I think and feel like a scout

Published 6:13 am Monday, February 22, 2010

One hundred years ago, this month, my father joined the Boy Scouts of America. He could not have joined earlier because it was, in February 1910, its beginning. I pay tribute to the Boy Scouts of America on its 100th anniversary by expressing my profound and eternal debt of gratitude to scouting for what it has done for me and to me.

Dad didn’t so much enter into scouting as that he transferred to the new organization along with the Homer. Ill, unit of Dan Beard’s Boys, which preceded BSA in this country and with which it merged. He continued in scouting until going off to World War I.

When he moved to Milwaukee upon marrying, he started Troop 127 in our church and became its first and longest-serving scoutmaster. He trained for and earned the Scoutmaster’s Key, and the Milwaukee County Council awarded him the Silver Beaver Award for distinguished service to scouting. He relinquished the scoutmastership when he again went off to war, World War II this time.

My scouting experience began when I was less than a year old, on a troop camping trip in what they always called Wisconsin’s “north woods.” (Mom was along for this task as well as the fun.) My brother’s and my baby-sitters were Dad’s scouts, and these older boys became my heroes. I counted the years and then the days until I was 12, the qualifying age at the time.

With Dad gone during the war, Dave Miller became our scoutmaster. An experienced scout and young engineer, he added a unique dimension beyond what any father can contribute. Dave was the first adult I was allowed to call by first name, yet my high respect wouldn’t allow familiarity. He exercised a leadership style that both challenged and channeled my youthful enthusiasm. I immediately decided to attend the college he had, and I did. We stayed in contact until his recent death.

My first leadership experience was as a patrol leader—then senior patrol leader and junior assistant scoutmaster.

I wrung scouting for all there was in it for me. I became the troop’s first Eagle Scout and earned additional merit badges for palm leaves. There was more: I also earned the Sea Scout Quartermaster and Ranger Explorer medals (two of the three highest awards for senior scouts). I was the first scout in the Midwest region to earn the God and Country award, integrating the principles of scouting with the beliefs and practices of our church.

All these, however, are but symbols of the training and experiences scouting provided for me. What counts is the man scouting has made me. My scoutmasters — Dad and Dave — the troop committee members, the older scouts, the merit badge counselors, and the scouting volunteers and executives invested themselves in me.

I eventually became our troop’s scoutmaster. Dad became my committee chairman, and my younger brother became my assistant scoutmaster. Our family was part of scouting, scouting was part of our family, and scouting was our family.

When members of the Detroit church came to Grand Rapids to help us move to become their pastor, one deacon grabbed my scouting manuals triumphantly to show his wife: “See, he’s kept his, too!” Jim and I had both devoured those manuals, and we weren’t about to let them go. I still have mine. I still have the medals and merit badges. You can’t separate me from them.

I am not a former scout; I am a scout. More than always being prepared and doing at least one good deed daily, I think and feel like a scout. I mean also to act like one. You can’t separate me from scouting. And there are thousands of others, and there have been for a century.

Happy birthday, Scouts.