Boyhood troop of President Gerald Ford and astronaut Roger Chaffee turns 100

Few troops can count astronauts among their alumni. Only one can say it was the troop where a future U.S. president became an Eagle Scout.

Troop 215 of Grand Rapids, Mich., can claim both.

The troop, which turns 100 on Feb. 4, 2018, was the boyhood troop of astronaut Roger Chaffee, who died in the Apollo 1 disaster, and President Gerald Ford.

Both men earned the Eagle Scout Award in Troop 215 — previously called Troop 15.

The troop’s history is so remarkable that its chartered organization, Trinity United Methodist Church, is a Michigan Historic Site.

7 things to know about Troop 215/15

1. It’s been continuously chartered for 100 years.

Troop 215 was formed Feb. 4, 1918, and has been chartered to Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids ever since. The troop is part of what’s now called the Michigan Crossroads Council.

2. It hasn’t always been called Troop 215.

The members of Troop 215 today.

Some time around the late 1940s or early 1950s — troop leaders aren’t sure — the local council renumbered all of its Scout units. All Grand Rapids-area troops were given numbers starting with 2. Troop 15 has been Troop 215 ever since.

3. President Gerald R. Ford was a member.

Before he took the oath of office as our 38th president, Gerald Ford recited the Scout Oath as a member of Troop 15.

Ford was in the troop from 1925 to 1930. He became an Eagle Scout in 1927. In 1970, when Ford was House Minority Leader, he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.

Ford became president in 1974 and died in 2006.

Read more about our only Eagle Scout president (so far) in this blog post from 2015.

4. Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee was a member.

From left: James Lovell (Apollo 8 and 13), Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), and Roger Chaffee (Apollo 1) at Philmont.

At least two-thirds of astronauts were Scouts. At least 39 selected since 1959 are Eagle Scouts.

Roger B. Chaffee is on both lists. He was a member of Troop 15 from 1947 to 1952 and became an Eagle Scout in 1951.

Chaffee didn’t stop at Eagle. He earned Bronze and Gold Eagle Palms, signifying 10 additional merit badges beyond the 21 required for Eagle.

Chaffee especially loved Boy Scout summer camp, where he learned skills in camping, cooking and outdoor living. He served one summer as assistant waterfront director, where he helped teach young Scouts how to swim.

As an astronaut, Chaffee was part of the delegation NASA sent to Philmont to study geology.

Chaffee was killed Jan. 27, 1967, during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission. Crewmates Gus Grissom and Ed White also died in the fire.

Roger Chaffee is sixth from right in this photo. From left: Pete Conrad, Buzz Aldrin, Dick Gordon, Ted Freeman, Charlie Bassett, Walt Cunningham, Neil Armstrong, Donn Eisele, Rusty Schweikhart, Jim Lovell, Mike Collins, Elliot See, Gene Cernan (behind See), Ed White, Roger Chaffee, Gordon Cooper, C.C. Williams (behind Cooper), Bill Anders, Dave Scott, Al Bean. (NASA photo via Mark Griffin.)

5. The place where Troop 215 meets is a registered historic site.

Two icons of America experienced Boy Scouting in the same building. That’s more than enough to qualify Trinity United Methodist Church as a Michigan Historic Site.

6. Troop 215 is holding a campout to celebrate its birthday.

How does a Boy Scout troop throw itself a birthday party? With a campout, of course.

Heroes on the Grand is a regionwide campout held May 4 to 6 in Grand Rapids. The campout, hosted by Troop 215 and the Michigan Crossroads Council, is the first campout in 50 years at the city’s historic Riverside Park.

Scouts will hike 3 miles on the Gerald Ford Historic Trail, visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum and experience the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium.

7. Gerald Ford was part of the first Governor’s Honor Guard on Mackinac Island.

Gerald R. Ford (left) holds the flag as he and his fellow members of the Eagle Scout Guard of Honor prepare to raise the colors over Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island State Park, Mich. The troop served as guides during the summer months of 1929.

Gerald Ford was part of the very first Governor’s Honor Guard on Mackinac Island — officially called the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp.

In August 1929, eight Eagle Scouts, including Ford, raised and lowered the flags on the Island, welcomed tourists at the fort and other historic buildings, and participated in service projects.

The tradition continues to this day, with up to 60 Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts participating each week. Two Troop 215 Scouts were members of the Honor Guard in 2017.

The Scouts’ duties are basically the same as they were in 1929. They also have free time to bike the island, shop downtown, play games and eat fudge.

Scouting magazine wrote about this cool tradition back in 2005.

Two Troop 215 Scouts were members of the 2017 Governor’s Honor Guard.

Special thanks: Thanks to Bonnie Czuhajewski and Don Shepard for the blog information.