Three Litchfield teens reached the pinnacle of Scouting as they became Eagle Scouts during a ceremony Sunday at First Lutheran Church.
But the achievement, while certainly a moment to celebrate — they are the first Litchfield Boys Scouts to earn the rank since 2014 — seemed to take a back seat to the journey for Riley Defries, Sam Dougherty and Levi Schmidt when they sat down to discuss the coming Eagle Scout Court of Honor last week.
Reaching the organization’s highest rank came after nearly seven years of participation in meetings, camping trips and service projects that helped shape them, not just as Boy Scouts but as people, they said.
“There’s so many things in Boy Scouts that I don’t really think about, because we just did it,” Dougherty said. “Things that we know how to do or even if we’re not experts on it, we know how to do or have done it before.
“I think, just at that one trip, how many things did we do?” Dougherty said, recalling a Boy Scout camp from years ago. “We were triangulating points to figure out where we were …. We made tea with just like random berries that we found. We put up a 20-foot tall teepee, like a real teepee. We replanted a prairie. And that was just one trip. How many kids in our school could say they have done anything like that.”
They did those things while the Litchfield Boy Scout troop was moving through a transition in leadership and organization. At one point, they were among only a handful of Boy Scouts remaining in the program — worried, they said, the troop might disintegrate because of the lack of numbers.
But they stuck with it, and eventually they saw an infusion of enthusiasm and activity as new adult leadership — who they each say they are indebted to for helping them reach Eagle Scout — stepped in.
Even without the instability in leadership, sticking with Boy Scouts can be difficult, Defries acknowledged. So many other activities vie for a teenager’s attention, and Boy Scouts often is viewed as an oddity by their peers.
“I think people underestimate Boy Scouts and what it’s about, because a lot of people have this assumption that, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of nerdy kids going to meetings and, like, learning knots or whatever,’” Defries said. “I think people need to get rid of the stereotype … because being in Boys Scouts, for me, has been awesome. Having a group so focused on learning new things and developing my leadership skills and stuff, I’m lucky to have had that.”
Eagle Scout projects
One of the final requirements for reaching Eagle Scout is a community service project, with a focus on the Eagle Scout candidate planning, overseeing and executing the work, which his fellow Scouts perform.
Defries, Schmidt and Dougherty each completed a project at their respective churches.
Schmidt’s project, the trio agreed, was the biggest and most expensive of the three – creation of a new gaga ball pit for Oak Heights Covenant Church in Hutchinson. For the uninitiated, gaga ball is similar to dodgeball, played in an octagon “pit” with a sand floor. The pit for Oak Heights Covenant, Schmidt said, was an improvement project to replace an older pit.
Construction, even with assistance from a Bobcat to scrape the topsoil and auger post holes, was a labor intensive project involving several Boy Scouts and other assistants working six hours on a Saturday.
“Probably the hardest part of that was moving the four cubic yards of sand with two wheelbarrows,” Schmidt said with a smile. “The whole troop helped. It’s intended as a leadership experience. It went pretty well.”
Defries planned and oversaw repainting of Chilstrom Hall at First Lutheran Church in Litchfield, another all-day project that improved the look of the area, which is used by church members as a “coffee hour area” and for the church’s FoodShare distribution program, Defries explained.
In preparation for painting, Scouts had to spackle some walls that had been dented and scraped.
“Putting up spackle … everyone did really well with that, especially the younger Scouts,” Defries said. “For us never doing it before, with (adult leaders’) guidance, I feel like we did a fairly good job. I thought it was a really good project … a very affordable and well-thought-of project for the church.”
Dougherty planned and built a new recycling center for his church, Beckville Lutheran.
“The one (recycling center) they had was pretty much just a pile of cans in the woods,” Dougherty said. “So, the new center just looks better and it’s secure, and twice a year, we go and sell (the recyclables) and give the money to the Sunday school (program).”
And while overseeing the recycling center work was rewarding, Dougherty said, it was something else that happened that Saturday that was even more memorable.
A funeral for one of the older members of the church took place the same day, and Dougherty, Schmidt and a younger Scout participated in a church tradition by ringing the church bell once for every year of the 90-year-old deceased’s age.
“Usually I do it myself,” Dougherty said, “but we switched off, and it was just, I thought, a really meaningful experience for all of us.”
The trio — all seniors at Litchfield High School — easily recalled multiple meaningful experiences throughout Boy Scouts. They shared stories of so-called high adventure trips and of summer stays at Many Point Scout Camp in northern Minnesota.
Those trips to Many Point, which the trio made together for six consecutive years, helped them advance through Boy Scout ranks. But they all say that earning merits badges – a key to advancement – and moving up in rank wasn’t ever the goal of the Boy Scout experience. It was a side benefit.
“I guess for me, getting as many merit badges as possible wasn’t necessarily my goal,” Dougherty said. “I feel like I always thought that merit badges that I did get, I wanted to actually like it, and I wanted to actually learn about it versus just getting the patch.”
Schmidt echoed that thought, saying a sash full of merit badges never motivated him.
“I feel like a lot of these merit badges kind of just fell into place as we went along,” he said. “Whether we had specific ones that we needed to get — there’s 21 that are required for Eagle — I feel like we did them because they were our interests. So it didn’t feel like a chore to necessarily be in Boy Scouts and do stuff. We just had fun. Every summer, we’d pick one or two that we needed and work on them together, and that was fun. I think we kind of helped each other along a lot.”
And in doing so, they broke the stereotype of today’s teenager, obsessed with cellphones, social media and electronics.
“Boy Scouts has been like the kind of the activity where you can get out of the house and put down (electronics) stuff and just like, take a breath of fresh air outside and learn some new skills,” Defries said. “When we're out on camporees and stuff, most of the time we're outside learning stuff. Just to get us away from this whole stereotype that our entire generation is built on technology and all that.”
The trio’s last high adventure experience was a trip last summer with other Litchfield Boy Scouts and leaders to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan. Days spent hiking and enjoying nature, perfect weather and majestic scenery on the shores of Lake Superior.
“It was our last big adventure and we wanted to make that one really good,” Defries said. “The adult leaders wanted to make sure we got a really good, nice last trip, which we did. It was really fun.”
It also was a trip that demonstrated their ability to take charge in difficult circumstances when, on the last day, one of the adult leaders became ill and went into shock.
“The three of us and all the other Scouts there kind of tried to help him, and we called emergency services because we were three miles into the woods,” Dougherty said. “There was no way we were going to get him out on our own. So we made him comfortable and called and they had an emergency boat brought in … and we used our shirts and tent poles and tarps to flag the ship down and brought emergency services to him … and they eventually airlifted him to Duluth.
“So, I guess just seeing how everyone worked together … I kind of expected that us three would be able to work through it, but seeing the younger Scouts, too, being able to stay calm and help … that was just kind of memorable,” Dougherty added.
Thanks for support
While they grew in independence through Boy Scouts, the trio readily acknowledged that might not have been possible with the support of adults who created the opportunity for learning.
“I'm proud of where we're at,” Defries said. “And I'd like to thank (Scout leaders) Jesse Knutson and Eric Miller for getting us to where we are because without them at the beginning, we would have been lost. Those two have helped us with everything. Whenever we had questions, both of them were super knowledgeable, especially with like them pushing us to get our ranks.
“So I think it's a big thank you to those two and thank you to all the other parents that have helped us along the way,” he added. “Our parents and parents of younger Scouts and any person involved in Boy Scouts that's been at camps and stuff helping us with things like that — we appreciate that support.”