Bela’s Story:
Scouting in Hungary, 1925-1937

Bela Banathy, retired professor of systems education at the Saybrook Graduate School, and founding director of the International Systems Institute, was responsible for the design of the original leadership development process used today by the Boy Scouts of America. The eleven skills of leadership found in Wood Badge, the Junior Leader Training Conference, and other Scout training, all find their heritage in the White Stag Leadership Development Program pioneered by Bela and other Scouters in the Bay Area in the late 1950’s.

The story of Bela’s innovations begins much earlier when, as a little boy in Hungary, he was first introduced to Scouting by his adopted brother Tamas. The words are his own.

The emblem of the "Csanad Vezer"
Troop 92 founded in 1920.


It was about the mid 1920s, when Tamas Feri was invited to join our family. He kept his family name, but lived with us as our older brother. He was about thirteen years old coming from a poor gardener family. He was a talented young poet and a boy scout. I was about six when he took me with his patrol for my first overnight camping to a small forest close to Gyula. My father then became the scoutmaster of our "small scouts" troop (in America, Cub Scouts). When I became the troop leader at age nine, I remember one scene, when on a national holiday I marched the troop in a parade. It was about that time when we as a troop went to a church camp for a two week camping in Leanyfalu, north of Budapest. While the church groups lived in barracks, we lived in tents as Scouts are supposed to do.


When we came to Mako from Gyula, I entered the regular scout program of the Hungarian Scout Association. The gimnazium had its own scout troop: "Csanad Vezer" Troop 92. The troop was very active. In the early 1930s we had over 50 scouts and over 30 "small scouts" in the troop. We held our weekly patrol meetings on Saturdays and our monthly troop meetings on Sunday. Our scout home was in a large room in the gimnazium. From spring to fall we had numerous patrol outings.

Notes: A gimnazium (similar to our English word "gymnasium") is a Secondary School in Hungary."Csanad Vezer" was the chieftain of the tribe which settled the southern region of Hungary near the city of Mako.

The Bukk Mountains

Every summer we had a two to three week troop camping, mostly around our region. In 1935, we camped in the Bukk mountains, the northern region of Hungary. As a Senior Patrol leader that year I and two others went up in the early summer on a bicycle tour to reconnoiter the campsite. In 1933, our troop went to the World Jamboree. (I will discuss this later.) In 1934, seven of us represented our troop at the National Jamboree in Poland. We camped in a large pine forest and visited Krakow and spent two days in Warsaw, where we were guests of the government for a banquet in the national palace. On the way back, our train stopped in a pine forest in the Carpathian mountains. (After World War I, the Carpathian region was taken away from Hungary and became part of the newly established Czechoslovakia.) During our short stay in the mountains, I dug up a small pine tree and on arriving home I replanted it in our garden. It grew to a large tree. Visiting Mako last year, I found out from my nephew Laci’s son that during the 1950s a storm broke the tree in half

The Turul Statue on the gates
of the Royal Palace in Budapest

Our weekly patrol meetings focused on scoutcraft and scout spirit and guiding us to move through the various stages of advancement in rank. The stages were very much like in the scout program of this country. The last and fourth stage required the attainment of 25 merit badges and marked the rank of "Turul" the mythical bird of Hungarians. This rank is equivalent to the Eagle rank of the Boy Scouts of America. During the first three years, I advanced three stages. Hopp Henrich was our patrol leader. He often told us great mystery stories. (Many years later I met him again in Austria. I will tell about this later.)

In 1933, I attended the regional patrol leader training week and in 1934 and 1935, the national spring leadership camp at Harshegy, Budapest. In 1934. I was awarded the best notebook prize of the national training camp. In 1935, I was invited to serve on the junior staff of the camp. In 1935, our troop developed the Riverscout program on the river Maros. We built a boathouse and had a flotilla of a sailboat and several single and double kayaks. My brother and I had our own single kayaks. Kayaking on the Maros was an adventure one can never forget. On several weekends we went up to Szeged and back, a 60 km trip.

World Jamboree, Gödöllö, Hungary, 1933

In 1933, our troop participated with 42 scouts at the World Jamboree at Gödöllö. As the best troop in our region we had the assignment of the staff troop of the Subcamp V. This was a difficult assignment which we discharged quite well, gaining a special diploma for our "good work." In our Subcamp we had, among others, the Polish, the Finnish and the Swiss contingents. Almost daily I visited the Finnish camp where I was invited to share in the sauna experience.

The highlight of the Jamboree for me was meeting Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout of the World. One day, he visited our camp with the Chief Scout of Hungary, Count Paul Teleki (who later became our Prime Minister), and the chief of the camp staff, "Vitez" Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas, a general staff officer of the Hungarian Royal Army. A few years later he became the commander of the Royal Ludovika Akademia (when I was a student there). In the 1940s, he became the Chief Scout of Hungary. (I was serving on his staff as head of national junior leadership training.)

Note: Bela explains the meaning of the title "vitez:" "Vitez is the name of a military order established by the Regent of Hungary. Members of the order were selected based on their heroism during the First World War (Vitez means hero). These where "knighted" by the Regent. My father was a member of the order and I, as the oldest son, inherited the title."

For me the Jamboree became a crucial career decision point. I resolved to choose the military as a life work. (Earlier, I aspired to become a minister of our church.) There were two sources of this decision. One was my admiration of Lord Baden-Powell, and his life-example as a hero of the British Army and the founder and guide of scouting. The other was the influence of Captain Varkonyi, a staff officer of the Jamboree, who was assigned to our Subcamp. We spent hours in conversation about scouting and the military as a career, as a major service in the character development of young Hungarian adults. After the Jamboree we corresponded for a while. By the end of the year I shared my decision with my parents.

As I recall now my scouting years during the 1930s, I realize how much scouting became part of me and how much I became part of Scouting. During all the years that followed this two-way relationship became even stronger.


  • To be continued


James E. West and William Hillcourt were with the American contingent at the 4th World Jamboree at Gödöllö, Hungary. In the1933 Scout Jamboree Book they gave some impressions of their Hungarian hosts and of B-P’s closing remarks.


One day, B-P’s challenge would lead Bela to design the White Stag program. It was the source of new directions in leadership development for Scouting. That heritage and its legacies are explored in: "Follow the White Stag."


From the very beginnings, the development of leadership has been an essential part of Scouting.The Historical Development of Leadership Development in the BSA traces that story from the perspective of the week-long junior training experience from the 1950’s to the present day.

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Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1996
Last Modified: 35:37 on 12-14-96