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CALL TO LEAD 24 BOYS FROM IDAHO BEGAN LIFELONG SCOUTING EFFORT

SHARE CALL TO LEAD 24 BOYS FROM IDAHO BEGAN LIFELONG SCOUTING EFFORT

He was a Scouter for almost 72 years. He received all three of the highest awards Scouting offers, and he was an example for young Scouts everywhere to idolize.

Yet President Ezra Taft Benson's fondest memory of Scouting didn't come with the awards or the speeches he was constantly asked to give or the admiration he inspired. It came at the beginning of a long and distinguished Scouting career when he was working with boys - the 24 boys he had been assigned to lead in southeastern Idaho's Whitney Ward.One of the experiences there that he was particularly proud of illustrates his interest and pride in being a Scoutmaster. He related it many times.

"In our great youth organization, the Mutual Improvement Association, we had various athletic and cultural activities which were competitive. Among them was the boys chorus. And each ward in the church was expected to have a boys chorus.

As Scoutmaster, President Benson was asked to lead the chorus. "I sought out the help of a good, faithful woman who could play the piano and knew some musical technique. Under her direction we started our practices. The song to be sung was the same throughout the church - `The Morning Breaks, The Shadows Flee' by Parley P. Pratt . . .

"We were successful in winning over the 11 wards, and then we were to meet the winners of six other stakes of the Cache Valley at Logan, Utah . . .

"I shall never forget approaching that great building, the tabernacle in Logan. We went inside and drew for places. And to increase and prolong our anxiety, we drew last place."

"Finally the time came that our group was to march up to the stage. And as our accompanist played `The Stars and Stripes Forever,' those 24 boys went up the aisle, formed a half-moon on the stage, and I crouched down between a couple of benches to try and give them some leadership. They sang as I'd never heard them sing and, of course - you can well appreciate I would not be telling this story had we not - won out in Logan . . .

"Monday night was Scout meeting, and shortly after the meeting opened, one of the boys reminded me that, I presume in a moment of great anxiety or weakness, I don't know which, I had promised that if we were successful in winning the contest, I would take them on a hike over the mountain 35 miles to Bear Lake in another valley. Well, of course, a promise made is a debt unpaid.

"We began planning our hike, and during the meeting one little 12-year-old raised his hand and very formally said, `Mr. Scoutmaster, I would like to make a motion.' That was a new thing in Scouting, or it was for me.

"I said, `All right, what is it?' "

"He said, `I'd like to make a motion, so we will not be bothered with combs and brushes on this trip, that we all clip our hair off.' "

"I noticed three or four of the older boys starting to squirm in their seats. They had reached that very critical age in life when they were beginning to take notice of the girls, and a clipped head, they knew, would be no asset to them with the women . . . We put the question, and it carried, with these three or four older boys dissenting."

"Then, true to form, never forgetting anything if it was to their advantage, one of the older Scouts said, `How about the Scoutmasters?' "

"It was our turn to squirm. But the following Saturday at the county seat, two Scoutmasters took their places in the barber's chair while the barber very gleefully went over each head with the clippers."

Those early spiritual and physical experiences would influence President Benson's future vision of the values that Scouting should promote. Formed officially in 1910, the organization wasn't very old when he was first called to serve as Scoutmaster of the Whitney Ward until 1921, when school and a mission call interrupted his Scouting activity for a time. It wasn't until 1930 that he again became involved in an official capacity, as a Scout commissioner, representing Scouting's National Council by delivering information from the council to the individual troops and units in his local Idaho area.

After taking a position as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmers in 1939, he moved his family to Washington, D.C., where he became a member of Scouting's National Council. It was in this capacity that his ideas were influential on the philosophy and regulations for the fast-growing organization.

The call to be an apostle in July 1943 necessitated his leaving the national post in 1944, but he was quickly assigned as a member, and later president, of the Region 12 Executive Committee, which established and regulated policies for the 11 Western states.

It was during the following seven years that his work with the Boy Scouts of America earned him the Silver Antelope, the highest award that can be given by a region of the Boy Scouts of America. He accepted the award in 1951 and went on, in 1954, to received the Silver Buffalo - the highest award given by the National Council.

In October 1961, after returning from Washington to Salt Lake City, he was named chairman of the National Rural Services Committee, which deals with all matters pertaining to Scouting in sparsely populated areas. Two months later, he became the vice chairman of the national Relationships Division Committee, which develops relationships between the Boy Scouts of America and organizations with similar philosophies throughout the country to promote Scouting and create interest in Scouting ideals.

During the same month, he was also awarded the Silver Beaver, which is the highest award a local Scout council can bestow.

Throughout his life and service to the Boy Scouts, President Benson maintained that Scouting "is established, as is our government and its constitution, upon a deeply spiritual foundation . . . Scouting emphasizes duty to God, reverence for sacred things, observance of the Sabbath, maintenance of the standards of the church with which the boy is affiliated.

"At every Scout meeting or function he says aloud, in the presence of those whose friendship he values most highly, `On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God.' It cannot help but make a deep and lasting impression upon him. It becomes the foundation upon which a noble character is built."

"The Scout Law is fundamentally spiritual. The points of the law are expressions of virtues, of ideals; they are the basis of sound character; they are the attributes from which the greatness of America has been derived; they are the characteristics which will determine the future of this nation. If they are adhered to, America will surely fulfill its destiny . . . "

"Our youth need to develop qualities of leadership. They need to learn the value of staying power - stick-to-it-iveness. They need to learn to be tolerant of people, but intolerant of untruth, of laziness, of immorality. There is a type of `broadmindedness' prevalent today that tolerates just about anything short of outright murder. It isn't broadmindedness at all - it's moral apathy, or maybe moral cowardice . . ."

"To awaken youth of this land, to rekindle in the hearts of its leaders the high ideals of Scouting is to render one of the greatest of all services to our country. To guide right these millions of eager, yearning, active youth and the many more who might be added is the mightiest of obligations."