As he scrolled through the hundreds of Eagle Scout service project photos collected in this blog’s popular Eagle Before & After series, Ron Matuska had two thoughts.
The first: “I’ve enjoyed and been amazed by many of the Eagle Scout projects.”
And the second: “Sometimes I wonder what I would have done for my project if it had been required back in 1963.”
Matuska became an Eagle Scout in 1963 as a member of Troop 2 of Elizabeth, N.J., part of the Union Council (now known as the Patriots’ Path Council).
He missed by two years the debut of the toughest requirement on the trail to Scouting’s highest rank: the Eagle Scout service project.
Prospective Eagle Scouts had been asked to demonstrate a “record of satisfactory service” since 1927. And in 1952, they were instructed to “do your best to help in your home, school, church or synagogue, and community” — an ambiguous instruction, to be sure.
But on Oct. 1, 1965, the Eagle rank was forever changed when a requirement was added to plan, develop and carry out a service project helpful to the church, synagogue, school or community. (In 1972, the requirement to “give leadership to others” was added.)
That means that, as much as it is synonymous with the Eagle Scout rank today, the Eagle project has only been around for 56 years — about half of the award’s existence.
‘Leading and organizing’
Even though he never had to complete an Eagle project himself, Matuska sees the requirement’s value.
“The Eagle project gives the Scout experience in leading and organizing outside of the group he or she normally is associated with,” Matuska says. “Instead of other Scouts, the project forces the candidate to work with the community in general.”
And what if the timing had worked out differently and Matuska had to complete an Eagle project as a young man?
“That’s a tough question and one I’ve thought about,” he says. “Most likely a project for my church, or perhaps something for a local park. I would choose these because they might have a better chance of being maintained over time.”
An evolving award
They called it the “Revised Boy Scout Advancement Plan.” But “revision” might have been too tame a term.
Effective Oct. 1, 1965, Scouts faced a “more rugged road of Scout skills” to help prepare them for whatever life would bring.
The changes were extensive:
- A Scoutmaster conference was added for each rank.
- Requirements for hiking and camping were emphasized.
- Each rank required the Scout to serve in a position of responsibility, such as patrol leader, senior patrol leader, quartermaster, etc.
- Star and Life candidates were required to complete two projects for each rank: a conservation project and a more general community service project.
- Eagle candidates were required to complete just one service project, but it could not come from the council-approved list.
Let’s talk more about those last two bullet points.
The service projects for Star, Life and Eagle needed to be helpful to the Scout’s “church, synagogue, school or community.”
For the Star and Life ranks, that project could come from a list of council-approved ideas — efforts like repainting city trash cans, raising and lowering the flag at school for 30 days, or cleaning community cemeteries.
But the project for the Eagle Scout rank had two added twists:
- It had to be the Scout’s idea from start to finish — not something from the approved council list.
- Scouts had to “plan and develop that project” all by themselves.
That means that on Oct. 1, 1965, the Eagle Scout service project was officially born.
(Read more about the history of the Eagle Scout Award from the National Eagle Scout Association.)
Hypothetical Eagle projects
Between 1912 and 1965, exactly 515,273 Eagle Scout Awards were presented. That means more than 500,000 young men became Eagle Scouts without completing a formal Eagle project.
That group includes my dad and former Scoutmaster, Don Wendell.
I got a text message from my dad after we shared this post on Facebook asking anyone who earned Eagle before Oct. 1, 1965, to share their hypothetical Eagle project.
My dad earned the Eagle Scout Award on May 12, 1965, as part of Explorer Post 6 of Sherman, Texas, part of the Sherman Area Council (now the Circle Ten Council).
He missed the Eagle Scout project requirement by less than five months. But the post got him thinking about what kind of project he might have done.
It seems like my dad would follow the advice he later gave me and several of my Scouting friends: pick a project that’s close to your heart.
“My dad had a business where he built and refinished furniture,” he says. “In junior high and high school, I worked for him during the summers, and he taught me woodworking skills. With that in mind, my project would probably have involved building something with wood.”
That might have meant building wooden puzzles, a storage chest and/or a display cabinet for the Sherman Public Library.
“I would’ve worked with and provided leadership to members of my post in carrying out the project,” he says.
What would your project have been?
If you earned the Eagle Scout rank before everything changed on Oct. 1, 1965, what might your project have been — and why? Share your comments below.
We’d also love to hear from readers who were never Scouts or who aren’t Eagle Scouts. Thinking back on your own teenage years, what type of Eagle project would’ve brought you the most fulfillment?