Common Pursuit of Eagle Rank Forges Lasting Bonds

Story by Jeannie Stone

An unprecedented number of Russellville Boy Scouts have earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honor awarded within the national organization. Troop 214, Magazine Mt. chapter, sponsored by Grace Fellowship Church, has 10 young men who have met the challenges and deserve to be called the ‘best of the best.’ 

The boys, along with Scoutmaster Dr. Stan Gately and Assistant Scoutmaster Sam Kruen, have an accumulated legacy of over 100 years in scouting. How appropriate, since 2010 marks the centennial year of the Boy Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to raising responsible, honorable and capable young men.

Scoutmaster Gately has served 10 years in leadership after being steeped in the scouting tradition during his childhood in Ft. Smith. As a teen, he earned the rank of Eagle and is proud his son Hunter, 14, is completing the necessary steps to join the coveted brotherhood.

Gately believes the Boy Scouts is “one of the few youth organizations that really teach youth.” The three parts of the scout oath are: duty to God, duty to others and duty to self.

Assistant scoutmaster Sam Kruen, on the other hand, was always attracted to boy scouting, but it wasn’t offered in his native southwest Minnesota “Scouting was kind of my childhood dream,” he said.

Now, he is part of making the dream come true for the next generation. He signed up to help five years ago when his son John registered.

“To see Jonathan develop the self initiative to sell 3,500 cans of popcorn, set goals in attaining merit badges and ranks is very rewarding,” he said. “Whether he makes his goal or not, he is having fun and gaining responsibility.”

John Kruen, 14, son of Sam and Debbie Kruen, is also involved in the youth group at Russellville First Assembly of God and acts in the church’s Passion Play. He is a member of the National Honor Society and enjoys playing percussion in the RJH band. One of the younger Eagles, John is grateful for scouting.

“It’s made me a better person, and it’s helped my character grow. I know I’m more responsible because of scouting.”

John believes the road ahead will be smoother due to the goal setting and problem solving skills he’s learned. “It’s taught me some important stuff I can use later in life,” he said.

Compassion seems to be one of those virtues learned. While attending Camp Orr near Jasper one summer, John volunteered to aid a younger camper after the boy got spooked.

“They were telling ghost stories, and he really got scared,” John said of the ordeal. “I liked being needed.”

John built fish habitats using 100 cedar trees for his Eagle project.

“It was hard work because they weighed a lot with the sand and all,” he said. “We had to tie them on boats with sandbags and dump them out at designated spots.” The project required 136 hours.

Kevin Williams, 17, son of Patrick and Cori Williams of Russellville is quick to admit, “It takes a kick in the butt to get me outdoors because I’m kind of lazy.” He’s convinced, however, that the time spent in the wilderness and with his friends has been worth a few missed hours of sleep.

It is the bonding that Kevin treasures most from his scouting experiences. He gives a lot of credit to his dad who has been heavily involved. His most memorable encounter was during a routine trip to fetch water during their visit to Philmont, a rugged, mountainous scout camp located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.

“We took a detour,” Kevin said, “and saw the prettiest sunrise at the Tooth of Time (a prominent rock formation). We ran to get the camera, but, by then, the show was over. We decided the prettiest things, especially in nature, don’t last long, so it’s wise to savor them.”

Kevin, a student at Russellville High School, spent 120 hours of his time rebuilding the steps at Bona Dea fitness trail for his Eagle project. He is interested in studying electrical engineering. He’s glad to have scouting on his college application.

“It definitely looks good,” he said. “I totally recommend Boy Scouting to everyone. You get so much experience, and you get to see things you’d never get to see without it.”

Younger brother Christopher Williams, 14, a student at RJHS, received his eagle rank at the tender age of 13. He chose for his project building the fire ring and benches at the Piney Bay amphitheater, for which he devoted 100 hours.

“Campovers are really fun,” he said. “I like to work on merit badges.” Eagle Scouts must have at least 21 merit badges to obtain their rank. The badges are earned upon meeting the requirements in the areas of citizenry, emergency preparedness, fitness and family.

Christopher is influenced by his father, an engineer at the nuclear plant. He wishes to study electrical engineering.

“Whatever I do it’s going to include music,” he said. Christopher plays trumpet and piano, is a drum major for the RJHS band and plays guitar for St. John’s church. He is a member of the cross country team. Both he and his brother paddle in the Russellville Venture Crews, a water adventure arm of the boy scouts.

Patrick Williams, father of Kevin and Christopher, is proud of the self sufficiency the boys have learned through scouting.

“It was very evident at Philmont,” he said. “Our boys were cooking their own food, getting their stuff together, setting up camp. Some kids, however, just hadn’t developed life skills and required a lot more help.”

Scouting teaches the boys to look ahead said Williams, whose two younger sons are also scouts.

“They know when they arrive at camp, what they brought is what they have. They have to learn to make do because there’s no quick trip home to get something you forgot.

“And there is some significant bonding going on with this group of boys,” he said.

Jordan McCormic, 18, son of Emil and Lesa McCormic of Russellville, credits scouting for bringing him out of his shell.

“I wasn’t the most social kids when I began scouting, but I can talk to anyone now. I’ve really developed into more of a people person, and to a certain extent, you really have to have those skills in the real world.”

Jordan’s real world includes a part-time job at PDQ West and freshman studies at Tech. Upon turning 18th, he can register as an adult. The distinction of Eagle Scout, however, is a lifetime achievement. Jordan will always be an Eagle Scout.

Jordan treasures the trips and the hiking excursions. “I’d rather be outside,” he said. Right now, Jordan is using the skills he learned to juggle the demands of college and work.

Jordan’s eagle project was the renovation of the wildlife viewing center at the Bona Dea trails.

Eighteen-year-old twins Michael and David Norris, sons of Jeff and Linda Norris of Russellville, do a lot of things together. Seniors at RHS, they run track and cross country, are members of the National Honor Society and are members of First United Methodist Church.

David’s eagle project involved creating fish habitats at Lake Dardanelle. The Corps of Engineers uses the habitats to promote successful fishing.

David considers the friends he’s made in scouting to last a lifetime.

“I’m going to stay in touch with them forever,” he said. “They’re all pretty cool.”

The camaraderie and the adventures, have been David’s favorite memories. He shares appreciation for the roles Kruen and Gately had in his scouting career.

Michael estimates he invested between 50 and 70 hours completing his Eagle project, planting 200 – 300 trees and food crops on Corps of Engineer land at Old Post Park. He had a little help from his friends.

“You can get more things done, collectively, rather than individually. I’ve learned an individual isn’t above the group.”

That team spirit impressed Michael. “On our first or second day hiking in Colorado the weather turned on us, and I remember being so cold. The whole troop cheered each other on. We bested the elements,” he said.

“Going to the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base in the Keys was just a great experience,” Michael said.

Both Michael and David have set their sights on either attending the University of Missouri on NROTC (Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps) scholarships or studying engineering at the Arkansas Tech.

“Scouting has really developed me into the person I am today,” Michael said.

Lewis Purcell, 18, a senior at RHS and son to Lew and Darlene (deceased) Purcell, has been in scouting “as long as I can remember,” he said, and he remembers a lot.

His first high adventure trip, hiking in Colorado, turned out to be another of those unforgettable times.

“The first day started out beautiful, but I fell in the water which wouldn’t have been bad if the weather hadn’t changed suddenly on us. It started raining and turned freezing cold. My hands and feet were blue and shaking uncontrollably,” he said.

Purcell told a regurgitated camp tale of demented pit bulls and a damsel in distress in the wilderness surrounding Philmont. It’s not surprising he has plans to move to Los Angeles and study film and television, with his colorful manner.

Purcell’s eagle project was building and hanging 35 birdhouses in strategic spots in the park to attract and house a variety of birds, including barn owls. It took him 150 hours.

“Scouting has made me a whole lot more patient, hard working and mature. It also taught me the importance of having good friends,” he said.

Gunnar Klemmer, 16, a student at RHS and son of Keith and Sandra Klemmer, has been in scouts since Tiger Cubs in first grade. He plays baritone in the high school band.

Klemmer said, “I’ve seen stuff I’d never been able to see if it weren’t for scouting.” He has particularly fond memories of earning his scuba certification while in Florida.

He is interested in pursuing a career in the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard “or something to do with science or history,” he said.

Klemmer planted 2,000 trees on Corps of Engineers land which had previously burned. “I had a lot of friends and scouts who helped me,” he said. “Scouting will always be a part of me and my future kids’ lives.”

Jeffrey Perkins, 17, son of Darrell and Laurie Perkins, attends RHS where he plays trombone in the Cyclone band, is a member of the National Honor Society and the Teenage Republicans. He is also a member of the YAC (Youth Advisory Council) at St. John’s Catholic church.

The whole of scouting has prepared him for life said Perkins.

“Sharing my joy at being in the mountains and being a child of God with some of my favorite people was pretty cool,” he said of his Philmont experience.

Perkins, whose Eagle project involved 200 hours of planning and planting a rose garden in his church’s courtyard dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, cited merit badges for awakening in him a passion for science and engineering.

His father is an engineer with ANO, and Perkins has chosen to study engineering on an NROTC scholarship at his mother’s alma mater, Texas A&M.

“Scouting is just a great experience. This journey will be a part of me and who I am forever,” Perkins said. “I’m sure I’ll become a scout leader when I settle down some day.”

Blake Rowley, 18, a senior at RHS and son of Phillip and Kathryn Rowley, has plans to attend the University of Arkansas where he intends to enter the pre-med program.

Rowley’s eagle project, 120 hours assisting with fish habitats on Lake Dardanelle, is one of the many opportunities which tested the mettle of Rowley’s leadership skills.

“Scouting has taught me initiative and how to get things done.”

Through scouting Rowley has learned a number of useful skills like first aid. “I even had to use it a couple of times,” he said. “Once, when a kid got knocked in the head with a rock, and when we were facing dehydration on a major hike.”

Another thing he learned at the hand of Gately, Kruen and his fellow pack members: “Relationships are everything,” he said, “and I plan on keeping these.”

For the most part, the young men have grown up together in scouting having started as Webelos or Tiger Cubs and crossing over to the Boy Scouts.

Whether rafting in the Royal Gorge, backpacking in Colorado, trekking at Philmont, scuba diving in the Florida Keys, “everyone got along really well,” Kevin said, “and we saw a lot of cool things.” It seems high adventure served as the backdrop for major bonding.

“My first backpacking trip to Colorado was pretty memorable,” Kevin said. “It was just a gorgeous hike up to Humboldt Peak on a beautiful day.” The weather turned, however, and the boys found the return almost impossible. “It was absolute hell,” Kevin said, “but I wasn’t alone.” No, never alone.

Klemmer, Kruen, Perkins and the Williams boys are also members of the prestigious Order of the Arrow, an honor society for Boy Scouts. It is an invitation-only fellowship charged with offering special service to the district such as performing ceremonies and welcoming incoming scout members.

Parent involvement is the key to a young scouts success, said Gatley: “The chance dependent on the support of their parents,” he said. “What makes this troop so strong is that we have two registered adult leaders for every three boys. With out them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”

Gately continued, “When I was a kid, everything was foreign to me. I would have never been exposed to everything – and the great outdoors. There were adults who sacrificed their time off to provide the excellent opportunities to us. It’s time for me to give back the gift of scouting – the gift that was given to me.”

“What impresses me most,” Kruen said, “is that the values promoted through the scout handbook and laws parallel the foundations of Christianity. They are learning the fruits of the spirit by becoming godly in their responsibility and godly in their character.”

Honorable, hard working, responsible, godly, accountable — scouting continues to teach timeless values at a time when the fast-paced world is losing sight of its guiding lights. In Russellville, Arkansas, the hearts and minds of the Eagle Scouts of Troop 214 are illuminating a path for all of us.

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