Person of the Week
‘Ever a Scout’: John Zane Celebrates 75 Years in Scouting
Now in his 75th year in scouting, John Karl Zane has made quite an impact on scouts along the shoreline, and beyond. He’s still a registered member of Guilford Troop 471 sponsored by St. George Catholic Church, which also sponsored a cub pack Zane started up. He recently penned the first part of his scouting memoir, Ever a Scout, recounting his boyhood scouting experiences. (Photo courtesy of John Zane)
Now in his 75th year in scouting, John Karl Zane has made quite an impact on scouts along the shoreline, and beyond. His journey started in March 1946 in New Haven when he mustered in with his local cub scout pack.
“I was two days past my ninth birthday, which was a minimum age you could be to join scouting at that point. I’ve been a registered scout and scouter to this day,” says John, 84.
While his dad legally changed their last name to Zane a few years later, the family name with which John first registered for scouting as a kid, Zaniewski, appears across a collection of boyhood memorabilia John still cherishes. Certificates and badges earned by John after becoming a boy scout at an early age—just 12 years old, due to his earnest enthusiasm and exceptional participation—as well as those commemorating milestones, such as earning the highest ranking of eagle scout in 1952 at 15, are shared in John’s recently self-published book, Ever a Scout.
While many can look back on their years in scouting as something that helped shaped their lives growing up, John says there was never a question that he wanted to continue with scouting as an adult.
“I worked with so many good people when I was a scout, and they put so much into the program that I cherished, that I decided somebody had to keep doing it,” says John.
If John’s name is familiar to local scouting enthusiasts, it could be for many reasons. He’s held a number of different roles in this area, including scoutmaster of three different packs. He was a district chairman for the Lighthouse District when he established a cub pack through St. George Catholic Church, which continues to sponsor Guilford’s Troop 471. John is still a registered member of Troop 471.
“At the time when I was a district chairman, Guilford needed a third cub scout pack. The west side of the town was not being covered,” says John, who was assisted by Oliver Bishop (Troop 401) to put together a committee and solicit members for the new cub pack.
“It went along well, we had our Pinewood Derby and balloon races and all the things kids had fun doing,” says John, who served as its first cub scoutmaster for a period of five years.
Years earlier, together with some friends, he started East Haven’s Cub Scout Pack 412.
“It became one of the largest cub packs in the Quinnipiac Council,” says John, who led the East Haven pack for about 10 years before turning the program over to other leaders.
It’s also where his sons, Kenneth and Christopher, got their start in scouting. Kenneth is an eagle scout. Christopher, who owns and operates Branford-based Zane’s Cycles, is a life scout.
“We started Zane’s Cycles with him when he was 18,” notes John of the business that began in a downtown Branford bike and hobby shop on Main Street, where Christopher had first worked for the former owner. The business is now located on East Main Street in Branford.
When Zane’s Cycles got its start in 1981, John and his wife of now 63 years, Patricia, assisted their son. Because Christopher was still in high school at the time, Pat would open the shop at 10 a.m. until he could come in to work after school.
The family resided in East Haven for about 40 years, then moved to their Branford home of 23 years. Recently, John and Pat moved to their new home at Evergreen Woods in North Branford.
Ever a Scout
As an adult, John’s involvement in scouting has risen to the district level and beyond. He serves as part of the Quinnipiac Council (a predecessor to Connecticut Yankee Council) and was an original member of the Sequassen Alumni Association. In addition to serving as a past district chair of the Lighthouse District, John is presently a unit commissioner. John also successfully established the area’s Merit Badge College, now active for more than 40 years.
“That got started by me with the permission of the scout executive, because when Kenneth, my oldest son, was going for his eagle, there were difficult merit badges which didn’t have counselors available,” John explains. “When I was a scout, the scout council had a review session once a month, and boys who were working on a badge who needed a counselor could go to this meeting, meet with a qualified merit badge counselor, and earn the badges.”
The scout executive liked John’s idea so much, he not only gave John permission to start the Merit Badge College, but assigned his assistant to be the college’s first director. A member of the board of the scout council served as the college’s first president. John became its dean of faculty. To gather its first faculty, John contacted about 30 people he knew to be qualified counselors and asked them to join in.
“Some said no, but for the most part, everyone was enthusiastic about the program,” says John.
With the help of a council member who was also a professor at Quinnipiac University, the college found its first home in a facility at the university’s Hamden campus. Scouts would sign up for three sessions, held every other Saturday over three weeks.
“The first Merit Badge College took place in 1978, and we were able to invite 60 boys to be in the program,” says John. “Virtually all the boys who signed up got through the course and passed their merit badges. And it’s been running ever since.”
The program runs between February to March each year, now meeting at a Wallingford junior high.
“At the present time, there are probably a thousand boys, if not more, that have earned their eagle because of the Merit Badge College,” says John, who served as dean of faculty for eight years and president for two years.
Recently, the college has been written up in two national scouting periodicals, Scouting Magazine and Boys Life.
“We got all kinds of letters that came back, thanking us for developing the program,” says John.
Many Career Milestones
What makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable is that John contributed his volunteer efforts to scouting while also accomplishing many milestones in his career as a research chemist, development engineer, and consulting scientist.
During his 60-year career, the majority of John’s work was in the field of polyurethanes. He established the Upjohn School of Urethane Technology, for which he wrote a primer on urethane chemistry (1972) and instructed approximately 70 students in the understanding and applications of polyurethane chemistry. John also holds about 35 U.S. patents and, at last count, 104 foreign patents. He’s authored 19 articles in the trade.
John continues to consult with clients to this day.
“When I retired from industry in 2002, I had a lot of customers from the various companies we worked for that needed consultants, so I am designated as a consulting scientist,” says John, who has worked with approximately 30 companies since his retirement.
He’s also given lectures at Quinnipiac and the University of New Haven and to programs through his membership with Society of Plastics Engineers and Sigma Xi, a scientific research honor society.
A Brief History of Bikes
John has fond memories of camping as a boy scout at Camp Sequassen in the New Hartford area, and is glad to note that camping is “even more so” a part of the scouting experience now.
“Camping is more prevalent now than it was when I was a scout,” he says. “My big adventure when we were scouts was to go on bike hikes.”
John’s first scouting bike hike was when he was 12, riding from New Haven to Sleeping Giant in Hamden. Later, as an advisor scout in New Haven, he took patrols of 8 to 10 scouts on bike hikes that traveled 50 miles in one day, from New Haven to Camp Sequassen.
“It was a good day’s ride,” says John.
“It was an all-day trip, so everybody slept well in their tents that night. We used to joke about the fact that going up there was all up hill, so you don’t have to worry about going home, because it’s all downhill.”
The cycling memory prompts a story about his son, Christopher, starting his first bike shop out of the family’s East Haven garage as a kid.
“What happened was I bought my older son a bike, and it came in two pieces. I put the bike together, and Christopher was always mechanically inclined, so he always stood over my shoulder and watched what I did. I showed him how to adjust the derailleur and set the brakes, and make sure the wheels where true—all the basic stuff that a bike mechanic would do.”
A few days later, John came home from work to find his youngest son in the garage, working on a friend’s bike as his friend stood by.
“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m fixing Charlie’s bike.’ I said, ‘Okay, let me know if you have any problems.’ He came in for supper, and I said, ‘Did you make out alright?’ ‘Oh, yeah, everything’s working great.’ A couple days later I came home, and there were two kids in the driveway!” says John, laughing.
One of their bikes needed a full overhaul, which Christopher completed. A few nights later, the family was at the dinner table when a knock came at the door.
“The kid who had his bicycle rebuilt came in and gave Christopher a $10 bill, and when Christopher asked why, he said it was because his father said if he’d brought it to a bike repair shop, it would have cost him at least $20. All of the sudden, the die had been cast—the genie had been let out of the bottle!” says John. “He said, ‘I can do this for money?’ I said, ‘Sure, but if you do it, you’ve got to have a name, you’ve got to have a tax number.’ So he went out and got it, and it became Foxon Bike Shop. He was running a little business right out of our garage.”
More to Come
John has written Ever a Scout to commemorate his 75 years in scouting. The book can be accessed now online at the Boy Scouts of America Connecticut Yankee Council website, together with an article on John’s 75 years in scouting, at www.ctyankee.org (search “John Zane Celebrates 75th Anniversary in Scouting”).
While he can’t say whether his 75 years in scouting is a singular accomplishment in the organization, John does feel that he had the advantage of getting a very early start.
“Most of them didn’t get in as early as I did,” he says of his boyhood scouting contemporaries. “Back in the 1940s, cub scouting wasn’t as popular as it became in later years.”
John’s delightful book is a quick read of 109 pages, filled with personal accounts, photos, and images of scouting memorabilia. It’s also only the first part of a story that he says will have more to come.
“That’s about probably a third to half of the book. That’s my time as a boy. Actually, I’m still a boy,” says John, laughing. “That’s my time as a youth.”
As for his decision to contribute to scouting throughout his life, “it’s been a labor of love,” says John. “I’m very happy to help a scout, because so many people helped me.”