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Char Corbit remembers being 11 years old in 1953 when Midwesterners arrived in Utah to work for U.S. Steel and started a Girl Scout troop in Provo.
Corbit's 25-year-old sister made her join up. It turned out to be a perfect fit for the already outdoorsy fifth-grader from American Fork who eventually made Girl Scouts her career.
On New Year's Eve, Corbit's retirement after 33 years with the Girl Scouts officially began. "I'll tell you my accomplishments: girls," she said. "I have watched three generations of women come through here."
She credits the Midwesterners with opening her eyes to limitless possibilities, an ethos she carried forward as a leader. The U.S. Steel families "were transplants into Utah," she said. Girl Scouts had been part of their former communities. Finding no troops here, they went about establishing their own. Through the girls and by volunteering, the transplanted families made themselves part of Utah.
Corbit was thrilled by such radical newness.
"I learned diversity at age 11," she said. "Here was a whole new group of people, all religions, being inclusive."
A stay-at-home mom who worked for the Democratic Party and on political campaigns, Corbit signed up as a troop leader from 1969 to 1977, when Girl Scouts of Utah hired her as a paid staffer. She served as director of outdoor programs, director of fund development, interim CEO and director of property.
"Working for Girl Scouts ceased to be a job for me about 20 years ago," she said. "It's a lifestyle."
And once in, she adds, girls and the women they grow up to be are never out.
Corbit started out working with the older girls, called Seniors, who now are in their late 40s and early 50s, working as teachers, veterinarians, politicians, mothers. "They are accomplished women," she said, "active in their communities."
Corbit directed the $8 mil-lion overhauls of Trefoil Ranch in Provo Canyon and Camp Cloud Rim near Park City. Though older Girl Scouts treasure memories of summers at the old, rustic camps, with their metal bunks, outhouses and roofless showers, the new lodges offer a lot more comfort along with roughing-it experiences.
"The Girl Scout program has changed the way society has changed," she said. "But it also has traditions."
The new camps "are girl-friendly," Corbit said. "Pit toilets are not girl-friendly. Kids these days are modest. They would rather hide in a ditch than shower with an airplane flying over them."
Corbit's daughter, Jean Smith, was in her mom's troops. It's important, Smith said, for youngsters to have mentors. "Girls get to see adults do things like make fires, cook outdoors," she says. "We see our female role models in a different way."
Corbit's leadership fostered girls' ambition and self-confidence, said Amy Bentley, 48, an associate professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
"Char was quite active politically. She imparted to her girls [that] we needed to be part of governance and the community," said Bentley, who was in Corbit's troops starting in second grade. "She was energetic, laughed a lot and really cared about the girls. It was a great part of my childhood. I remember loving to wear my Girl Scout uniform to school. I loved my knife. I loved my badges."
A Scout's honors
Char Corbit, a Girl Scout who made the organization her career, retired Dec. 31. A troop leader and then a paid executive, Corbit oversaw multiple programs and the reconstruction of Utah's two Girl Scout camps.
In 2005, the national Association of Girl Scout Executive Staff named Corbit to their Hall of Fame. In Utah, she received the three highest adult honors in the organization. A camp scholarship has been created in her name.
About 9,000 girls in Utah are Girl Scouts, which is gearing up to commemorate Juliette Gordon Low's 1912 gathering of 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides, an adaptation of the British organization. The following year, the Guides became the Scouts.