By: Erik Wrede
Herb Darrow was a CCC boy back in the day, and he was a clown. Literally. This old dude had all the makeup and costumes, and he would make people laugh whether he was “working” or not. Herb was one of the local CCC boys that never missed a picnic, a meeting, or a site dedication whenever he was invited by the Conservation Corps staff. We provided the ride. He provided the laughs. He used to get a bunch of the boys (in their 80s and 90s) to compare their muscles and brag about how much work they used to do. It was a riot.
One day, I was sitting with Herb in the MCC youth summer camp mess hall on an annual CCC chapter visit to camp. He asked someone to pass the mashed potatoes. As the bowl was being passed to him, a youth corpsmember stole a spoonful. Herb jumped, pointed and yelled, “Hey, no shortstopping!” All the CCC boys roared with laughter and made the young corpsmember drop and give them 20 pushups - which they roundly critiqued for form. Apparently, “taters” were serious business back in the day!
There are not many CCC boys left, and I would strongly recommend that you attend the 80th anniversary party in September for your chance to be regaled with stories of hard work, love and war. In my experience, most CCC boys will tell you that the Civilian Conservation Corps, falling in love with their wife and World War II were the three most impactful events in their lives. You’ll see a twinkle in their eyes when they talk about the first two.
What started 80 years ago is still a good deal. You might get paid less than a burger flipper, but don’t complain to a CCC boy. They made only $30/month and had to send $25 of that home to their families. It put food on the table and taught young men valuable skills and a strong work ethic. Today’s corpsmembers get a bunch of training and make valuable connections with folks that can hire them in the future – if they have a strong work ethic. The bonus is what many corpsmembers describe as a life-changing experience. Hopefully, you’ll get the twinkle in your eye when showing your muscles and bragging.
The big party in September also commemorates CCM’s 10th anniversary as a nonprofit. Herb was at the dedication ceremony when we moved out of the DNR and became a nonprofit. That’s him sitting on the commemorative rock next to the oak tree we planted that day (just south of the DNR building at the State Fair). When long-time MCC Director Larry Fonnest resigned, he told me there were three things he wanted me to keep an eye on. Herb was one of them. When Herb was not long for this world, he asked me to keep an eye on that oak tree, and I asked him to keep an eye on the Corps. Do me a favor and dump your water bottle on that tree the next time you go to the State Fair. Herb is watching you.
Erik Wrede worked as a Minnesota Conservation Corps staff member from 1999 - 2005, first as the Central District Manager of the Young Adult Program in the DNR, then as Executive Director of the nonprofit. He now coordinates the DNR State Water Trails system: www.mndnr.gov/watertrails and continues to have a lot of contact with the Corps.