MONROE’S PREMIERE GIRL SCOUT

          As previously mentioned in this column, Monroe has been very fortunate in having some mighty fine citizens who have shown their love and appreciation of our town by the many generous deeds of selfless devotion in various ways. One person whose efforts began at age 13 helped shape her into the extraordinary person she became in later life.

          Juliette Gordon Low was born in Savannah on October 31st, 1850 and was the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA with help from Sir Robert Baden-Powell of Scotland, the founder of the Scouting Movement. Both Low and Baden-Powell shared a love of travel and support of the Girl Guides.  Juliette Low joined the Girl Guide movement, forming a group of Girl Guides in Scotland in 1911.

          In 1912 she returned back to her native Savannah and established the first American Girl Guide troop.  In 1915 the United States’ Girl Guides became known as the Girl Scouts with Low as its first president.

          Frances Matilda Cook, nicknamed “Cookie” at an early age, was born in Welch, West Virginia, on September 22, 1912. Being the daughter of a judge and a school teacher, she quickly learned the values of church, family and academics.

          At age 13 she joined an early group of Girl Scouts, founded in England the year of Cookie’s birth.  As a young lady in 1930 she was awarded the Girl Scout Golden Eaglet Award, which was at the time, the highest honor awarded to a scout member for excellence in the club.  She especially enjoyed working on the merit badges which focused on nature and outdoor activities.

          Upon graduation from high school, Cookie moved to Macon where she attended Wesleyan College, where she became a campus leader. As a member of the student council, she had to confront her sister Alice, who was brought before the council after skinny dipping in the campus fountain. During her time there she studied education and home economics and at one point was voted “Miss Wesleyan”. In athletics she enjoyed soccer & basketball.

          During her years at Wesleyan, she caught the attention of a young student from Georgia Tech, Tharpe Sanders from Commerce.  His family owned a decades old furniture business serving as an outlet for home furnishings while offering up a side business of making caskets.  Both Cookie & Tharpe seemed smitten with each other but educational studies took precedent.

          Cookie’s first job after graduation from Wesleyan was as Membership Director for the Girl Scouts in Louisville, Kentucky.  She traveled around the state recruiting scout leaders and members along with helping coordinate Girl Scout programs. One of her happiest memories of this time centered around a Girl Scout National Conference she attended at Camp Edith Macy in Westchester County, New York in mid-1935.

          All during her travels and intense work with the Girl Scouts, Cookie never forgot that fellow from Tech she met while in college.  During this time she and Tharpe wrote letters to each other and Tharpe was determined she was the girl to marry. They married which found Cookie back in Georgia in 1936.  After settling in Monroe, Tharpe opened the first branch of the family business, known as Sanders Furniture Company.

          Being a newcomer to Monroe did not stop Cookie from quickly becoming involved with the town and community. She joined the First Baptist Church where she took an active role in the Sunday school department’s leadership role along with becoming a member of the Delphians and the Monroe Chapter of the DAR.  Loving books and reading, she was named to the board of the Walton County Library along with serving on the board of the Walker Foundation.

          Long-time friend Amelia Adams remembered how, with the ensuing years, Cookie enlarged her perspective of the world.  During the difficult years of school segregation, she insisted, as a board member of the Monroe Library, that the facility welcome African-American students, additionally hosting members of that community in her home to subdue racial tensions.

          Granddaughter Tora Lucas recalled that Cookie, along with Dorothy Nowell, started the first Girl Scout Troop in Monroe in the late 1930’s when daughter Alice wanted to become a scout. After forming the first scout troop in town, she served as a consultant for many troops organizing Scouting events and field trips.  One of the most anticipated events came in the summers as the girl scouts enjoyed camping at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge.

          At many of the troop gatherings which occurred at Cookie’s home, always present was the delicious pound cake which became a highly desired and asked for dessert.

          The award which Cookie received on August 12, 1930, which was then called the “Golden Eaglet” is now named the “Gold Award” which includes a balanced combination of leadership, service, career study and interest projects (comparable to merit badges).  While the Gold Award is still equivalent to the Boy Scout Eagle, it has tried to keep up with the changing roles of women in society over the last 50 years.

          It was indeed a happy day for Cookie when granddaughter Tora received the Gold Award in May, 1987. An article on the front page of The Walton Tribune written by Tora on February 25, 1987 reflected the joys of both grandmother and granddaughter receiving such a distinguished award. In May of 1989, Tora’s sister Kathryn Sanders received her Gold Award, making Grandmother Cookie doubly proud of her granddaughters.

          The April 28, 2002 edition of the Tribune announced that Cookie Sanders had been honored for 75 years of service with the Girl Scouts.  A ceremony honoring her long service was held by the Monroe Troop 3628 in her honor at the Walton Medical Center’s Convalescent Unit where Cookie now resided.  When she received her service award, Cookie proudly said, “I’m as old as the Girl Scouts are.  The reason Girl Scouts were formed was to help girls develop into useful women, which still applies today.”

          Michelle Leach, then leader of Troop 3628, was introduced to Cookie two years prior. Leach was collecting prize money for participation in the Monroe Christmas Parade and met Cookie’s son Charles.  Charles mentioned his mother had been very involved in scouting in her day.

          Michelle invited Cookie to a troop meeting where she shared what it was like when she was in Scouts.  She went on to say that Cookie helped those girls earn their “her story” badge.  “We sort of adopted Mrs. Sanders from that point,” Michelle said.

          During the ceremony, girls presented Cookie with homemade cards along with a 40 year service pin from Mary Hurst of the regional office.

          Receiving the pin, Cookie told those assembled, “Some of the methods have changed, but the purpose of Girl Scouts is still the same.  It is the most wonderful organization for a girl.”

          Cookie Sanders lived an extraordinary life of service to her family, her church and her town and many of the wonderful talents she shared so generously with all came from those early years when at age 13 she took that first step becoming a Girl Scout. I can only think of how pleased and happy Juliette Gordon Low would have been to know one of her “girls” made such a success of the legacy she began back in August 1911 in Scotland.

(Appreciation goes out to Tora Sanders Lucas and her sister, Kathryn and their father, Charles, for portions of this column)