November 6, 2012 11:10:28 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
They are an exclusive cadre: Only two percent of the youth who join the Boy Scouts of America become Eagle Scouts. Over the past century, more than 2 million have earned the coveted silver wings.
Monday night, as the 10-county Pushmataha Area Council gathered for the award's centennial celebration at Mississippi University for Women, several dozen local Eagle Scouts -- and aspiring Eagles -- joined to pay homage to an organization many credit for shaping their lives.
MUW President and event chairman Dr. Jim Borsig became an Eagle Scout in 1970 and now serves on the Pushmataha Council's executive board.
He came to MUW with a lengthy resume', holding previous posts as chief administrative officer for the cities of Biloxi and Hattiesburg, assistant commissioner for government relations with the state Institutions of Higher Learning, executive assistant to the president of the University of Southern Mississippi and research and development coordinator for the John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
He has a doctorate degree in public policy and a master's degree in political science.
But Monday night, as Borsig stood beside a table laden with Scout memorabilia, he said that among his accomplishments, becoming an Eagle Scout and earning his bachelor's degree have meant the most to his life, both through the lifelong friends he made and preparation for his future.
"What I learned in Scouting prepared me better for life than anything else I did," Borsig said. "Girl Scouting and Boy Scouting play an integral role in building future leaders -- men and women that have practical skills and a clear understanding of right and wrong and don't mind working."
One of the most useful skills is the ability to get along with others, said Ward 3 Columbus City Councilman Charlie Box, who attended the ceremony with family members, including his grandson, Eli Box, 12, who just earned the rank of Tenderfoot in the Boy Scouts.
Understanding "the pecking order" in life, and learning the spirit of camaraderie among peers is important, the councilman said.
Equally important, many say, is the deep connection to family values. A number of merit badges in Scouting focus upon the family, and a quick glance around MUW's Pope Banquet Room at Hogarth Dining Hall Monday night attested to the connections made over generations.
Wendell Williams, of Columbus, earned his Eagle Scout award in 1982. He admits that without his father's involvement, he probably would not have stayed in Scouting, so when he signed his son up to be a Cub Scout, he knew he was signing on as well.
Now Cody Williams, 13, is a Star Scout -- two ranks away from becoming an Eagle Scout. For him, Scouting has provided opportunities to interact with peers and visit places like Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee.
For his father, it has been an opportunity to share the same bond with his son that he and his own father, Morris Williams, shared.
"It's very special to be able to pass on the things I've learned to my son and to share some of the same experiences," Wendell Williams said. "The best father-son experiences I had were through Scouting."
Being an Eagle Scout is a point of pride, he said, not only because of the work involved to earn it, but also because he supports the values and principles Boy Scouting teaches young men.
Older Eagle Scouts echo that sentiment. Columbus native Ed Kuykendall became an Eagle Scout in 1944, an achievement he says was "a terrific confidence builder."
His sons, Lantz Williams, Kurt Williams and Steve Williams, are Eagle Scouts as well.
That's the beauty of Scouting, said Marion Holloway. Though she is 91 and walks with a cane, she braved the rainy night to attend the centennial celebration in honor of her son, Jerry Holloway, who now lives in Ohio and is an Eagle Scout.
When she entered the room and saw the young boys and grown men dressed in their Scout uniforms, she couldn't help but blurt out, "Oh, this is so exciting!"
Her husband, J.D. Holloway, was a Scout leader, and she served as a den mother. Their daughter was a Girl Scout.
It held the family together, she said. They took trips, worked on projects and planned their lives around church and Scouting. Even now, she remembers it as a time of joy and fun, with the side benefit of teaching her children independence and life skills.
Membership has declined over the years in the Pushmataha Area Council, which serves Lowndes, Monroe, Chickasaw, Calhoun, Webster, Clay, Choctaw, Winston, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.
But Scout executive Jeremy Whitmore said 24 of the council's boys have become Eagle Scouts so far this year. He became an Eagle in 1988 and took over the Pushmataha Area Council at the beginning of 2012.
Earning his Eagle Scout award shaped his life, he said. It taught him leadership and how to be of service to others, and through those qualities, it led to a career he loves.
He's hoping that in addition to celebrating the award's centennial, Monday night's ceremony will also inspire older Eagle Scouts to recommit, lending their experience to positions as volunteer leaders and merit badge counselors.
On a national level, Boy Scouts of America claims more than 4.5 million members. More than 110 million Scouts have passed through the ranks since the organization's inception in 1910.
This year, more than 50,000 Scouts will earn the Eagle Scout Award. They will join a distinguished roster which includes former U.S. President Gerald Ford, astronaut Neil Armstrong, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, athlete Hank Aaron and others.
Once a boy becomes an Eagle Scout, he holds that rank for the rest of his life. Neither boys over the age of 18 or young women of any age are eligible.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.