LAWRENCE — Janice Hale’s introduction to Girl Scouts came in the fourth grade.
It was the late 1950s and a friend told her about a troop meeting at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence.
“I went down with her,” Hale said Friday. “I joined. She quit on me two weeks later, and I’m still there.”
Now 70, Hale has been a Girl Scout for most of her life, spending the majority of her time as a troop leader in Lawrence with her sister, Elizabeth, who is 66 years old.
The sisters, however, are retiring and, on Sunday, scores of current and former scouts are planning to gather at St. Patrick’s to celebrate the women, who together have given more than 100 years to the organization.
“I just can’t imagine them not leading a Girl Scout troop,” said Stephanie Billings, 43, a physician in Holyoke who belonged to the sisters’ troop during the 1980s. “They really lived by the scouting law.”
The Hale sisters grew up in Lawrence in a family of 11 brothers and sisters, all of whom were involved in scouting.
Janice Hale said she assumed her first leadership role in Girl Scouts in 1968. She was 17 years old and a senior at Lawrence High School. Elizabeth Hale said she began assisting her sister in the 1980s.
“I went down one Saturday to help her out,” Elizabeth Hale said.
“She’s still there,” said Janice Hale, finishing Elizabeth’s sentence.
Described as inseparable by some of their former scouts, the sisters led two troops — one for Juniors, who are in elementary and middle school, and the other for Cadettes and Seniors, who are in middle and high school.
Many meetings, the sisters said, began with the girls reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Girl Scout Law and concluded with everyone holding hands in a “Friendship Circle.”
The sisters live together in Salem, N.H. They never married and didn’t have children of their own, but dote on many nieces and nephews.
Just last weekend they took a group of girls to Camp Maude Eaton in Andover, where they made Halloween crafts, went on a scavenger hunt, and cooked.
‘I just enjoyed working with the girls, seeing them grow, and seeing how far they could go.’
“I just enjoyed working with the girls, seeing them grow, and seeing how far they could go,” Janice Hale said.
Colleen Moriaty, 25, of Lawrence, said she joined the sisters’ troop when she was in the fourth grade. On camping trips, Moriaty said, scouts got to see the sisters’ quirky side.
“They were very smart women, but they know how to have fun and be goofy,” said Moriaty, who works for the Eagle-Tribune newspaper. “I kind of looked up to them because they were such great role models.”
Lori Beverage, who entered the Girl Scouts in Lawrence during the 1970s, said the Hale sisters were a regular presence at scouting events even though they didn’t lead her troop.
“We would see Janice and Elizabeth at everything,” said Beverage, who works for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. “I don’t know of any leaders who have stuck with the girls and the community as long as they have.”
Janice Hale said she begins the first scouting meeting of the year with an admonition: The first two weeks will be boring.
During that period, she said, the sisters ask the girls to make a list of what they want to do. Then they start planning.
“I never give them any information about what they’re going to do until I know it’s down pat because one thing I hate to do is say no to the girls,” she said.
Once the sisters have a plan, however, they said their scouts keep packed schedules. In the past, they’ve traveled to Florida, sat in the audience at “Disney on Ice,” marched in parades, performed community service projects, and gone camping.
Scouting has strengthened their bond as sisters, they said.
“We like to do scout things,” Elizabeth Hale said. “We just like to stick together.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.