When I drive from Waterbury to Middlesex on Route 2, my eye is often drawn to a log cabin on steroids, the home of the Green Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Then I remember Bill Beard and his passion for scouting.
Bill died in February at the age of 77. His obituary in the Times Argus mentioned his stint as the gas-pumping Santa at the Sunoco station in Montpelier, his commitment to announcing at Mountaineers baseball games, and to church and community organizations. Besides his family, however, Bill’s big passion was scouting.
“The drum he loved to beat was that scouting was about the kids having adventures and growing into adults equipped with the tools to get things done,” his daughter Rachel remarks. “He was a man of many adjectives, and in his mentoring of young people he endeavored to be a positive role model.”
Calling forth the attributes of a scout (trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent), it is Bill’s cheerful nature I remember most, and hundreds of young people in central Vermont could add more admirable qualities and share quite a lot of Bill Beard stories.
He could be found one weekend a month at the rest areas on I-89, where scouts offered refreshments to weary travelers and had a Morse Farm sap bucket out for donations. They often came away with $500 a day, to fund programs. Beard also organized trips to Florida High Adventure Sea Base and wilderness rivers in Quebec and Yellowstone National Park.
“We believe that hope rests in preparing young people for life, and Bill certainly did that,” reflects Mark Saxon, the Scout Executive and CEO of the Green Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Decades of volunteering with the Boy Scouts has earned Bill Beard a special memorial at the camp at Mt. Norris in Eden this August.
Girls Explore the Muddier End of Scouting
Part of the legacy of Bill Beard is the strength of scouting in central Vermont, his beloved Troop 709, and now, led by his daughter Rachel, Troop 1709 for girls. She tagged along with her brother David in Cub Scouts through Eagle Scouts, volunteered as her children got involved, and later stepped up to lead a girls’ troop with assistant Jessica Jarvis, incorporated by the Green Mountain Council in February 2019.
The troop is now 14 strong. Rachel says they explore “the muddier end of scouting. We end up with sticks in our hair and dirt under our nails, building fires and having adventures.”
Although outdoor experiences are a key part of the scout experience, Rachel emphasizes that there is a place for everyone.
“Each scout has particular superpowers — which kids tend to have — and scouting encourages them to explore their interests through merit badges.”
Badges have changed over the years to reflect new interests — from farm animals to nuclear energy. There are fewer badge offerings these days in agriculture or textiles, but coding and game design prove popular for the scouts of today.
Reflecting on the dangers and fears for youths that accompany navigating what she calls “the social soup,” Rachel believes that initial gender separation allows young women to develop leadership structure together and to create a safe place to make friends.
As a troop, 1709 shares some activities with the Boy Scouts, such as an end-of-summer camp at Lake Elmore, setting up separate campsites, hiking and boating. Traditional rituals still play a part: campfire cooking, songs, and skits. Troop 1709 had a five-day adventure in which they hiked from Plainfield to Kettle Pond. Leaders plan for one major event every month (with COVID restrictions in place, such as one camper per tent) and have camping trips planned for April, June, and July this year. New scouts are always welcome.
Can Girls Achieve “The Eagle”?
Valerie Johnston, now a student at Saint Michael’s College, was the first girl to join New Hampshire’s inaugural class, completing the required 21 badges and organizing a drive that netted $1,000 for the New Hampshire Humane Society.
She came to scouting through her father and brother, later joining the all-girl Troop 586, finally attending the National Youth Leadership Training, and serving as assistant to other troops. A business major, Valerie cites scouting and her Eagle Scout designation as going far beyond adding heft to a resume; it was an important preparation for life. She not only gained close friends, but built confidence and resilience that she relies on every day.
Digital Pocket Knife
Mark Saxon, whose office as CEO is in that enormous log cabin west of Middlesex, honors the scout leaders who are in tune with what young families are experiencing, and takes the time to know what is going on in each scout’s life.
During the time of social isolation, he says that using technology as a tool expanded in their programs, creating what he calls a “digital pocket knife” — illustrating the many functions of the online community, and giving scouts the sense of agency and control in their lives that helped them negotiate times that could be chaotic and unstructured.
“Scouting helps young people develop grit, resilience, and determination, and creates a safe space to overcome challenges and even failure,” Saxon said.
Scouts working on the safety badge for Eagle, for example, can be in contact with scouts around the world, learning about earthquakes and forest fires in California, hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and adding to their knowledge of winter safety from scouts in Alaska.
Camping, of course, is still an important part of the scout experience, and Saxon believes that “free space” — times just being in nature with no scheduled activities — can nurture creativity and problem-solving. Collaborative skills, establishing a positive social dynamic, and knowledge of self often bloom in these times away from home and school.
Saxon notes an increased interest in science and storytelling, for example. A WinterTrek experience at Mt. Norris included ice fishing, snowshoeing, and campfires in frigid temperatures — but because of the pandemic, no singing!
The Richmond Rescue Team trained Cub Scouts from Nick Floersch’s pack, in first aid and, as ever, the Pinewood Derby was a hit, especially with his daughter Leia, who is 5. Their motto: “Be fast, or look good trying.” Leia is working on her first merit badge.
Linda Radtke earned the Golden Eaglet as a Girl Scout. She lives in Middlesex.