Dave Alexander and his parents were standing on their front lawn watching Neil Armstrong drive away.
They thought to themselves: Did that just happen?
The year was 1959 — 10 years before the Eagle Scout landed on the moon and became a household name.
For Alexander, who was 14 at the time, the meeting with Armstrong took on more and more significance as time passed. On July 20, 1969, the impact of this encounter reached beyond the exosphere.
“Think about that,” Alexander told me by phone last month. “Neil Armstrong coming to your home.”
But that’s not to say the Armstrong-Alexander meeting wasn’t impactful on that California night. I mean, what 14-year-old wouldn’t get a thrill at meeting someone who piloted the X-15 rocket plane, an aircraft that could reach the edge of outer space at speeds approaching 4,000 mph?
Alexander made quite a name for himself in the 59 years since his Armstrong encounter. He founded Phoenix-based Caljet of America LLC, which receives petroleum products, blends fuel and loads tanker trucks for delivery to retail stations and commercial fueling facilities. The Eagle Scout is an accomplished triathlete, a skilled magician and a philanthropist whose generosity has helped the Summit Bechtel Reserve flourish.
But it’s safe to say Alexander’s passion for Scouting was launched into orbit when the Eagle Scout met the other Eagle Scout.
Pilot and co-pilot
In 1959, Alexander was Armstrong’s guest — or was it the other way around? — at the Long Beach Area Council’s annual Century Club event.
The event honored that year’s Eagle Scouts and gave the youngsters a chance to hear from an inspirational speaker.
Each local businessman who donated $100 to the council was linked up with an Eagle Scout for the evening. The businessman picked the Scout up, drove him to the event, talked with him the during dinner, and then drove him home.
“I was called and asked if the keynote speaker, an X-15 pilot, could be my host,” Alexander says. “I was thrilled and said, ‘of course.'”
It was a fitting pairing. Alexander and Armstrong each gave speeches that night. Though Armstrong’s remarks were the draw, Alexander commanded the audience’s attention, too.
This is something his classmates at Lindbergh Junior High School could’ve predicted. Just read what Alexander’s teacher wrote about him on Nov. 10, 1959:
“He has tremendous poise before an audience,” she wrote. “In all my teaching years — some 38 — David would stand at the top.”
Alexander remembers sitting at the head table next to Armstrong and chatting with him throughout the night.
“He even autographed my program,” Alexander says. “After the event and a long line of Scouts and other guests seeking autographs, he took me home. After saying goodnight to my parents and me, he drove off into the darkness.”
‘Statues and monuments’
In 1960, Alexander wrote a 200-word essay on why he believed he should be selected to represent the BSA during the annual Report to the Nation trip to Washington, D.C. (This was back when Scouts applied, via their council, for the honor. Today, delegates are nominated by their local council.)
Though Alexander was not selected, his essay — written during the BSA’s 50th anniversary year — is enlightening.
He writes about his Scouting journey, which began as a Cub Scout in Pack 69 and continued into Troop 113, where he became an Eagle Scout.
“I have attained Scouting’s highest rank, much pleasure and much knowledge that will help me in later life,” he wrote.
He goes on about his new passion for collecting coins, which was inspired by his father’s “numismatic interest.” But my favorite part of Alexander’s essay was the final paragraph, which included these prescient words:
“Now this is the 50th anniversary of Scouting in the United States — 50 wonderful years of fun and camping and study,” he writes. “Statues and monuments will be raised in honor of those who started the whole thing. But ahead lies 50 more years of Scouting.”
Could Alexander have known nearly six decades ago that he would be one of those Scouting pioneers immortalized in a statue? That a statue of him would be raised to honor his commitment to this movement?
‘An action figure’
An 8-foot bronze statue of Alexander was unveiled in June at Dave Alexander Low Gear — a mountain biking venue at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
Though the statue is stationary, it’s hardly static. It depicts Alexander zooming along on a bicycle as he races in a triathlon. Alexander once completed 30 triathlons in 30 weeks in a row and has worked to promote the sport around the world.
When he was asked what kind of statue might best symbolize him, Alexander knew he didn’t want to be shown wearing a suit and tie.
“I want the kids to relate to me,” he told the artist. “I want to be an action figure.”
As the BSA charges on into its second century, many of Scouting’s activities have evolved. The world-class mountain biking trails at the Summit Bechtel Reserve that bear Alexander’s name are a perfect example.
But the “fun and camping and study” that he wrote about haven’t changed.
That’s still why young people get hooked on Scouting. That’s still why parents choose Scouting for their sons and daughters as a way to strengthen their character and build a better tomorrow.
And that’s still why we need people like Alexander to help us get there.