Closing Out NESA@NOAC

When Donald Cunningham heard last summer that the National Eagle Scout Association was contemplating a one-off anniversary event in Dallas for this month, he called OA Chairman Ray Capp. Capp in turn called NESA President Glenn Adams with a simple proposal: “Have your party at our house.” 

Over the last 12 months, that “party” evolved into a major NESA presence at NOAC, including an arena show, dinner for 800, three classes, visits by seven VIP Eagle Scouts, and much, much more. While things didn’t always go perfectly – Cunningham answered at least 200 emails this summer from people who couldn’t squeeze into last night’s NESA dinner – the week was a great success. “We set goals in Dallas nine months ago, and I think we’ve met those and exceeded those,” said Conference Vice Chief Ethan Fowler, the youth leader in charge of NESA@NOAC.

A key goal was focusing on the younger Eagle Scouts (and future Eagles) at NOAC. Judging by reactions to the NESA@NOAC arena show, that goal was reached. “After the show, I talked to some adults, and they were like, ‘The panelists were boring,’” Ethan said. “Then, I talked to kids and younger guys at section gatherings, and they loved it.”

NESA Director Bill Steele was thrilled with the success of NESA@NOAC. “Wow! What a great idea this was,” he said. “This has been beyond our expectations.”

While this year’s celebration was prompted by the 100th anniversary of Eagle Scouts, Steele is already thinking about the next NOAC, scheduled for 2015. “We’ll be back,” he said. “I think there will be a presence of NESA at NOAC from now on — way more than ever before.”

NESA@NOAC couldn’t have happened without the leadership of Ethan Fowler and Donald Cunningham and without the hard work of the entire NESA@NOAC team. Sincere thanks go out to the individuals, Eagle Scouts all:


Michael Cox II

Donald Cunningham

Ethan Fowler

Seth Hald

Nicholas Haussler

Tyler Henningsen

Chandlir Miller

Sean Murray

Joseph Pascarella

John Severino

David Steinkruger

Kieran Thompson

NESA Committee

Glenn Adams, President

Rick Bragga

David Briscoe

Clark Fetridge

Marshall Hollis

Michael Manyak

Todd Plotner

Pete Sessions

Jonathan Hillis, 2011 National Chief

Bill Steele, Director

Marking 100 Years of Eagle Scouts at the NESA@NOAC Dinner

The NESA@NOAC experience ended last evening with a special dinner celebrating 100 years of Eagle Scouts. Some 800 Scouts and Scouters crammed into the Kellogg Center’s banquet hall to look back and to look forward. In fact, the theme of the BSA’s 100th Anniversary two years ago — Celebrating the Adventure, Continuing the Journey — applied to every aspect of the dinner.

During his remarks, NESA Director Bill Steele talked about Joseph Csatari’s new Eagle Scout painting, commissioned by NESA for the Eagle Scout anniversary. Steele explained how the painting was intended to echo the feeling of such iconic paintings as Norman Rockwell’s “The Scoutmaster,” but to reflect Scouting of today. To that end, he said, he made sure Csatari included a Nalgene bottle and a spring-loaded trekking pole, not a canteen and a wooden hiking staff.

Steele also talked about NESA’s new emphasis on helping a greater percentage of boys become Eagle Scouts. “Four percent of those who join the Boy Scouts reach the rank of Eagle. Four percent,” he said. “When we have our October committee meeting, I’m going to suggest that we establish a goal. Let’s say we up that to six percent, and we look down the road at 10 percent. And why not 50 percent?”

The keynote speakers for the evening were Dr. Michael Manyak, who was profiled here on Friday, and Alvin Townley, the author of Legacy of Honor and Spirit of Adventure, books that explore what it means to be an Eagle Scout and what legacy Eagle Scouts are leaving. The latter book focuses on younger Eagle Scouts such as those who participated in the NESA@NOAC arena show on Wednesday night.

In his research for that book, Townley said, “I found a group of people absolutely as committed as any other generation has been before to living adventures with a greater purpose. I can tell you that Scouting’s future is bright because there’s a new generation that’s carrying the torch into this second century.”

But then Townley challenged the Eagle Scouts in attendance to carry the torch as well, to work on the local level to strengthen and expand Scouting. With the enthusiasm of a staff member in a summer-camp dining hall, he led the crowd in a simple pledge: “We are Scouting’s future.”

One representative of Scouting’s future at the dinner was Alex Turner (right), a 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., who became an Eagle Scout just 11 months ago. By chance, Alex was seated next to Charles Lott, the 1934 Eagle Scout featured here on Thursday.

After the dinner, Alex said he’d enjoyed hearing about Manyak’s expeditions and seeing so many Eagle Scouts. “I didn’t know there were so many famous people who were Eagle Scouts,” he said. “It tells you that Eagle Scouts can go far.”

They can indeed, Alex. They can indeed.

Eagle Scout Spotlight: Buey Tut and Clay Courts

On the surface, Buey Tut and Clay Courts could not be less alike. Tut was born into a family of Sudanese subsistence farmers who fled to America in the late 1990s. Courts was born into an Atlanta family whose investment company was launched in 1925.

But these different men from different worlds share one thing in common: the Eagle Scout Award. And as Eagle Scouts, they are changing their worlds for the better. Two men, two worlds, one badge.

Buey Tut 
Tut joined Scouting when fellow Sudanese refugee Jacob Khol invited him to a meeting. The pitch was simple: “They talk about a lot of character-development stuff, and you get to play basketball.” But Omaha’s Troop 33 offered more than basketball; it offered a refuge from the dingy and dangerous Wintergreen Apartments, where Africans like Tut were constantly harassed. “For us to get to go somewhere on Saturday afternoons where it was safe, where nobody bothered us, where nobody called us names, was just amazing,” he said.

In Troop 33, Tut learned about leadership and service and the responsibility to give back to his community. For his Eagle Scout project, he worked on a trail in Hummel Park, a favorite troop destination. He refurbished the first half of the trail, while Khol did the second half.

Six years ago, the friends decided to give back to another community: their homeland. They created Aqua-Africa, a nonprofit organization that digs wells in South Sudanese villages and, perhaps as importantly, teaches local people how to manage them. Aqua-Africa drilled three wells in 2011 and plans to drill six more this year. That means 4,500 people will soon have access to clean drinking water without hiking a mile or more to a water source, something Khol did frequently as a child.

But Tut’s plans extend beyond Aqua-Africa. “My goal is to got back to South Sudan, whether in the private sector or the public sector, and help bring change,” he said. “I hope at some point I gain enough experience and knowledge to where I can be of use.”

Of course, if you ask people in villages like Langabu, they will tell you he’s already doing just that.

Clay Courts 
As a member of Troop 74 in Atlanta, Clay Courts fell in love with the outdoors, and especially with kayaking. After spending his first year out of college as a securities analyst — basically sitting in a closet copying annual reports into Excel — he was ready for a change. (“I was like, ‘Check, please,” he recalled.)

So Courts sold his car, sold his kayak, and embarked with a friend on what became a two-year ’round-the-world high-adventure trip. They slept in their car, survived on ramen noodles, and worked as day laborers to get by. They visited New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, Morocco, England, Holland, Spain, and Egypt. And everywhere they hiked, camped, kayaked, surfed, and soaked up the local culture. When the money ran out, they came home.

After working in real-estate development for about seven years, Courts founded the private-equity firm Five Stand Capital. Its second acquisition was Nantahala Outdoor Center, an extremely popular North Carolina kayaking and rafting destination. Each year, the center serves some 1.1 million people, including families, Scout troops, elite athletes, and professionals taking courses such as wilderness first aid to swift-water rescue.

So what does owning an adventure outfitter have to do with service? Two things at least.

First, Courts said while NOC is popular with Scouts, it has never really catered to Scouts. So he’s working to create Scouting-specific programs that combined rafting, merit-badge classes, housing, and meals.

Second, and more importantly, Courts sees an opportunity to serve his hundreds of seasonal employees, who have strong outdoors skills but haven’t all been exposed to Scouting values such as servant leadership. So he’s started recruiting people for his staff that he knows have strong Scouting backgrounds. “I’d love to bring Eagle Scouts in, put them in different parts of the company, and just let them lead by example,” he said. “I have an opportunity to change the culture a little bit.”

Courts also works with the Scoutreach program in Atlanta, which introduces inner-city kids to Scouting. Most recently, he convinced The North Face to outfit an entire Atlanta troop with its best gear. “These inner-city kids are wearing Summit-series stuff; they’re ready to tackle Everest,” he said.

I saw Tut and Courts today at NOAC’s Founder’s Day Fair. They were talking about holding an Aqua-Africa in Atlanta — and planning a side trip to the Nantahala.

Two men, two worlds, one badge.

All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Photo of the Day: Aug. 3
Scouts take a breather—with a chicken friend—while visiting booths, playing games, and meeting other Arrowmen during last night’s Hodag event at NOAC.

Photo of the Day (Bonus!): Aug. 3
At the NESA@NOAC tent during Hodag, Eagle Scouts could take commemorative photos after visiting with other Scouts at the Eagle Scout Reunion area.

Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr.


Eagle Scout Profile: Dr. Michael Manyak

Dr. Michael Manyak has visited the Titanic in a deep-water submersible. He has served as medical officer on an Antarctic expedition. He has traveled to Africa’s Great Rift Valley with the Smithsonian. And he has scuba-dived in waters from the Philippines to Mongolia. 

So what’s his latest adventure? Serving on the NESA Committee.

Like many Eagle Scouts, Manyak lost touch with Scouting during college and medical school and as he began building a career. In fact, he had been disconnected from the program for some 35 years when he received a letter saying the BSA wanted to name a subcamp after him at the 2005 National Scout Jamboree. (Each subcamp that year was named for an explorer.)

“I was totally blown away by that,” Manyak said at NOAC yesterday. “What a huge honor. That’s something I’d never contemplated.”

Manyak visited his subcamp that summer and loved the experience. “I really, really liked talking to these young men,” he said. “They were looking up to me for what I’ve done, and I was looking up to them because of what they were doing now.”

Five years later, Manyak returned to the jamboree – this time to give a speech on behalf of NESA – and mentioned to NESA Director Bill Steele that he’d be happy to do more for the organization. Steele told him to be careful what he wished for and promptly recruited him for the NESA Committee.

Not surprisingly, Manyak’s main interest in NESA relates to exploration. “Bill and I are working on special projects like the Scout going to the Black Sea with Bob Ballard,” he said. “We’re trying to get one to go to Antarctica next year. I’ve got some other ideas, too. I think we could do some paleoanthropology in Africa with the Smithsonian.”

He’d also like to build a stronger connection between Scouting and The Explorers Club, a prestigious organization to which both he and Steele belong. “I would like to find out how many Eagles we have in The Explorers Club,” he said. “There are some, I know, and probably more than I suspect.”

In the years since Manyak reconnected with Scouting, he’s come to realize just how much the program has shaped his life. “You don’t always recognize the benefit of having done something like becoming an Eagle Scout until later on,” he said. On reflection, he’s realized the many ways Scouting prepared him for later life.

For example, his enjoyment of First Aid merit badge fueled his interest in becoming a doctor. And during high school, the fact that he was an Eagle Scout who was interested in medicine led to a fateful ride-along experience on an ambulance. The ambulance company had a paramedic call in sick, so the owner pressed Manyak into service – even though his only training had been in Scouting. “That night I had one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in medicine, a very bad suicide with a shotgun,” he said. “I was the guy who had to go in and help clean up. They all said, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ve seen of Mike.’”

They were wrong, however. He returned and continued working on ambulances all through college.

Another fateful experience led to his interest in expedition medicine, which has taken him around the world. Right after medical school, he was on a dive trip in the Philippines when his boat discovered survivors from the wreck of an inter-island ferry.

“We were the first people to come across them,” he said. “They were five miles from shore being washed out to sea.”

One group of 13 survivors had been floating in a partially submerged life raft for eight hours. The three adults in the raft had been taking turns holding an eight-month-old baby up in the air to keep it above the waves. “That was a religious experience,” he said.

Manyak’s preparation for his many adventures stemmed in part from what he learned in Troop 319 in Flint, Mich. “You have to be prepared, and you have to be really diligent. You have to really want to accomplish something,” he said. “That starts in Scouting, and it really stays with you the rest of your life. You may not realize it, but it’s there.” —Mark Ray

Photo by John R. Fulton

A Grand Time at the Grand Hodag

What has the head of a frog, the face of an elephant, the back of a dinosaur, a long spear-tipped tail, and thick short legs? A hodag, of course. This mythical creature was the namesake of last night’s Grand Hodag, a sort of county fair held on MSU’s Munn Field. 

The name was apt because of the wide array of activities spread across the 11-acre field. Some Arrowmen competed in cornhole, ladder golf, and bocce ball. Some jousted (right) in a giant inflatable ring. Some took aim at national officers in a dunk tank. Some traded patches or rocked out to a cover band called The Vintage. Some ran through the field carrying lodge banners or strolled around in costumes representing their OA lodges.

NESA@NOAC was there, of course. A steady stream of Arrowmen came through the NESA tent to grab swag — beach balls, T-shirts, shoelaces, Mardi Gras beads, and more — and to get the autographs of VIP Eagle Scouts. Four speakers from Wednesday night’s NESA@NOAC show were on hand, along with Alvin Townley and Michael Manyak, the keynote speakers for this evening’s NESA@NOAC dinner. 

Bryan Richardson of Tamegonit Lodge in Kansas City echoed the thoughts of many visitors to the NESA@NOAC tent (right). “I love to meet famous people who are Eagle Scouts,” he said. “It definitely tells me I can go and do great things.”

Bryan is an Eagle Scout, but many of the visitors are not. Cameron Wright of Kawida Lodge in Kentucky is still four merit badges and a service project away, but he fully intends to reach Scouting’s pinnacle. “It opens a lot of doors and gives you opportunities,” the 14-year-old said. “Some schools offer scholarships if you are an Eagle Scout.”

The lines were long all evening at the NESA@NOAC tent. In fact, only one attraction seemed more popular. Across the field, a line of Scouts snaked back and forth like they were queuing up to ride a rollercoaster. At the head of the line was Miss Michigan, Angela Venditti, who was chatting with Scouts and posing for pictures.

One Scout, Reed Johnson of Pa-Hin lodge in North Dakota, traded sashes with Venditti (above) before posing. “The guys in front of me mentioned it, but I was the only one actually brave enough to do it,” he said.

A Scout is brave indeed.

An Eagle Scout from the Greatest Generation

Eagle Scouts are everywhere on the Michigan State campus, even among non-NOAC participants. When East Lansing resident Charles Lott, 92, heard that NOAC was in town, he stopped by to say hello. An information-booth staffer brought him to the NESA@NOAC office this morning, and we sat down for a chat.

Lott grew up in South Bend, Ind., and became an Eagle Scout in 1934. “We didn’t have a project in those days,” he said. “You just made 21 merit badges, and you got your Eagle.” He actually did much better than that, however, earning a total of 39 badges.

Charles Lott, 92, visited the NESA office at NOAC, where he met with Ethan Fowler, NOAC vice chief.

After becoming an Eagle Scout, Lott served on camp staff in Michigan. In those days, initiations were common for new staff members. Today, fortunately, all forms of hazing are forbidden in Scouting.

“The initiation in those days was pretty tough,” he said. “Our waterfront leader was an All-American tackle at Notre Dame, and he knew how to wield that paddle!”

Lott’s college career was interrupted by World War II. He supported the war effort as a tool-and-die designer for a year and a half before he was drafted in 1943 and became an engineer with the U.S. Army Amphibious Command. His company shipped out three days before Christmas 1943 for the South Pacific, where they served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. At first, they ferried LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) around New Guinea and New Britain, then they did ship-to-shore equipment transfers in the Philippines. “The Japanese would pester us at dawn or dark, but they were going for the big ships,” he said. “They didn’t care about us little guys.”

After the war, Lott resumed his college career, earning a civil-engineering degree from Purdue University in 1948. He spent his career as a bridge-design engineer and retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation in 1985.

Lott served as a Cubmaster for a year in Jacksonville, Fla., and then led Troop 12 in East Lansing from 1959 to 1981. “In my 22 years here, I managed to get 14 Eagles,” he said. “My predecessors had 14 Eagles ahead of me, and I added 14 to that.”

When I asked Lott what Scouting had taught him, he had a quick answer. “It teaches you to be a member of the community and always give back,” he said.

And for longer than most NOAC participants have been alive, that’s just what he’s done. —Mark Ray

Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr.

Eagle Scout Profile: Drew and Derek Konzelman

Yesterday, I caught up with Drew and Derek Konzelman, two of the VIP Eagle Scouts who participated in last night’s NESA@NOAC show. The brothers from Puyallup, Wash. — whose three younger brothers are also Eagle Scouts — won NBC’s reality show “Escape Routes” this spring. Their prize: $100,000 and a pair of 2013 Ford Escapes.

Drew and Derek are also accomplished musicians. For more than a decade, they’ve traveled the world as the Konzelman Brothers playing a unique brand of acoustic rock. Their latest CD will appear this fall.

Here’s an edited version of our interview.

Are you big reality TV fans? 

Drew: What’s ironic about it is we actually don’t have TV or watch TV. We grew up without TV; we don’t watch reality shows. I think they’re frankly a waste of time – unless you get on them and have a chance to win.

What was “Escape Routes”? 

Derek: It was an interactive, participatory reality TV show in the vein of “The Amazing Race.” The challenges we did were all similar.

Drew: Those included zip-lining, ropes-type stuff, navigation, orienteering, archery – all things that we did in Boy Scouts.

Derek: We were competing against five other teams of two people. We spent a week in six different cities: Malibu, New York, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.

Tell me about the orienteering challenge.

Drew: There was a part where we needed to orient a map and find treasure. It took Derek and I less than two minutes to find it. We had to go back with the camera guy to get the shots of us finding it because it was that quick. Two teams took over two hours. They literally had to bring them back in, shut off the cameras, and say, “Listen, they’re right over there.” The whole time, Derek and I were chuckling. We thought everybody knew how to do that.

Another challenge was spending a night in the Everglades. How did that go? 

Derek: We got out there as it was getting dark. Immediately, Drew and I went over and grabbed our tent, picked out a great level spot, and set up our tent. We probably got it up in 5 or 10 minutes. 

Drew: Everybody else was swatting bugs and yelling at each other …

Derek: … and poking each other on accident with tent poles. One girl got hit in the face. We ended up setting up or helping set up all the other teams’ tents.

Drew: One team set their tent up right on top of a red ant pile. We were like, “Yeah, that’s not a great idea.”

Were all the competitions things you’d done in Scouting?

Derek: No. We also did some neat things you can’t do at Scout camp. One was flying water-powered jet packs out on the bay in Miami.

Drew: It’s like the Rocketeer. You can go up to 25 feet and like 35 miles an hour. It’s pretty intense.

How else did Scouting prepare you, aside from teaching you outdoor skills?

Drew: Scouting gave us people skills, too — learning how to negotiate, how to treat people well, about mutual respect. We actually had the opportunity to teach that to our peers in the program when they were having off-camera screaming matches that would never even make TV. Everybody would always come to us, and we would get to encourage people to treat each other well and teach about forgiveness and just basic kinds of things. 

What message are you trying to deliver to the Arrowmen at this year’s NOAC?

Derek: Being an Eagle, being a Boy Scout is something to be proud of and to adopt as your own, to wear and live. It’s a lifestyle. Carry that with you the rest of your life and live it out in your own way. Not everybody will be an Olympic athlete or a Forbes 100 business owner, but you can make a difference in your own way.

Drew: Just the accomplishment of being an Eagle needs to empower people. We’re blessed so that we can be a blessing. I think that’s the beauty of Scouting.

Mark Ray

Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr.