Chuck Eaton was a 17-year-old camp staffer when he got news no teenager should face.
It was the summer of 1987 at T.L. Storer Scout Reservation in New Hampshire. It was a Wednesday.
Eaton had changed out of his Scout uniform and was waiting for his mom to pick him up.
“My dad was sick, and the doctors thought he would die soon,” Eaton says. “By Thursday morning, he was gone.”
What happened next is something Eaton will never forget. It illustrates the power of Scouting to unite strangers and make the world better.
And it’s a big reason that Eaton has devoted his career to Scouting. He’s now the Scout Executive of the BSA’s Spirit of Adventure Council, which serves the Boston area. Now he’s helping a new generation of Scouts discover their Scout Spirit.
‘It all happened so quick’
It was the fifth week of summer camp, 1987.
On Tuesday, Eaton was wearing a Scout uniform teaching Scouts how to rappel. On Friday, he was wearing a suit and tie shaking hands with distant relatives and people he didn’t recognize.
“It all happened so quick,” Eaton says.
Eaton’s sisters were popular and had friends who would hug them and cry with them.
“I had no such break,” Eaton says. “I was not popular in high school. All my friends were Scouts, and they were at camp.”
‘I was in a daze’
The day of the funeral arrived, and Eaton and his family were seated in the front row.
Still stunned from the week’s events, Eaton found his mind wandering to Storer Scout Reservation. The camp was just 80 miles from Boston, but that felt like 800.
“I was in a daze, and honestly, I just wanted to get back to the wilderness and the culture of camp,” Eaton says. “It broke my heart not to be able to share any of this with my friends.
“The physical distance between camp and Boston never seemed so far away. I felt so alone.”
After the funeral service, Eaton, his mom and two sisters followed the casket out of the church.
“We clung to each other,” Eaton says. “I tried to walk bravely and hold back tears.”
‘I was overwhelmed’
Eaton looked up, expecting to see a bunch of his dad’s friends. Instead, he saw pretty much the entire camp staff — the reservation director, camp directors, program directors, waterfront directors, ropes course director.
He saw dozens of his fellow youth staffers, too.
“I almost didn’t recognize them at first, because everyone was wearing a suit and tie instead of our omnipresent uniform,” he says. “As my eyes scanned and I recognized just how many camp staff had come back to be with me, I was overwhelmed. It meant so much to me.”
The tears began to flow as Eaton realized what kind of support system Scouting had provided.
After the burial at Saint Joe’s Cemetery, everyone arrived at Eaton’s grandmother’s house. That’s when Eaton had a realization. If all of his fellow staff members are here, he wondered, who is running camp?
Eaton walked over to camp director Rick Martin and asked the question.
“Thirty years later, Rick’s answer still brings tears to my eyes,” Eaton says.
‘Love, generosity and Scout Spirit’
Martin told Eaton that the staff made a phone tree and called all the Scoutmasters who weren’t in camp that week. Martin asked them whether they’d be willing to come out and help run the camp so the regular staff could attend the funeral.
“That meant 40 men from all over greater Boston took two extra days off from work and drove up to New Hampshire, so all my friends and mentors could come back to Boston to be with me,” Eaton says.
The Scoutmasters, plus a few camp staffers who stayed behind, ran the camp for 12 hours. They taught swimming, outdoor cooking and rock climbing. They made it work, because it was the right thing to do.
“Many of these men had hourly jobs. Many, probably all, of them already committed a week of vacation for the Scouts in their troop,” Eaton says. “Now they took another day or two for a 17-year-old staff member they probably barely knew.
“To me, there has never been a better example of community, love, generosity and Scout Spirit.”