What do Gerald Ford, Steven Spielberg and John Tesh have in common? All three went through the Boy Scouts of America program and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Eagle Scout is the highest rank that can be attained in scouts and the process of earning that rank is lengthy and involved.
Last year was the centennial year of the Eagle Scout Award and 57, 979 scouts earned their Eagle rank, the highest number ever. About 7 percent of all boy scouts earned the Eagle Scout rank in 2012.
An Eagle project is not really about the scout getting in and getting their hands dirty and doing the hands-on work. It’s more about assuming a leadership role in the project. “The scout writes out the in-depth procedure so that the project could be done even if that scout isn’t there,” said Russ Loquist, Scoutmaster of Lansing Troop 271 and clerk at the Scout Store in Munster. Besides writing an overall plan with projected financial needs and timetables, the scout assembles a team of volunteers to complete the project and oversees their work.
After a scout comes up with an idea that meets the approval of the beneficiary, the scoutmaster and a troop committee, it is then reviewed by an advancement specialist to make sure no one is doing the same project, said Loquist. “They don’t duplicate and they don’t share. So you can’t co-chair a project.” After approval comes a multi-page proposal with a basic idea, a rough budget and a schedule.
Local projects in recent years have run the gamut from erecting a historical marker to building picnic tables to a creative project Loquist recalled where a scout designed a digital map in an old Lake County cemetery with gravesites mapped out with GPS coordinates making them easier to be located. “One made benches and a kneeler outside next to a statue at St. Ann Church. There are a variety of them all over town,” said Loquist.
Loquist is the father of two sons. One did an Eagle project of installing rubberized pavers and a bike rack at Lansing Presbyterian Church. His younger son just got his project approved and is working on writing his plan. “Hopefully this fall he will be making some benches for the Lansing Youth Center,” said Loquist.
Ruben Davila is in Boy Scout Troop 271 and in the process of earning his Eagle rank. He is now looking for lumber suppliers and working out financial details. He is planning to build several outdoor benches for LARC, a Lansing organization that has a workshop for adults with developmental disabilities.
“I’ve always wanted to do something for people who have mental and physical disabilities," Davila said. "I had a person in my family who became handicapped and ever since then I have a different attitude. I have a soft spot for that. That’s what got me to want to do something for LARC."
Davila said he talked to representatives from LARC to figure out something he could do to help them out and the suggestion was made that they could use outdoor benches for LARC’s clients to sit on when they are outside during their breaks. It was a fitting project for Davila since he likes woodworking. “My grandpa is a carpenter, and I’ve helped him out with stuff since I was little,” he said.
Zach Yovich is now a college freshman, but last year he completed his Eagle Scout project as a senior at Andrean High School just before turning 18, which is the cut-off date for completing Eagle rank requirements.
Yovich obtained a refurbished a 100-year-old farm wagon that was donated to Sandridge Nature Center in South Holland for use during their annual Heritage Festival. “He wanted to do something that was a stand-out project, and he always loved to tinker, from the time he was little,” said his mom, Marianne Yovich. She said that the entire process took about two years. “The wood was in our garage and had to cure for over six months,” she said.
The project also entailed having the wheels refurbished and having a canvas cover made. “After the fact, I am very proud of him. Along the way it was making me very nervous because of the magnitude of the project, the cost and all that went into it. It seemed like a monumental task.”
Kyle Bergfors took on the project of sprucing up the Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, where he has relatives buried. He said he also selected the site because of the large number of military veterans buried there.
Improvements included adding pea gravel, bricks and stepping stones at a flagpole in the middle of the cemetery and at an area where there is a water spigot for watering. He said he also built a wood box to hold water containers.
A scout since second grade, Bergfors said he wanted to earn Eagle rank “because it’s the highest rank that a boy scout can achieve. Many people don’t do Eagle projects, so it’s a small percentage that get that rank.”
He said he has continued with scouts all these years because “it is a way to meet new people, make friends and do a lot of things that other people don’t get to do.”
Sue Morris of Schererville is the Advancement Specialist for the Thunderbird District, which covers several communities in Indiana and into Illinois, which include Highland, St. John, Lansing, East Chicago and others, and she has seen many creative projects in the five years she has been in the position. “We have to make sure they can show leadership and that they can supervise several people,” said Morris.
The leadership is shown not just in all of the research and planning, but in leading a group in doing the required work. “You need volunteers, but they don’t have to be scouts,” said Loquist. “They can be adults from your beneficiary organization or youths from school.”
Morris said that the work isn’t done when the project is done. It then goes through her after completion and an Eagle board of review is set up. “I really enjoy working the best of the best,” she said. “These are the top of the scouts. They are really, really good young men.”