When most people think about the month of February, they think about Valentine’s Day, candy and roses.
It always reminds me of something else, though. It has since I was about 10 years old. Growing up as a Girl Scout and then working for the local Girl Scout council as an adult, February never fails to remind me of Girl Scout cookies. Girls began taking orders in January, and cookies always arrived around mid-February.
While there have been Girl Scout troops in the Hattiesburg area since the 1930s, it was not until 1949 that the first Girl Scout cookies were sold here. The weeklong sale kicked off on Saturday, May 14, 1949, on the steps of City Hall. Mayor D.W. Holmes and Commissioners G.S. Oden and W.P. Harrington bought the first of 4,000 boxes of vanilla and chocolate sandwich cookies sold in the county. The cookies were advertised on local radio stations WFOR and WHSY as well as at the Royal and Beverly movie theaters and in a window display at the Fine Bros.-Matison store downtown. Cookie booths were set up in five Jitney Jungle stores throughout Hattiesburg and Petal as well as Belk’s, Fine Bros.-Matison, Donavan-Lane, and J.C. Penney in downtown Hattiesburg. Eisman’s department store even sold them over the counter.
The Forrest County Girl Scout Council raised $427 that first year. The goal was to use it to build a “Little House” for the girls to hold meetings at. However, as the years went by, the “Little House” idea was forgotten and instead money raised for cookies was earmarked to be used for a new campsite. In 1949, the Girl Scouts were still holding day camps and overnight camps at the local Camp Dantzler in the southern part of the county. However, it was decided to use the cookie money to purchase and build a campsite of their own.
The land for the first campsite, Camp Wheepo, was donated to the council in 1954. By then, the council was making an average of about $550 a year from Girl Scout cookies and had $2,700 saved up to develop the campsite on Black Creek 10 miles south of Hattiesburg just off Highway 11. However, when plans for an oil refinery to be built nearby were announced, the council began looking for a new campsite.
In July 1957, the council used the money saved from the cookie sales over the last eight years to purchase 68 acres 5.5 miles from Hattiesburg at Richburg Hill. They christened it “Camp Pontiacres.” Pontiacres was short lived though.
For reasons unknown to your author, the campsite was only used for three years and was sold in 1963 to purchase the current Girl Scout campsite, Camp Iti Kana.
Camp Iti Kana sits on 339 acres and was purchased using cookie sale proceeds from 1960-1963 when a box of cookies, made by the Southern Biscuit Company, was still only 40 cents. With a 55-acre lake, pool, stables and cabins, it holds memories for many people over the years, including myself as well as the Civitan campers who use the site for their annual camp each summer.
The types of cookies, cost, advertising and even the girls themselves changed many times over the years. This year, it’s likely that cookie sales will be down due to coronavirus restrictions.
However, if you’ve ever taken advantage of the activities Camp Iti Kana has to offer, you likely understand how important the sale is to the council and hundreds of girls, so take the time to seek out a box of Girl Scout cookies.
Lisa Foster is a historian from the Friendly City. Send her an email at email@example.com.