NEW ULM - Aug. 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the first boy to receive the Eagle Scout award. Since then, about 2 million young men have achieved this honor.
The biggest part of becoming an Eagle Scout is the service project. The young men must come up with the idea, receive approval, and manage the project all by themselves. Some of the projects are small, while others are large. The National Eagle Scout Association recently decided to add up the number of hours of all of the Eagle Scout projects ever done. The total came to more than 100 million hours of service. That means that the Eagle Scout service project has the most service hours of any youth service program anywhere in the country in history.
The rate of Eagle Scouts has recently climbed from 2 percent to 4 percent in the nation. However, in New Ulm, this rate is significantly higher at about 20 percent. In 2009, New Ulm had six Eagle Scouts. Former Scoutmaster and now troop committee chairman Tom Henderson feels that this statistic is due to the environment and history of Scouting in New Ulm. "New Ulm has a long history of Scouting in town, a lot of support for Scouting in town, and a lot of Scouts in town," he said. "New Ulm is just a solid, supporting community for Scouting. It takes a lot of encouragement from parents and extended family."
Staff photo by Katie Hansel
Tom Henderson has a couple of plaques with names of some of New Ulm’s Eagle Scouts. The plaque above once hung in St. Mary’s Church, until the Scout troop disbanded. The one below is for Troop 25, the longest-running troop in New Ulm.
There are four or five troops that have existed in New Ulm. The longest running troop is Troop 25. There have been 110 Eagle Scouts in New Ulm since 1941. Henderson has overseen about 70 of those Eagle Scouts when he was Scoutmaster from 1973 to 2000.
Boy Scouts must advance through different levels to achieve an Eagle Scout award. These levels include Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. The first three levels focus on Scout law and basic outdoor skills. Star, Life, and Eagle require a leadership project and twenty one merit badges. Star and Life need service hours, and Eagle needs a service project.
The project is the most difficult part of achieving an Eagle Scout award. Once the Scout comes up with an idea, it takes months to get approved. They need four signatures on a six-page application. Everything about their project including planning, procedure and financing must be put together in writing and approved before they can start the project. "I always tell them, 'When you finally get this approved, you're halfway there,'" said Henderson.
The project must work with a nonprofit organization such as the government or a church, and the Scout must lead the project themselves.
So even with a higher number of Eagle Scouts than the national average, why are there still 80 percent of Scouts in New Ulm who don't achieve the award? "These boys are 15 and 16 years old. There are sports, studies, prepping for college, jobs, dating, driving. There are a lot of things that get in the way," Henderson explained.
However, an Eagle Scout award can have lasting benefits."It's definitely a key to success," said Henderson. "It's no wonder the Eagle Scout title carries so much weight. It's because it's a great indicator to colleges or to potential employers of a young man's ability to set goals and go for them and get them."
Lots of Boy Scouts tend to be in leadership roles in their schools and communities because of the skills they starting learning when they starting Scouting. However, Scouting isn't all about being a leader. "One of the things Scouting teaches besides leadership is service," said Henderson. "Giving of yourself to your fellow man to better the environment you're living in. So it doesn't end when you get your Eagle. The whole idea is that it's a lifelong thing."
While there are many class presidents and captains of football teams who graduate from high school every year, there are only 40,000 to 50,000 Eagle Scouts per year in the whole nation. "It's a much smaller number, a much more distinguishing kind of thing," said Henderson. "And after 100 years of this award being given to tens of thousands of people over the years, it's come to mean something. It speaks for itself when you say 'I'm an Eagle Scout'."