By John D. Verlin
Four years ago, as I was packing to make a move after selling my home, I ran across an old Boy Scout shirt, with a burn mark on a area by the collar and on the sleeve.
The short sleeved shirt brought back a ton of boyhood memories–just as the burn mark did (was from a campfire spark–I promise).
From hiking/backpacking in Philmont Scout Ranch for two-weeks, the hours working on achieving Brotherhood Member of Order of the Arrow–one emblem stood out.
The cloth Eagle Scout badge hemmed on the front pocket still looked as silky smooth as it did 45 years ago when I received it.
It got me to thinking back when I joined Cub Scouts, then Webelos, then became an official Boy Scout.
From the peanut brittle candy sales (I won a Tensor desk lamp–thanks Kirk and my brother Ron for helping me!), to freezing cold tents collapsing in the overnight snow, to one merit badge after another…after another…
The journey began when I was in grade school at age 11. I remember going to Cub Scout meetings as our dad later became our Troop Leader or Scoutmaster. I remember receiving the Bobcat pin as my first badge in Cub Scouts and how proud I was to wear it.
I did a report in fourth grade on Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Blizzards (was given an 8×10 black and white picture of the Katherine Carpenter Tornado taken by a friend of my fathers only several miles away (April, 1966) and I used it in my report. I remember talking to Sandy Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service who gave me several NWS brochures on tornadoes and hurricanes.
This experience helped me achieve the Weather merit badge and my life long love of weather (science fair weather station, teaching Weather at Camp Naish Nature Dept., etc).
The next year I did a report in fifth grade on the Atomic Bomb–and remember writing the Dept. of Energy receiving brochures about atomic energy, etc. That led to me getting a merit badge in Atomic Energy. Then on to a report in sixth grade on Apollo 11–which led to me writing NASA and receiving brochures as well. And you guessed it–Space Exploration merit badge.
Naturally–when visiting the Kennedy Space Center last fall I was like a kid in a candy store seeing the actual site of Cape Canaveral and the Saturn V rocket.
Thus began my love of science and eventually history as I began to accumulate more merit badges and rank. From Tenderfoot to Star, Life and then Eagle.
These experiences led me to consider today what are most boys age 12 or 13 doing with their lives? Playing soccer? Baseball? (I did both as well). Or video games? Hanging out?
Of course visiting Shiloh military battlefield or Springfield, Illinois and hiking the 20 mile Lincoln trail gave me a real appreciation for history with experiences that I would never have known if it weren’t for the Scouting program.
My last two summers in Boy Scouts, I taught at Camp Theodore Naish (who left his land in Edwardsville, Kansas to the Scouts after he died on the Lusitania) in the Nature Department. I taught Weather, Conservation of Natural Resources and Mammals merit badges. We had a nature building with snakes, rabbits, a de-scented skunk and a boa constrictor we called Victor.
I also was “tapped out” to be an ordeal member in Order of the Arrow. A Native American tradition of honoring their braves (Delaware basin, Lenni Lenape). I remember going through a day of “ordeal”. Camping out at night in a field with a blanket and groundcloth, working all day in the forest cutting down trees and digging mud/concrete out of a pool in 90 degree weather. Having very little food, etc.
All in the teaching of brotherhood, helping and loving one another. A year later, I received the Brotherhood Member of Order of the Arrow designation.
By teaching the last two summers of my Scouting experience at Camp Naish, I was able to achieve the Eagle Rank (of which my father achieved and my brother).
While I was fortunate enough to have a father that took interest in the Scouting program (he served as our Cubmaster and Scoutmaster)–it was one special moment that I still remember to this day and transformed my mind. It taught me important lessons I use to this day in business.
About the time I had received the Life rank (one below Eagle), I had to take Personal Fitness merit badge as a required merit badge towards Eagle.
I had to track for one month, push ups, sit ups, jumping rope, pull ups, etc. One of the requirements was walking a balance beam (which my father built with 2×4’s) forwards and backwards without falling off.
Simple enough. But my chubby self kept falling off. I didn’t have good balance. Years later, I was to learn that I had a hearing loss in each ear which could have affect equilibrium. But at the time–it was just hard. Plain frustration.
To a point, I remember being in our basement where everything was set up. I told my dad--“that’s it, I quit”!
I’ll never forget the look in his eye. Being brought up by his mother in the 1930’s and learning to play baseball (was scouted as a catcher by St. Louis Cardinals right before America entered WWII)…becoming a Seabee in WWII, getting an engineering degree at MU…becoming a project engineer as a career–all on his own. The idea that he faced his own Field of Dreams by going to college on the GI Bill and forsaking baseball to become an engineer.
But it was that look that he gave me as he pushed me up against the basement wall. I felt my right hand ball up into a fist! As he held me up against that wall…he pointed his finger at me and said, “Don’t you EVER say quit”! You get back up on that beam and finish!
I’ll never forget how mad I was at him. I wanted to haul off and hit him in the face! But gradually, I did find a way to finish.
I went on one more year getting merit badges–and then had to pass Lifesaving for my final merit badge to Eagle. At camp–I kept pulling my fellow scout, Paul Lundstrom in with a cross-chest tow, per the requirement I was attempting to pass.
Paul was tall and lean (still is at our 40 year reunion!), and kept sliding off my hip going underwater as I ferried him in. Unfortunately–camp ended and I didn’t pass.
That upcoming Fall–I took that requirement again with a Lifesaving merit badge counselor at my local high school pool. He was like 6-3 and 300 lbs! I FINALLY ferried him in moving about a centimeter every minute to pass.
Then Paul and I received our Eagles together at our Eagle Court of Honor presentation. Friends, relatives, the local Congressman all celebrated my achievement and told me that one day this will be an important accomplishment in my life.
I stayed in Scouting two more years after achieving Eagle and taught at Camp Naish–also gathering more merit badges. Besides receiving the Brotherhood Member in Order of the Arrow, I received bronze, silver and gold palms (for five additional merit badges each above Eagle). The fifteen additional merit badges I received by the time I was almost 16 barely fit on the front and backside of my Scout merit badge sash.
At the final dinner for our Troop. The Scoutmaster Arnold Waxman presented me with the final gold palm and announced that having achieved Eagle with three palms, made me the highest ranking Scout in the 27 year history of our troop!
During those five years in Scouting, I never really counted all the merit badges. I just kept doing–partly out of interest and the rest out of a feeling of accomplishment.
Looking back today–it was probably the proudest moment of my life–as my father’s been dead over 25 years now. He and my mother were proud of me.
After further checking with the national Scout council a number of years ago–I discovered that less than 5% of Scouts get Eagle–and less than 1/2 of 1% get Eagle with all three palms.
I think about many men I’ve met today or told me they never finished Scouting. Or wished they would have attained Eagle. For all those young men who have attained their Eagle rank, I salute you.
The lessons that journey teaches are the lessons many of us carry into our careers and our lives. Those lessons bring to fruition the discipline, perserverence, focus and determination to achieve. The twelve points of the Scout Law summarize those lessons perfectly:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
Our businesses, relationships and world would be a better place if we all upheld these twelve points and would make our journeys in life more meaningful!
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The above was originally posted on Linkedin May 15, 2017. Copyright John D. Verlin, 2017: https://www.linkedin.com/post/edit/lessons-i-learned-my-journey-eagle-scout-john-d-verlin