THE RAGGERS SOCIETY
It started off as a simple blue bandana, a blue kerchief that would signify excellence for health habits, promptness, cheerfulness, morals, trustworthiness, industry and helpfulness.
In the spring of 1914, 25 of those blue bandanas were presented to youths at a YMCA summer camp near what is now Camp Loma Mar, a branch of the Alameda County, California YMCA, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was here, about sixty miles south of San Francisco, that the tradition began.
Thomas Caldwell, then a 38-year-old boys’ secretary for the Oakland YMCA, used the kerchiefs for the first time and called them “rags.” This was to signify that in themselves the kerchiefs or bandanas had no value. Rather they were a symbol of the qualities a boy had demonstrated. It is estimated that since 1914 several hundred thousand youngsters in YMCA camps have been led blindfolded to a predetermined spot to have triangular kerchiefs tied around their necks in a simple ceremony.
Originally, the bandana was thought to be an award for “participation in activities.” After all, this followed the method being used at the time in the San Francisco YMCA camp and was based primarily on athletics. The idea was rejected because other camp leaders expected a crippled youngster to be in camp, and he would be unable to win the award under that system.
And it is at Raggers’ Point, a permanent fixture at YMCA camps around the world, that youngsters still receive the rag today. Usually built of rocks at remote and private view sites, they are rarely destroyed. One somewhat unusual site was a ceremony in Austria just a few yards from the Hungarian border. A group of touring high school students accepted the rag with communist armed guards viewing the ceremony through a barbed wire barricade.
The design of the rag blends four well-known shapes - the traditional YMCA triangle; the square-to signify the four-square life; the circle-a circle of friendship; and the cross-the symbol of Christianity.
While it was Thomas Caldwell who conceptualized the rag in 1914 (at first only boys received it), Ralph Cole, who was named California’s boys’ work secretary five years later, is regarded as the man who took the idea across state lines.
In 1989, a special gathering of Camp Loowit Raggers was held to celebrate the anniversary of the rag and to remember beloved Camp Loowit at Spirit Lake that was destroyed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. From this meeting, former camp director Bob Rosi wrote a little something about the raggers and the camp and sent it to the national jubilee of the Rag Society held in California that year to mark the 75th. Anniversary of the Raggers program.
The Longview YMCA camp raggers program was started in the early 50's by Chet Bartlett, then camp director. One of the influential persons involved in the program was Tom Jabusch of Longview who had attended camp as a child, was a camp counselor and later a volunteer for many years in a leadership role.
The local program was based on the National Raggers, but adapted to the local setting.
While the rags came in different colors, the order of the colors was not always the same in all places. At Camp Loowit, the first rag earned was green where young campers had to read and think about what it meant to be a good friend. Next, the brown rag stood for love, a red one for humility and wearing a blue rag meant you pledged to support the spirit of the camp in everyday life. The white rag was the highest honor and bestowed on those chosen by other white raggers and was given to individals who had contributed to the camp in many ways over a period of time.The following were white raggers: Hal Horne, Bill Lehning, Tom Jabusch, Jane Dedrick, Chris Burkhardt, Ken White, John Okerlund, John Weber, Joretta Briney, Bob Rosi, Chet Bartlett, Jane Rosi and Richard Anderson.
The first night of each new session at camp, a special raggers campfire was held to explain the raggers program and how they could be earned. All campers left the campfire ring beside Margaret Creek after the regular campfire while staff erected a special cross. This cross had cans nailed to it and the candles inside each can were lite. As campers returned to the ring, this special setting of the lite cross, the babbling of Margaret Creek and the crackling fire greeted them. New campers were eager to begin their entry into the raggers program. Returning campers looked forward to moving to the next rag and adding to the bandanas already around their necks as they wore them this first night. After leaving the campfire, campers would gather in a group for a specific rag and receive the paper explaining the requirements they must meet during the week to receive the rag at the final ceremony on the last night of camp. During the week, one could see campers pondering over the materials: Bible verses, sayings to recite, or brief papers to write, as they worked with other campers or their counselors in preparation of this special rite.
On the last evening of camp, all campers who felt they were prepared to meet the requirement for the rag for which they were striving, would meet for the induction into the raggers society. There was no test or pre-judgement as to whether a camper had indeed the right to receive the rag, but rather it was based on the campers interest, work towards and participation in the weeks activities that reflected the true character and commitment to become a ragger.
A special place outside of the camp area in the forests above camp was prepared for this ceremony. A cross was made on the ground and candles in cans lite to receive each group of campers. First the green raggers were blinded folded and led to this special place to recite their creed of the meaning of friendship and their promises to always be a good friend. Of course, this was always the largest group. Next came the bown raggers and their thoughts of what love meant to them along with a couple of recitations. The next groups were red and blue (usually fewer than the other two) as one can only earn one rag a year. Also, younger campers are not always ready to undertake or understand the meaning of humility or ready to commit to supporting the camp.
There were gold stars that were intermediate steps for the red rag (meaning of God )if one chose before going on to the blue rag. There also was a gold star to be put on the blue rag(one’s life ambition) for the older camper who had attended many years of camp and wanting to take onen more step up in the Raggers Society. Each star had a separate meaning and requirement.
Green Rag of Friendship Recitation:
I would be true for there are those who trust me.
I would be pure for there are those who care
I would be strong for there is much to suffer
I would be brave for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all the foe-the friendless
I would be giving and forget he gift
I would be humble for I know my weakness
I would look up - and laugh - and love - and lift.
Brown Rag of Love: Reading and understanding I Corinthians 13:1-13
I have to live with myself, and so
I want to be fit for myself to know,
I want to be able as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand with the setting sun,
And hate myself for the things I've done.
I don't want to keep on a closet shelf,
A lot of secerts about myself,
And fool myself, as I come and go,
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of man that I really am;
I don't want to dress myself up in sham.
I want to go wut with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men's respect,
But here in the struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to look at myself and know
THat I'm bluster and bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know;
I never can fool myself, and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.