If you’re like me, you were pretty surprised to read on Scouting Wire last week that there was a time in BSA history when adults could earn the Eagle Scout award.
No, I’m not talking about special allowances that allow Scouts with developmental disabilities or severe physical challenges to earn the award after their 18th birthday. Those special advancement rules still exist today.
I’m referring to the time before 1965 when adults could start and finish the requirements for Eagle well past their teenage years. (In the case of Ezra Stevens of Provo, Utah, who earned Eagle in 1954 at age 73, really well past.)
In a few dozen especially touching cases, an adult even received his Eagle badge at the same time as his son. One newspaper called this “a winning combination,” and there’s no question these father-son courts of honor were special occasions.
The stories range from heartwarming to bizarre. For example, there’s the case of a man earning the Eagle Scout award twice — once as a youth and once as an adult.
Like their younger counterparts, adults who earned Eagle before 1965 had to complete the required merit badges — including, from 1915 to 1952, the Bird Study merit badge — and finish other requirements needed to earn Scouting’s top award.
As you might imagine, the stories of these atypical Eagles are the stuff of Scouting legend. I’ll share 10 of them with you below.
Fortunately, the work required to research this strange-but-true part of BSA history has already been done.
Volunteer Ric Williams of the Pacific Harbors Council created the website adulteaglescout.com as a repository for roughly 650 of these stories. He also has a Facebook page dedicated to the cause.
Williams gave the OK to harvest content from his site.
1. Adult Eagle “holds his own” with his son
In one of several father-and-son combos Williams highlights on his site, Gene Smith and his son, Walter, earned Eagle together in 1943 in Raymondville, Texas.
This one deserves mention because it speaks to the friendly rivalry many fathers enjoyed with their sons while pursuing Eagle together. Who would be the first to finish the requirements? Who would earn more merit badges?
The Brownsville (Texas) Herald offered this glimpse into the Smith household:
“Gene Smith is the guy who didn’t let his kid get the most of him. Defying all modern platitudes holding that it is the children of today who raise their parents, Gene at least holds his own with son Walter when it comes to this Scouting business.”
At the time, local council officials said this was the first time a father and son had been awarded Eagle simultaneously — a claim historical research later disproved.
2. Bishop motivates son to earn Eagle with him
Bishop Wilburn C. Campbell of Charleston, W.Va., always regretted not earning Eagle as a Boy Scout in the 1920s. So he had an idea for motivating his son, Arthur, to earn Scouting’s highest honor.
The elder Campbell told the Charleston Daily Mail that “when Arthur got into Boy Scouting a couple of years ago, I tossed a challenge to him. I told him that if he would get his Eagle badge before 15, I’d go after those other merit badges and get Eagle too. Some months ago, he told me I’d better get on the ball or he would be standing there alone.”
Father, 47, and son, 14, earned the rank together in 1958, and Mrs. Campbell couldn’t have been more proud.
3. Man earns Eagle twice
Lance Powers of Beckley, W.Va., had finished all of the requirements for Eagle when a 1938 fire destroyed his records.
Without the badge he had earned, Powers went to serve in the Navy but never lost his zeal for Scouting. When he returned from service, his Scout Executive learned of the story and told Powers, then an assistant Scoutmaster, that he could receive his award if his former Scoutmaster would sign off on the requirements.
Powers declined. He wanted to start over and work through the requirements with his Scouts. He did, starting from scratch and earning Eagle all over again. He received the award at age 29 — just eight months after starting. (Note: today’s leadership requirements make earning Eagle in eight months impossible.)
“To the best of my knowledge,” researcher Williams writes on his site, “Lance N. Powers is the only Scout to have ever earned Eagle Scout twice.”
4. Seventeen boys and one 21-year-old earn Eagle together
When 18 people became Eagle Scouts in a single ceremony on Dec. 2, 1945, it was believed to be a national record.
That number was surpassed in 1950, but at the time seeing 18 Eagle badges presented in one troop was unheard of.
One of the new Eagles of Salt Lake City Troop 192 was 21-year-old Assistant Scoutmaster Howard Ricks.
Also worth mentioning: One of the speakers at the court of honor was George Albert Smith, president of the LDS church.
5. World War II hero earns Eagle at 37
Eugene B. Fluckey, later nicknamed “Lucky Fluckey,” was a decorated World War II submarine commander.
He earned the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses before earning Eagle in 1948 at age 37 in New London, Conn. (You can see the Eagle medal on his right lapel, opposite an impressive collection of military awards.)
Fluckey was personal aide to Adm. Chester W. Nimitz from 1945 to 1947, and Nimitz sent a message to be read at Fluckey’s Eagle court of honor.
Fluckey, Nimitz wrote, was a man who “symbolizes to the highest degree the courage, unselfish devotion and patriotism that is an integral part of every Boy Scout.”
“Fluckey and the Boy Scouts of America have my complete trust and admiration,” Nimitz continued. “With such men and such organizations, the future of America is assured.”
6. Man is never too old for Scouting
Charlie Dickinson of Athens, W.Va., never grew out of his enjoyment of being a Scout and earning merit badges.
As he told the Charleston Daily Mail in 1953, Scouting is “the best organization for boys there is — that’s why I’ve stayed in. A fellow never gets too old to enjoy Scouting.”
He earned Eagle in 1930 at age 22 and stayed in well after. By the time he was 44, he had earned 93 merit badges.
“I haven’t outgrown Boy Scouting in 32 years,” he said. “I don’t ever expect to — not while there are some merit badges left to get.”
7. College student becomes Eagle Scout
These days, some young men who enter college lose touch with Scouting for a few years. Fortunately, many return once they have families of their own.
But back in 1950, Eagle Scout was still within reach for 22-year-old George Fay, and he didn’t let college get in his way.
When he earned Eagle in 1950 in Joplin, Mo., Fay had already completed a degree in anthropology and history from the University of Missouri and was working on a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico.
8. Scoutmaster and successful musician earns Eagle at 55
In 1936, Harry Jones started the first Boy Scout troop for African-American boys in New Brunswick, N.J., and stayed on as Scoutmaster for more than 30 years.
Midway through his tenure, in 1952, Jones received the Eagle Scout award at age 55.
Jones found fame outside of Scouting, too. He taught himself to play the piano as a youth, and later played in clubs with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman. He also served as the organist for the Antioch Baptist Church in New Brunswick.
9. Son presents his dad with Eagle
It was something that had never before happened in Richland, Wash.
A son presented the Eagle Scout badge to his father.
That memorable moment took place in 1953 when the young man, already an Eagle himself, pinned the Eagle badge on his 38-year-old dad, Kenny Booth.
Father and son were both members of Troop 147, and the elder Booth was a few weeks away from serving as an adult volunteer at the 1953 National Scout Jamboree, held in Irvine Ranch, Calif.
10. Man gets joke in Boys’ Life, then earns Eagle
Jim Showalter, who earned Eagle at age 21 in Abilene, Texas, pulled what I’m lovingly calling “the Scouting double.”
He earned Scouting’s highest honor by getting Eagle, but before that he earned Boys’ Life‘s highest honor by getting a joke published in “Think and Grin.” (Even today, Boys’ Life readers get a special thrill from having a joke published in BL.)
Father: And there, son, is the story of your dad in World War II.
Son: Yes, dad, but why did they need the other soldiers?
Want more stories of adult Eagles?
You could spend all day exploring Williams website, adulteaglescout.com.