I was saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Leonard Sullivan in the Wednesday July 27 edition of the R&L. Mr. Sullivan, you see, gave me my first break from writing.
Len came to our area from Washington, NC, and joined the staff of the Tribune on January 15, 1961, as a reporter.
In 1971, as a recent graduate of UNC Charlotte, I felt like writing something about the death of Mooresville merchant Mr. Side Mack, who was perhaps more responsible for establishing troops scouts in southern Iredell County than anyone else.
A word of explanation is in order here. To earn a Merit Badge, a Scout must demonstrate knowledge and skill by completing a number of listed requirements. For example, to earn the Camping Merit Badge, which is needed to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout, one of the requirements is to demonstrate making a fire using a bow or flint and steel. The scout should do this first for the merit badge adviser, then, perhaps, before the review committee of his local troop, and, eventually, before the court of honor.
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Mr. Side was sometimes in the main courtyard and demanded that the scout demonstrate his ability to make fire on the spot.
I remember on one occasion Hoyle Setzer Jr. was going to get the aforementioned campsite merit badge and Mr. Mack insisted that Hoyle demonstrate fire making. Well, it just so happened that it rained for much of the week before the court was due, resulting in soggy tinder (the jagged stuff that was supposed to catch fire easily).
Hoyle must have tried to light his fire for 30 minutes, but was unsuccessful. Daniel Boone himself would not have set the tinder on fire. Mr. Mack therefore did not pass Hoyle that evening and Hoyle had to return the following month to do so, which he did.
Mr. Side was decidedly “old school”. If he said you had to demonstrate something, you better be able to demonstrate it. End of sentence. I think Hoyle became a doctor later.
Mr Side, along with his son Mitchell, also sold official Boy Scout gear at their store, John Mack & Son, on Mooresville’s main street: everything from brochures of merit badges to Boy Scout flashlights , including uniforms and compasses.
As I said, I wrote my thoughts on Mr. Mack’s contributions to local scouting and took them to the Tribune and gave them to the publisher Sullivan. A few days later, on May 20, there was in the Tribune what I had written in black and white for all to see, my first piece of honest-to-God journalism. I even got my first signature.
The piece was titled “Mr. Side: Builder of men. About a week later, I received a nice thank you note from the Mack family for my play.
Len might as well have returned my writings on Mr. Mack, thanked me, and told me that the Tribune already had an obituary in the works.
But with that success, I started thinking about writing other stuff for a local publication, and Len ran almost everything I handed to him, except one piece, which he wisely saved from the press.
Len encouraged me to write about local history, a subject that I have always found fascinating. Once, Len even invited me to accompany him on a flight over Lake Norman to photograph land that was being developed. Len had his own single-engine light plane at the Lake Norman airport. I was honored that he asked me to accompany him. It was the first time, I believe, that I had seen Lake Norman from the air.
And so, my readers, you have Leonard Sullivan, in part, to thank – or blame – for my articles, including today’s.
OC Stonestreet is the author of “Tales From Old Iredell County”, “They Called Iredell County Home”, and “Once Upon a Time… in Mooresville, NC”.