When ‘thanks’ just isn’t enough: 13 ways to recognize retiring Scoutmasters

Scoutmasters can retire or move away, but their legacy lives on.

You’ll find this imprint in the troop’s traditions, in signature meals and in frequently visited camping destinations. And it remains even after every Scout who was there during the Scoutmaster’s tenure has grown up.

This week, a Scouter from Pennsylvania told me his troop’s longtime Scoutmaster is retiring soon. He’s looking for meaningful and memorable ways to say thanks to the man who led his troop for more than 20 years.

Find 13 ideas, and add your own, after the jump.

smthanks-11. Set up a campership fund

Create a fund to send one boy to camp every year in the Scoutmaster’s honor. Consider making each recipient required to write the Scoutmaster a thank-you letter about his camp experience.

(Idea from Christopher Connolly)

smthanks-22. Give a James E. West Fellowship Award

This recognition, named for the BSA’s first Chief Scout Executive, is available for gifts of $1,000 or more to a council endowment fund. It includes a nice certificate and square knot for the recipient. Anyone can earn it for himself/herself, or (as in this case) a troop could pool its money together and present it in a Scoutmaster’s honor.

(Idea from Michael Woehlert)

smthanks-33. Hold a surprise ceremony

A “living monument” in which you contact as many of his former Scouts, regardless of their rank or how long they were in the troop, and invite them to a surprise ceremony. This shows him how many lives he touched. Think Mr. Holland’s Opus.

(Idea from Patrick Burke)

smthanks-44. Have a party outside

Chances are most of the best memories with the Scoutmaster were outdoors. So Mary Hynes’ Oklahoma troop “had a big cookout at the local lake, reminisced about past campouts, events, etc.” They presented the outgoing Scoutmaster, an avid fisherman, with a new fishing rod, ate cake and shared memories. “He gave a heartfelt speech of fond memories. A few tears, but a ton of laughs and great memories shared.”

(Idea from Mary Hynes)

smthanks-55. Make a slideshow

A slideshow interspersed with video interviews of Scouts and former Scouts honoring the Scoutmaster and recalling fun memories. Find someone with experience using video editing software and encourage former Scouts, including those who have moved away, to submit a video. Post the finished product to YouTube after the ceremony.

(Idea from Mark Crater)

smthanks-66. Give a meaningful, Scouting-related gift

A nice wooden hiking staff, or a framed Norman Rockwell painting, would be a nice gift. “Not too expensive,” says Pat Lynch.

(Idea from Pat Lynch)

smthanks-77. Present a retired troop flag

Buy a new flag each time you have a new Scoutmaster, and present the outgoing Scoutmaster with the troop flag that flew during his or her tenure.

(Idea from Stephanie Helman Muller)

smthanks-88. Convince BSA to create a new position: Scoutmaster Emeritus

This one’s a little tougher, but I like the idea. Scouter Michael Balot says, “I still think the BSA should institute a new position of Scoutmaster Emeritus for a Scoutmaster who has served 20 years or has served as the first Scoutmaster of a troop for 10 years.”

(Idea from Michael Balot)

smthanks-99. Give a gift that isn’t Scouting-related

The Scouter is winding down his time as Scoutmaster, so it might make sense to present him or her with something to use now that he’ll/she’ll have so much more free time! “I recently stepped down as Scoutmaster and my troop honored me with a very nice gift card at an elegant restaurant for me and my wife to enjoy,” writes Mark Chadwick.

(Idea from Mark A. Chadwick)

smthanks-1010. Create an award in the Scoutmaster’s name

If he or she had been the Scoutmaster for a significant time, you could create an award in his/her name that is awarded annually to a deserving Scouter in your troop.

(Idea from Eric McCollom)

smthanks-1111. Engrave and/or sign something

Personalize an axe, a knife, a walking stick or something else with the name of the troop and the years in which the Scoutmaster served. You could also do as Phil Stout’s troop does, which is have all the young men who earned Eagle Scout during the Scoutmaster’s tenure wood-burn or sign their name on the item.

(Idea from Phil Stout and Stephen Dillon)

smthanks-1212. Name something for him or her

If your troop needs a new canoe or troop trailer, why couldn’t it be the “Scoutmaster Bob Trailer” or the “Scoutmaster Jane Canoe”? Speaking of trailers, inside the trailer door you could inscribe the names of all the troop’s past Scoutmasters. Or why not name an annual camping trip for the Scoutmaster? Years later, a Scout will ask why the troop’s January trip is called Frank’s Favorite Trip, and that’ll give you a perfect excuse to describe the great former Scoutmaster.

(Idea from Michael Balot and Holly Barger Graffius)

smthanks-1313. Pass the Scoutmaster patch to the next Scoutmaster

This week I blogged about a troop that has each Scoutmaster sign the back of the Scoutmaster position patch. This patch is passed from one Scoutmaster to the next, each time taking with it the memories and wisdom of its previous wearer.

14. Your idea here

How does your troop recognize outgoing Scoutmasters? Scouters in packs, teams or crews with longtime Cubmasters, Coaches or Advisors are welcome to share their ideas as well.

Photos: 1, Some rights reserved by Max Wolfe; 2, BSA Archives; 3, Some rights reserved by hermans_4; 4, Some rights reserved by jeffreylcohen; 5, Some rights reserved by andrewrennie; 6, Norman Rockwell; 7, Some rights reserved by stevebkennedy; 8, Some rights reserved by DaveWilsonPhotography; 9, Some rights reserved by 401(K) 2013; 10, ScoutStuff.org; 11, Some rights reserved by Joe Shlabotnik; 12, Courtesy Troop 1776; 13, Photo illustration via ScoutStuff.org 


    • All wonderful ideas but what impacted me most when I retired was the huge number of scouts current and former especially my Eagle Scouts that came back to wish me well and the videos of those who couldn’t attend. We as Scoutmasters don’t look for awards or gifts, our joy comes from making a small difference in helping boys become men and scouts become Eagle Scouts. YIS, a Silver Fox.

  1. One thing that you might do is arrange for a flag to be flown over the US Capitol and the state capitol on that day. or a day important to him. Most congressmen will arrange this for the US flag (it is a small cost,less than $40 for the US flag). It comes with a certificate which attests to its authenticity. Go to their website [generally .house.gov. For the state, go to your local state rep. If possible, have the rep at a ceremony to present it to him.

    Present the flags folded in a presentation case.

    Conduct presentation like you might an Eagle COH.

    • Sm award of merit has been replaced. Most Scoutmasters would not qualify for silver beaver. The AOM has to be done while serving, so it can’t be done after leaving.

      • The Silvery Beaver award is basically your confirmation ceremony into the club of your local council as someone they are buddies with. Silver Beaver winners usually have no major accomplishment behind them other than holding various chair positions over council level events. It’s sad. It should be an award given to highlight the best of scouting, but you’ll see a 300 pound woman get the award for doing fundraisers.

        Call it “The Ten Year Knot.”

        • I am not going to comment on this for fear of starting a flame war, other than to say these are very hurtful words…

        • I’m sorry you feel that way – in the council I am in, I have seen the Silver Beaver awarded to those who have dedicated their life to scouting. It is an award, at least in our council, that recognizes years of outstanding service at a number of levels…could there be some “sour grapes” motivating your comment?

        • I notice you posted this anonymously. That speaks volumes. I was awarded the Silver Beaver 8 years ago, after growing a troop from 8 to 80 boys, serving as Eagle Advisor and Council Camping Chair. My home troop is still going strong, now at about a 100 kids and has an unbelievable program. After getting the Silver Beaver, I have served as VP Program, Council Webmaster, and now Council President. We have gone 4 years without a Scout Executive, grown our program and are growing. We are not in fear of being merged, and have stabilized our budgets. That means we still have local control over our program to serve our youth best. There’s not one Silver Beaver in the last 10 years that didn’t deserve it, and isn’t still providing service. You are either in the most dysfunctional council in the US, or have a completely misguided impression of the contributions of those your council have chosen to recognize. Perhaps it’s time to move aside, and make room for someone else to provide a positive experience to the youth in your community.

        • While I cannot say I agree with all of your statement I have heard of those who put very little effort forth and yet still received the award. The vast majority however are hard working, dedicated Scouters who enjoy the program. Our Scoutmaster has a Silver Beaver, has done Wood Badge, is OA, and much more. Her boys are grown, no longer in Scouts, but she sees “her” kids, those in her troop and her crew, as wonderful, important people who need to learn and grow. She believes Scouting does that for them. I don’t know what my boys would be like if it weren’t for our Jenni being their Scoutmaster.

        • The Silver Beaver selection committee needs to hear from scouting individuals, like yourself, who can guide them into selecting only the most deserving qualified scouters. Do the footwork and apply the required documentation of your dedicated scouter(s) to committee. Good luck!

    • Our retired SM was also very active in the District, holding several positions over the years, yet to our disbelief, he was turned down twice for the Silver Beaver!

  2. I was “just” a Scoutmaster for three years, but one thing I invented was a troop award I called the “Outdoor Four” — a $100 college scholarship — which was given when a Scout earned Hiking, Backpacking, Cycling, and Canoeing merit badges. Besides wanting to intensify Scouts’ interest in physical fitness and the outdoors, I wanted to create an award that wasn’t a sidetrack or a dead end. Obviously Scouts could use any or all of those merit badges for Star, Life, and Eagle.

  3. I was Scoutmaster in one Troop from 1991 to 1995 and another from 1996-2002. The second troop was folding as I left (I had changed jobs and no one else was willing to step up), but two of my prized possessions are from the first troop.

    To my left, here in my home office, are two picture frames. One has a “First Day of Issue” collectable council strip — which was a fund raiser for our OA Lodge in 1990. My troop’s SPL (also an Eagle and at the time Lodge Chief) picked it up at a lodge auction in 1995 and gave it to me as a personal gift.

    The second is much better — and ironically, the same Scout had a hand in it. The old Baden-Powell Patrol Award was similar, but much harder to earn than the current National Honor Patrol Award. So when the Scorpion Patrol earned it in 1993 (with the same young man who’d later be SPL as the Patrol Leader) we pulled out all the stops. The only award for earning this is a star to go next to the patrol medallion on uniforms. We made a 4 inch, 5-pointed star in felt for the patrol to sew to their patrol flag. We also printed a certificate for each member of the patrol. The patrol duplicated several of the certificates, had a snapshot taken of the patrol with their flag after the star was sewn on, and each signed the picture. The photo, a certificate and a Scorpion Patrol medallion were put into a frame, and they were presented to each member of the patrol, to the troop’s SPL, to the Committee Chair, the Scoutmaster and each Assistant Scoutmaster — the PL said “We couldn’t have done it without you”

  4. On “Scoutmaster Emeritus,” hey, it worked for Lem Siddons, didn’t it?

    Our troop celebrated its 40th Anniversary a few years ago. As part of this three-day event, a special “Founders Court of Honor” (and crackerbarrel) was held to honor all the previous Scoutmasters (12 in all) and other troop alumni we could reach. Each Scoutmaster had the opportunity to reminisce about the troop he remembered before the audience; after the speeches, each Scoutmaster was presented with a specially engraved and personalized 40th Anniversary knife thanking them for their service to Scouting; those who could not attend were sent their knives following the event. All considered it a touching and useful commemorative.

    One Scoutmaster recently passed away due to cancer; our troop donated $200 to the hospice in his name.

  5. Another of our leaders, who served as Committee Chair during the troop’s formative years, passed on a while back. In his will he had donated an amount to the troop to use in whatever way we chose. This individual never wanted to see a Scout left in the parking lot due to the lack of his family’s ability to pay for camp, so with this money the troop established a standing campership fund in his name. Now as part of our annual budget this fund is replenished as needed. We could have bought new tents or other equipment, or the Scouts could have had an exceptional outing or dream trip, but everyone felt this was a way to keep his memory alive and pay it forward.

  6. Our immediate past SM logged 172 nights camping during his 6 years in position so, in addition to typical gifts, we took up a collection to allow him to take his wife somewhere for a luxury weekend. We thought it only fair that they two of them got to do something on a weekend for a change.

  7. Why not look for photos etc from previous Scouts and events to create his own personal scrapbook. We honored our Scoutmaster at 25 years (he was continuing with us as he started at a young age). One thing we did was have cards for people to write memories and put them in a box that was created for the event. We also found a staircase and took a group photo of all the Assistant Scoutmasters that attended-probably 30+. It was great that we did that as 2 years ago he was killed by someone who was texting. At least he knew what he meant to us and our Scouts.

  8. As a Scoutmaster that is planning to step down after 15 years, I would like to see as many scouts from the last 15 years as possible come to my last meeting. Similiar to Follow Me Boys.

    • I’m in my 38th year as Scoutmaster, and when I hit 25 years the troop gave me a large Rockwell painting I love, a weekend at a nice country inn, and a scrapbook that each person attending our picnic got the opportunity to write in. While I love all 3 gifts, I think I like the scrapbook best.

  9. Our Troop(11) here in Jefferson City Mo, recently had a 25th aniversary dinner. We had all but two former Scoutmasters(myself included) present. They surprised me with a very nice laser ingraved metal plaque with all current Scouts signatures on it. Very nice knowing how much influance a Scoutmaster can have on a young mans future. Very rewarding expereance.

  10. I was SM of a 45’sh Troop from 2004 thru 2012. My last official duty (actually honor), as SM was a 1/5/13 Eagle Court of Honor. After the ECOH was over and cake and punch done, people were still milling around which bewildered me. Then I was escorted to the rear of the church sanctuary and lo and behold people filled the church and they held a COH for me. A total surprise that I never caught on to. Our state and US rep was there and presented me with flag that flew over the capitals and then many people came up and shared their stories, feelings, etc about me. Some that caused tears and others that brought laughs. Since it was over the holidays and college break, many former scouts were there and I heard how my mentoring made the difference in their quest for Eagle and their lives. THAT was by far the most wonderful things I heard and I am forever grateful. Oh, one more thing. Over that time period I had mentored 38 scouts to Eagle and on the altar they had 38 candles in a glass globe lined up and lit. To this day I am so very humbled. Later that evening the Council drafted me for the Advancement Committee so I never really retired!!!!

  11. An electronic version of the surprise ceremony. Get everyone – including former Scouts – to sign an electronic group card and deliver it to the Scoutmaster.

  12. Our troop has a contest every year before summer camp for scouts to design that year’s class B t-shirt. We are celebrating our 100th anniversary next week and our SM of 11 yrs just announced he is retiring so we are getting scouts to donate old class b t-shirts from the last 12 yrs including this year’s special anniversary one and making a quilt out of them.

  13. I was the incoming Scoutmaster and I thought letters from the Scouts and parents collected and given in a cedar box was a great way to allow the entire troop family to share special moments, memories and personalized thank you’s for this amazing man that founded and ran this troop as the truly boy lead organization Baden Powell designed it to be. It was very emotional for him and for all of us. He has those letters forever and can refer to them any time he likes.

  14. I like the Scoutmaster Emeritus idea. However, I would advocate for a three year term. I’m not sure that encouraging Scoutmasters to stay in the position for 10+ years is always healthy. Sometimes it works, but I find that it’s usually better to encourage turnover and new ideas.

  15. You are forgetting the “other” Scoutmasters. ASMs often work just as hard, if not harder than the person who wears the SM patch. Granted, there can only be one SM, but without ASMs, most troop wouldn’t get nearly as much accomplished.

  16. Turning over the reigns to a new Scoutmaster every 3 to 5 years is a good idea. We don’t have it in writing but as a tradition the retiring SM stays on at least one year to support the new SM. We generally select the new SM from our 15+ ASM’s with a younger son a year in advance of the retirement to have that ASM shadow the retiring SM, that way we are sure to have a Scoutmaster with “skin in the game”! Generally speaking this also enriches the Troop by having a succession plan and the side benefit is having several retired SM’s in the ASM ranks to support the Troop (without getting in the way!). The retiring SM generally is recognized at party that the Troop Committee plans and each party is slightly different. For all of you that have served as the SM I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that it is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have in you scouting career and that giving someone else that opportunity is just as rewarding!

  17. First , you honor the Scoutmaster by continuing his work, and building on it. Serve Scouting.

    Next we have a tradition in our troop where the Scoutmaster when presenting an Eagle invites all past leaders from tigers on forward, including legacy leaders who never worked with the particular scout and the eagle pin is passed from hand to hand allowing many to hold the honor of presenting the award. At one of our Courts over 100 former scouters held the award before it was pinned on the scout

    Next you honor all past leaders and keep them close and have birthday celebrations for your troop and bring the family home

    Birthday cards to past Scouters is nice

    This Saturday we are bringing our Eagles, Scouts, past scouters home to bury a nine year Scoutmaster who died at 62

    At our troop 50th I had presented him with a beautiful hiking stick and that photo of him holding that stick will be present at his funeral. That was ten years ago. He never forgot, nor have we

    When I reached out to my Eagles, heartbroken at the loss of my dear friend, of the 18 who have received their Eagle while I have been Scoutmaster, 15, who are in town RSVPd and will be sitting by my side as I honor my mentor. In honoring him, they honor me. And Eagles, scouts and Scouters from as far back as 1955 will be joining us, as a family

    I fear the church won’t hold us but we will make it work like we always do

    Build traditions in your troops. Constantly hold up that which you want to replicate in our young scouts. Never stop thanking people and never lose the opportunity to honor them

    A quiet moment at a campfire where the boys present a heartfelt gift

    Telling humorous memories of an adult when presenting them an award at a court of honor

    This past weekend while traveling I met a troop from southern Ohio in a rest stop

    They had their hundred plus Eagles listed on the front of their trailer

    And their twelve plus Scoutmasters names on the back of the trailer

    Thousands of people see that trailer I hope their trip to Niagra Falks was memorable

    I’ll say it again. Troops are a family. You are forever a member, forever useful and revered

    Children are the message that we send to a time and place we will not live to see. They are a Scoutmasters legacy

    And that legacy, simply by being the good men that they have grown into, should serve to honor the Scoutmaster for those boys are all that we leave behind

    It isn’t the gift that makes the difference but the embedded memory of receiving the gift. Every adult leader deserves a Mr Holland moment or two or three

    But it is always for the youth.

    Celebrate the adventure. And always continue the journey

    After the funeral for our scouter, I’m leaving with my troop for Gettysburg and Valley Forge. More memories to build. More lives to change. This trip is in memory of Rich Seguin, former Scoutmaster, troop 41 Fitchburg, MA

  18. In my last Troop we conducted a change of Responsibility Ceremony, just like the Army does for First Sgt or CSM. Then we retired the old Troop Flag and presented it to him. It was a day of fun.The charter partner did a barbecue for the Troop and guests.

    • I think creating your own traditions within the troop is very meaningful. We have the O cubed award:
      Overcoming Obstacles Optimistically: a duct taped wrapped snicker bar (an inside joke in our troop) awarded to the boy who showed the most courage and good humor when meeting adversity.

  19. I have a related question. My son is his Scoutmaster’s first Eagle. I would love to gift him (the Scoutmaster) with something meaningful at my son’s Eagle Court of Honor to commemorate that.
    Can any of you give me some ideas? Something with the Scoutmaster’s name and my son’s name on it.

  20. I still have the program from the banquet we had for our Scoutmaster 42 years ago. I recently put it on social media for his family and our scouts to remember the great memories

  21. I was in Troop 72 who had a Scout Master that was there a couple decades before me and almost a decade after me.
    There was no passing of the torch ceremony that I know of (I was away at the time).
    But for his 72nd birthday – alumni of Troop 72 rallied and gathered generations of scouts to celebrate with him and his family. It was an awesome event!
    Think about it – on your first day with the troop you may have met someone who had been with the troop for 7 years, and on your last day (7 years later) a new scout met you as he began his 7 year youth career. You could be the middle knot of someone’s 21+ year of service as a Scout Master.

  22. The walls of Council Centers are filled with celebrities and people who have been very generous to Scouting, and thats fine…. I would also like to see a”Wall of Fame” for GREAT Scout Masters, who year in and year out, rain, snow or shine have been in the trenches with their Scouts. We all know who they are.

  23. As a retired Scoutmaster the greatest gift was the times teaching the boys to be leaders of men by example. Our goal was to make it about the boys. The program is is not about the adults although you need many with different talents. I know we need to recognize adults for different reasons. The best example is the leader that quietly disappears allowing new leadership to take over. Hardest thing I ever done. The program is bigger than any adult.
    Nothing wears me out more than
    an old scoutmaster at the podium telling old scoutmaster stories.
    However having scouts at the podium ….awesome.

  24. I read this a few months a go and while I appreciated all of the comments I decided to work on my own solution and came up with the following that I published. Have a look and hope it helps. I am a strong believer in preventing scouter attrition with a strong adult recognition program and as a result we have a very tight and stable unit that has become a family of well over a hundred folks. Best to you! August


  25. Never expected, never thought I’d get something, never would’ve wanted something, whether I was scoutmaster, JLTC ASM, committee chair, district commissioner, or shooting sports committee chair.

  26. we got our scoutmaster a flag that was flown over the capital on the day of one of the events our troop was was most proud of putting on.

  27. I’ve been a Scoutmaster for two different troops, the second one over 2 different time periods. Ive also been assistant scoutmaster and a whole host of cub related positions. I also have a district level gig. I’ve never done any of this for myself, its always been solely for the kids. IF someone wanted to honor me if I ever actually retire, a reunion of the boys I have interacted with would be what I’d want. Something to show that what I spent a majority of my adult life volunteering at was significant and made a difference in someones life. We get a boy for a few years and then they’re gone. A lot of them you never see or hear from again. I’d love to see some of the old faces again.

  28. For the SM I replaced, I got a map of New England mounted and framed, then I got a hundred of those little flag pins and marked all of the places he had camped with the trio over the years and created a legend. I made sure to give him extra pins and the legend document so he could add any locations I missed. Looked great and brought back lots of memories.

  29. I was given a Leatherman by T-168 so that I would have “the tools” to be a good SM. I still treasure it and never go camping without it on my belt.

  30. Look up on youtube. US Navy The Watch. Our troop did this for our scoutmaster and we changed the lines to be about standing watch over boys at camp aND at home

  31. Encourage him to become a commissioner. After a brief break and some r&r, a retired scoutmaster can be an amazing commissioner to pass on some of his experience to other units in his community!

  32. A well done skit with small gifts that reflect his or her contributions, memories or special things this leader has done. These should be given to the scoutmaster by scouts at specific points during the skit. It will be remembered for a long time to come.

  33. One of the best i have seen was when a CubMaster retired… a fellow Scouter in the Pack presented them with a clock – symbolizing all the time the CubMaster had invested in the Pack

  34. We are having a Thank You part in a couple of weeks. I’m having a very large canvas printed up with pictures from over the years. We are providing note cards for everyone in attendance to write a personal note of thanks. I’m excited and sad all at the same time. You Scout Masters truly impact SO many lives! Thank you!

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