Longtime Scouter left behind template for running Eagle Scout boards of review

eaglepatchDon Bennett directed Eagle Scout boards of review like a film director creating his latest masterpiece. He challenged the Eagle candidates with expertly crafted questions all with the goal of making the young man see just how his time in Scouting has formed who he is. He brought out the best in people.

That deft touch in Eagle Scout boards of review is what David Watson will remember most about Don, who died earlier this year.

David wrote a touching tribute to Don (pictured above) and gave me permission to share it with you all. You’ll find it’s about more than just a great man; it’s about the attitude he brought to an Eagle Scout board of review. Consider it mandatory reading for anyone who may some day sit on an Eagle Scout board of review and decide the fate of an Eagle candidate.

Find the tribute, edited for style, after the jump. 

How to Run an Eagle Scout Board of Review: A Tribute to an Old Friend
By David A. Watson

“Success in training the boy depends largely on the Scoutmaster’s own personal example.” — Robert Baden-Powell

It was late. The church was deserted, and a storm was on its way — Hurricane Ike, as it turned out. After Hurricane Katrina, nobody wanted to mess with a storm. Alas, there we were holed up at an Eagle Scout board of review.

The chairman, Don Bennett, insisted on it, not because he was a stickler for rules or protocol, but for the boys. He didn’t want to hold up any Scouts on their way to achieving their Eagle rank. He wanted them to know what conferring this badge meant to them, and it didn’t matter to him that Ike was on its way. He’d seen storms before. We all had.

Don loved to regale the young men about everything from the weather to all sorts of Scout-related stories. That was Mr. Don Bennett in his 80s, still going strong and always a character. That’s why when he left us earlier this year, I began thinking about how this longtime chairman of the district’s Eagle board approached the Eagle board of review. He was the type of guy you could tell was tough right down to the bone marrow. He passed just a few weeks after telling his fellow board members he was sick, having kept his illness from all of us, everyone except for his spouse.

Through my years of scouting, Don had become my friend and mentor. He will be missed, but his teachings within the Scouting world, and beyond, will live on. I learned a lot from him personally; even when I thought I had a great deal of experience as a Scouter, and that I had nothing left to learn, Don proved me wrong.

First, there was the recitation of the Scout Oath, said aloud while standing, and showing the Scout Sign, of course.

“On my honor, I will do my best, To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Then, the Scout Law, still while standing: A Scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

Don would make the Scouts go over it again if they missed the first conjunction — “and” — in the Scout Oath. Then he would invite them to sit down and “take a breath!”

Don’s philosophy was to try to give young men advice about Scouting. He encouraged them to be involved in Scouts as adults and to reflect on what their scouting meant to them in retrospect. 

Throughout his tenure, Don served as winter camp director, Wood Badge participant (and staff member), and Scoutmaster. At the behest of the Bay Area Council, he reinvigorated a failing troop into a much larger one. Troop 609 in League City, Texas, found new life under Don’s watch. He was also a father, a serviceman in the Air Force and a retired electrical engineer (with NASA programs.) So, you could certainly say he knew stories.

Don enjoyed spinning old tales for the Scouts. He’d talk about how cold it was during Winter Camp of 1983, or how hot it was at Philmont climbing Mount Baldy.

During boards of review, the former Scoutmaster asked the boys what their favorite campout had been. Usually it would have to do with a damp-humid-hot or a wet-cold-muggy campout we have here at Camp Karankawa.

Don would quickly follow up with: “What did you learn about yourself from this campout?” The response was predictable; the boy would learn that he was tougher than he realized, that he really could stick it out without Mom and Dad. Yep, exactly!  Little did the Scouts know, that was exactly what Don wanted them to see.

Next, Don explored the merit badges the Scouts had earned. He’d ask which merit badge was easiest for them, and of course, which was the toughest.

Don would investigate what they’d learned about themselves, and the response would come back something like this: “I learned that I just have to try something new, and I might like it.”

Yes, and Don wanted to know perhaps if they thought that one or more of the merit badges might lead them down a career path, just like Electricity merit badge had for him many years before.

I still like to ask boys about leadership. Don always wanted to know whether it helped to bully one’s subordinates. “No,” the boys answered definitively (which of course was the answer we wanted to her.) Don asked them, “Is it more difficult to be a leader or follower?” Usually, the Scout would say it’s hard to be a follower; they were beginning to understand why this is an important skill to master in life, to be part of a team and not to take credit when it isn’t called for.

I also like to ask the Scouts about their inclusion of boys with disabilities in Scout activities. This was Don’s wish as well. After I had been on the Eagle Board for several years, I had a stroke that left me with difficulty speaking.

It was Don who sent me an email saying he hoped I could come back to the Board. Because, as he said, it would be good for the Scouts to see that an old duffer comes back to Scouting because he wants to, and that disabilities don’t stand in the way of Scouting. I owe a great debt to him for that; it really helped in my speech rehabilitation.

From my perspective, it is clear the boys (really, young men by the time they get to us) understand and appreciate the investment they have made in Scouting. Don would ask boys, finally, what part of the Scout Law was most difficult for them to practice, and he’d relate to their struggles, telling the Scouts, yes, he had that trouble himself.

The boys would feel better about trying to do their best. Don’s philosophy was to send them away with their Eagle badge, and a smile on their face.

The church stayed dark that night as that storm came in, but I never forgot the satisfaction I felt sitting on that particular board of review. Besides, as Don pointed out as we were leaving, “That storm will create a fine mess — one that Scouts can clean up for Eagle projects!”

About Bryan Wendell 2868 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.