Chippewa Herald * November 20, 2006  

Eagle Scouts are a special breed

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

"Webster's dictionary describes an eagle as a large bird of prey with powerful wings, famous for its strength, size, grace, and keen vision. It is the national emblem for the United States. Though the eagle is found throughout the world, it is never found in abundance; it is always rare and it is always a superb specimen."

"In the Boy Scouts of America, the eagle stands for strength of character, and for knowledge of all phases of Scouting. The eagle represents an understanding and deep respect for community and nation. The eagle is a symbol of what a young man has done as well as what that young man will do, and will be, when he grows to manhood. The eagle is a leader. The eagle is respected, both by his peers and by his adult leaders."

"The EAGLE SCOUT AWARD is the highest award available to youth members of the Boy Scouts of America. It is a recognition by the National Court of Honor, presented through the local council and a local court of honor."

So goes one of the readings at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

I remember the very first meeting of our new troop in Chippewa Falls, Troop 72, on March 19, 2001. We told the assembled boys that only 2% of those who join Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts. But maybe some day one of them in that room would make it!

Five and a half years and about fifty Scouts later, one young man did. I had the honor and privilege of presiding over our troop's first Eagle Scout Court of Honor (ECOH) on Sunday, October 29, for my very own son, Ben Arneberg.

It was a lot of work learning how to do an ECOH. Not only had our troop never hosted one, I had never even seen one -- and now, as Scoutmaster, I was in charge of one.

Scouting did play a big part in my boyhood. In fact, I climbed all the way up to the Life Scout rank, one rung below Eagle. I had only two more merit badges to earn, then the much-feared Eagle Project. But I had three years to do it.

Then I started high school. I was cast in the fall musical, so I temporarily stepped aside as Senior Patrol Leader of my troop. It was only for a couple months.

But then I also made it into the winter one-act plays. Scouting could wait until spring. March, however, found me practicing with the tennis team every day. By the time summer came around, I had my first job at a restaurant.

The cycle continued, and before I knew it, I was 18 -- past the deadline to work on Eagle Scout requirements.

My story is repeated millions of times around the country. Many boys' lives are molded by Scouting, but few follow through to break into the lofty ranks of Eagle Scouts.

For a while, I thought Ben would follow in my footsteps. He was having trouble thinking of an Eagle project to do, then he started at Chi-Hi, where his life was consumed with AP classes, driver's ed, work, basketball, marching band, tennis, track, and church youth group.

But Ben persevered and eventually discovered the perfect Eagle project for him. Standing six-foot-one and sporting size-12 shoes, he doesn't exactly have the delicate hands of a surgeon. So he wasn't confident about the typical Eagle project of building something.

With the help of Richard Smith, Director of the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, Ben learned of a need for a new segment of the Ice Age Trail near Cornell. Hikers had to walk a mile on a road between a lake and the Chippewa River. Plans were underway to create a new trail to the west of the lake, allowing hikers to avoid the road and enjoy a new section of Brunet Island State Park.

This project was perfect for Ben, since the only fine motor skills required were thrashing and destroying everything in his path! He organized work groups to clear all trees and plants from a four-foot-wide swath through the woods for one mile. Other teams followed in later months to fine-tune the trail.

Smith spoke at the Eagle Court of Honor, along with several other people involved in Ben's life. One of the moving moments was when Assistant Scoutmaster Glenn Woods unveiled his original Norman Rockwell print of a Boy Scout. It was given to him by Colonel Sanders himself (yes, from Kentucky Fried Chicken) when Glenn became an Eagle Scout in Kentucky in 1972. Glenn has had it hanging above his bed for 34 years, and he was giving his treasure to Ben to pass on the legacy. Wow.

When we got home that night, exhausted but glowing, I saw my daughter Alison slip a dollar bill to my son Jasper. It turns out she lost a bet -- she was certain her dad would cry on stage.

What she didn't know was that I was able to shape the script to my advantage. I did all my emceeing in the first half of the ceremony. Once the slide show started, followed by the actual presentation of the Eagle Award, I sat in the front pew and didn't have to say a word. My plan worked.

By the way, in case it's not obvious: Ben, I am very proud of you.


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