tree branches found in the camp — reminds the 350 youth and adult leaders of Lithuania, said Ruta Baltaduonyte-Lemon, the chief Scout of the Lithuanian Scout Association.
Roadsides in all villages are dotted with homemade wooden crosses, she said.
“There are crosses so people can pray and remember God where they are,” Baltaduonyte-Lemon said.
This morning, the 10-day National Jamboree of the Lithuanian Scout Association ends at the Great Trail Council’s sprawling camp within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
It is the second time the group of men and women adult leaders, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have met at Manatoc. Their first visit was five years ago.
This year, the gathering marked the 95th anniversary of scouting in Lithuania, a country in Eastern Europe with a population of about 3.3 million.
Scouting was banned in Lithuania during decades of communist rule, but after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, Scout programs were revived.
The jamboree attracted Scouts — all with Lithuanian roots — from Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the United States, said Gintas Taoras, 61, president of the Lithuanian Scout Association. He works as a director of laboratories for a hospital in Dover, N.H., but spent much of his childhood in Cleveland. His parents emigrated from Lithuania after World War II.
“It is phenomenal,” Taoras said of the camp.
Along the winding, narrow road leading to the camp, various signs display the words of the Scout Law. This week, along with the words in English were the corresponding words in Lithuanian.
“It is an opportunity for all of our youth from all of the different places in the world to come together in one area and spend time together and get to know each other and to realize as much as we are different, we are all very, very similar,” said Baltaduonyte-Lemon, 62, a paralegal from Toronto. Both of her parents are Lithuanian.
The Lithuanian language was spoken at all meetings and campfires this week and during all songs.
“We truly believe that we want to maintain Lithuanian culture, heritage, language, and we use scouting as a vehicle to accomplish this,” Baltaduonyte-Lemon said.
Within the Lithuanian Scouts Association, there are programs for boys and girls that follow the guidelines established by scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell of England in 1907. The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910.
During the jamboree, Scouts did what Scouts all over the world do: They hiked, swam and worked on merit badges, among other activities.
Some of the girls at Manatoc took part in an Iron Chef cooking competition Thursday, including Rene Kizys, 18, of Brecksville. “It is really fun,” she said of the jamboree. “We met so many people we normally wouldn’t meet and experienced different cultures and different ways people do things that are different from what we do in Cleveland,” Kizys said.
Scout Martynas Sirvinskas, 16, of Toronto, whose father is from Lithuania, called the entire camp experience “heartwarming.”
“You get a good, patriotic feeling knowing even though we come from such a small country that our community is all around the world,” he said.
Scout Executive Mike Jones said the Great Trail Council was happy the group chose to hold its jamboree at Manatoc. “We are thrilled they are here,” he said.
Tomas Rakovas, 26, an adult Scout leader from Lithuania who works as a psychologist at home, said there were good feelings all around. “We all feel very at home here,” he said. “This unites us with our fellow Lithuanian Scouts ... It helps bring people together and makes friendship.”
For more on the Lithuanian Scouts Association, go to the group’s Facebook page.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.