H. Roe Bartle
Using the word "legend" may be an understatement when talking about Harold
Roe Bennett Sturdevant Bartle. There has probably never been a professional
Scouter on the local or national scene quite like him. A big man with a big
voice who was bigger than life, he was born in Virginia on June 25, 1901.
Known simply as "The Chief", the massive Kansas City Convention Center is
named in his honor not to mention the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football team.
He was a professional Scouter extraordinaire and during his lifetime also
managed to be a lawyer, banker, cattleman, politician, college president and
renowned public speaker.
His father was a Presbyterian minister and he was an only child weighing
nearly eleven pounds when he was born. He enlisted in the Army when he was
13 years old but his father, armed with a birth certificate, pulled him out
three days later. He was a big man standing 6' 4" and weighing in at 375
pounds. They say his voice was even bigger. He overcame an early shyness and
became a professional public speaker who was in great demand and was highly
compensated for his efforts. He gave hundreds of speeches every year. One
Kansas City Scouter I communicated with told me that legend has it when the
Chief wanted to contact someone in a nearby town he would walk out to a high
point five miles from it and yell. They would hear him. The Scouter, who
knew him, always wanted to ask if it were really true but never had the
courage. When Chief Bartle spoke he didn't need a public address system.
There was a number of times where he actually blew out the public address
system he happened to be using. He said "God had wired me for sound" so he
spoke without one. He was dynamic to the core with his rich and high powered
voice and eloquence of language. He was one of the most sought after
speakers in the country yet when he was a 15 year old cadet at the Fork
Union Military Academy in Virginia he hid under a bed once to avoid a
He was Kansas City's most celebrated mayor, having served two terms starting
in 1955. It was "Chief" Bartle who negotiated with Lamar Hunt to bring his
NFL team to Kansas City from Dallas in 1963. Mr. Hunt renamed the team "The
Chiefs" in honor of Bartle, which is documented in NFL history. He had a
fireman's hat, coat and boots and went to all two alarm fires while he was
mayor to support the firemen and assist the victims. Every morning he had a
radio broadcast at 8am to give a daily report on the city. He did not wish
to serve a third term and although on the ticket, asked voters not to vote
for him. Some did anyway but he got his wish and was not reelected.
H. Roe Bartle is considered the founder of American Humanics. He had worked
for ten years on developing the program. For nearly thirty years the Chief
led the Kansas City Area (now the Heart of America) Council of Boy Scouts.
As Council Executive, he was responsible for hiring qualified staff members.
He had no trouble finding good people, but most knew nothing about running
an organization. With the help of longtime civic leader Jerry Cohen and
others, Chief Bartle founded the American Humanics Foundation in Kansas City
in 1948. His idea was to teach college undergraduates how to run the
business side of nonprofit organizations. Courses would be conducted on
campus and experienced agency executives would present classroom lectures
and workshops. Students would volunteer in community agencies and learn from
on-the-job experience. Upon graduation, they would have the management
skills to run nonprofit agencies. Fifty years ago, most college campuses
were not interested in adding American Humanics courses to their
curriculums. American Humanics started at Missouri Valley College and grew
within a small number of colleges. That situation has changed in recent
years. The program may be the least known part of the legacy of H. Roe
Bartle yet may be the most far-reaching, with hundreds of alumni serving
various nonprofit organizations across the land. He considered it his
greatest contribution to America during his lifetime. Chief Bartle had
originally started it to help the Boy Scouts but it carried over to benefit
many organizations. At a major American Humanics dinner in 1964, twelve
speakers described the profound influences Mr. Bartle had on youth serving
organizations across America. They say it was the only time that H. Roe
Bartle was speechless. American Humanics, Inc. celebrated it's 50th
anniversary in 1998. Chief Bartle reportedly used a good amount of his
public speaking income to keep it going in the early years.
It was Chief Bartle who was elected the National Chief of the Alpha Phi
Omega fraternity in 1931 and remained in that position until 1946. It had
eighteen chapters when he took it over and 109 chapters when he stepped
down. He is largely credited with the growth of the organization. He
followed the founder of the group as the group's leader and was continuously
reelected until he finally chose to step down. The handbook of the
organization has a full page on him to this day and he is still referred to
as "The Chief". A retired professional Scouter who knew him shared with me
that it was Chief Bartle who personally financed APO when it was a young
While Chief Bartle accomplished much during his lifetime, Scouting was his
passion. He was a professional scouter who knew how to lead and possessed
magnetic qualities. He entered professional Scouting at age 21 in 1922 as
the Scout Executive for the state of Wyoming. It was at the Wind River
Indian Reservation in Wyoming that he spent a great deal of time learning
about the values and culture of the American Indian. Bartle was inducted
into the Northern Arapaho Tribe as a blood brother and was sponsored into it
by a Chief named Lone Bear. Roe Bartle was given the name of his sponsor,
"Lone Bear". He arrived in St. Joseph Missouri in 1925 and remained until
late December, 1928 when he left and came to Kansas City which became his
home for the remainder of his life. He was the Council Executive in Kansas
City for 27 years. While he was the executive in St. Joseph he had appointed
a Roman Catholic man as a commissioner. After he did a Ku Klux Klan mob came
calling one night and demanded that he get rid of the man. His answer to
them was "If any three or four of you want to step forward, I'll show you
who is running Scouting in St. Joseph." The mob left. The commissioner
stayed. Chief Bartle never took a salary while serving as a Council
Executive, he donated it back to the council each year to be used to further
the cause of Scouting. It is hard to imagine someone working a full-time job
for free and doing it over thirty years but he did.
He created the Tribe of Mic-O-Say honor society in St. Joseph, Missouri in
1925 when he became their council executive and created a second Tribe in
Kansas City in 1929 after he transferred there. It is believed that Bartle
arrived in Missouri in 1925 with the basics of Mic-O-Say in place. There was
an existing society in St. Joseph named Manhawka that Bartle incorporated
into Mic-O-Say. Kansas City's current Scout reservation is named after Chief
Bartle. The two Scout reservations in St. Joseph and Kansas City are said to
have the highest retention of older scouts returning each year of any
reservations or camps in the country. The Tribe of Mic-O-Say is given much
credit for this.
H. Roe Bartle served so many organizations and had so many honors and awards
bestowed upon him during his lifetime that it boggles the mind. He received
honors and distinguished service medals from Great Britain, Ecuador,
Belgium, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico. When
Harry Truman asked him to serve as a regional public official in 1951, Chief
Bartle reportedly had to resign from 57 boards he was a member of in order
to comply with the non-conflict of interest requirement of the job. He was a
trustee for hospitals, foundations and helped found such things as the
Kansas City Boys Club. He served on boards for religious and osteopathic
colleges, corporations, banks, trade commissions and more. After everything
I found and read about him, I concluded Chief Bartle was a towering example
of what an American citizen should be. He deeply cared about his community,
his fellow man and lived a life of extraordinary service to others. Maybe
above all he genuinely cared about children. He had instilled in his Scouts
for years that when your family, church, community or country called upon
you that you fulfilled the call. A group of former Scouts visited him one
day to say the city needed honest leadership and asked him to run for mayor.
He made no political deals on the way there. His only campaign promise was
"I will take my honor, integrity and ability to City Hall and nothing else
." When he was elected he retired from his career in Scouting. This giant of
a man had a profound influence on many thousands of people that lasts to
this day. He counted among his friends the high and mighty including U.S.
President Harry Truman yet took the time to help the common man and his
beloved Kansas City in so many ways. The legacy of his life and the wide
ranging effects of it are almost immeasurable. In the Christmas movie, "It's
A Wonderful Life," the angel Clarence said "Each man's life touches so many
other lives...". H. Roe Bartle's life did just that.
The mighty "Lone Bear" passed away on May 9, 1974.
His funeral was attended by the Director of the FBI as well as Chief Scout
Executive Alden Barber and others who left a national meeting in Hawaii to
be there. The church overflowed with people from all walks of life, all
faiths and all color, who came to honor a man who had befriended many. His
pallbearers were six firemen and six police officers, public servants, as
was he. As the funeral procession moved along the streets to the cemetery,
all the citizens who were passed along the way stopped and saluted; men
removed their hats and many crossed themselves. From the gates of Forest
Hill Cemetery to the gravesite there were literally thousands of saluting
Cubs, Scouts and Scouters lined up on both sides to say farewell.
H. Roe Bartle Quotes:
"What America needs is more lovers of children and fewer lovers of things."
"There are three Bartles: The Bartle who makes money, the Bartle who gives
it away, and the Bartle who works for free."
"I condemn representatives who represent no one but themselves"
Quotes about H. Roe Bartle:
"This was a man who created an attitude in people to go out and do the very
best you could. He stood for all the right things in his day." - (A retired
professional scouter who knew him).
A special thank you to Andy Dubill and Frank Hilton for their informational
assistance in writing this article. -David L. Eby
Material found on this page is the work of David L. Eby and used USSSP, Inc. by permission. This material may not be reproduced without the express permission of David L. Eby