When he turned 9, a wet-behind-the-ears youth named Bob Meinholtz got a birthday present he'd enjoy for more than seven decades.
That's the day - April 24, 1939 - that Meinholtz became a Cub Scout.
From Cub Scout to Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America employee, regional administrator, Distinguished Eagle Scout and now an advisor, the Sequim retiree has seen about all there is to Scouting.
Well, 71 years worth, anyway.
In this year - the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America - Meinholtz says Scouting is as relevant and beneficial as it was all those years ago.
"It teaches young people a code of conduct, the history of our country, all about the flags and ... certain things one should do," he says.
But the Scouts' focus is changing. The Boy Scouts have added computer skills to their teaching, dropped requirements such as some knot-tying skills and memorization of the creed.
"Culture has changed the program," Meinholtz says.
"We're constantly trying to stay relevant with young people."
With the 100th anniversary, however, Boy Scouts leaders are bringing back some of the phased-out activities and badges, such as carpentry and path-finding.
They also are encouraging former Scouts to share memories to celebrate the centennial and reconnect with the Scouting group they enjoyed as youths (see www.scouting.org/alumni.aspx).
No need for Meinholtz to reconnect, however; he's been a Scout through and through for seven of his eight decades and still talks about Scouting to local groups.
A boy's Scouting life
Born in St. Louis, Meinholtz attended schools there and in Wisconsin, returning to Missouri for college.
He was a Cub Scout (joining cost just 50 cents) and then a Boy Scout and made Eagle Scout in 1945 at age 16.
He learned a few things as a
Scout, notably that youths - when given the opportunity to lead themselves - can and will do the job.
That's unlike today, Meinholtz says, where adults often take so much control of youths' programs that the children never develop leadership skills and thus never become leaders.
Oh, and another key lesson: On a campout, never criticize the cook.
"Next time, you'll be the cook."
After high school, Meinholtz enlisted in the U.S. Army and served two years.
Just one week after he was discharged, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps as a Scout leader and went to work for the Boy Scouts of America.
The Scouts have a rule that may seem funny to some but makes complete sense, Meinholtz says: When a leader or administrator is promoted, no one from that local office can succeed that employee. One had to move to a different club to move up.
That way, Meinholtz says, underlings couldn't get their boss fired and expect to get that top spot. Instead, the rule encouraged unity, cohesiveness and hard work.
Meinholtz decided moving
around couldn't be that bad and took positions in San Francisco and Pasadena, Calif.; Pittsburgh and Redding, Pa.; Denver, Colo.; and finished in his hometown of St. Louis.
Millions of cans
There, Meinholtz spearheaded the "Scout for Food" drive that helped generate 1.2 million cans for local food banks in celebration of the Scouts' 75th anniversary in 1985.
A few years later, after the "Scout for Food' drive swelled to 2 million cans, Scout leaders nominated Meinholtz for the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, a rare honor. According to the organization, about 1.8 million youths earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and fewer than 2,000 of those Eagle Scouts had been awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
Meinholtz retired in 1995 and moved to Sequim in 2000 with his wife, Rita.
An eye on the future of Scouts
The Boy Scouts of America began as an offshoot or mirror organization of a Scouting group in Great Britain.
William Boyce, a publisher from Chicago, found himself lost in a dense London fog on a trip in 1909 and was assisted by a British youth who guided Boyce to his destination and refused a tip. Inspired, Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910.
A year later, the Scout oath, laws and merit badges were created and in 1912 "Boys Life" became the group's official magazine.
The organization grew in numbers and service, helping with countless local and national projects. In 1920, London hosted the first World Jamboree, a tradition that carries on every four years. (The Boy Scouts of America hosts a national jamboree every four years as well, staggered with the world jamboree dates.)
Scouting is divided into three main age groups: Cub Scouts for boys 7-10, Boy Scouts for boys 11-17, and Venturers for young men and women 14-20.
Over the years, many other Boy Scouts of America subdivisions were created, including Sea Scouts, Varsity Scouts and a division for the very young called Tiger Cubs. The Venturers - known until 1998 as Explorers - is Scouting's only co-ed division. (In several other countries, most notably in Great Britain, Scouting is coed.)
Scout units used to be located in every school, Meinholtz recalls, but not anymore. Now, churches are the homes for most units.
According to the Boy Scouts of America's Web page, faith-based organizations sponsor about 67 percent of Scouts nationally, while civic groups sponsor 24 percent and educational groups such as parent-teacher organizations sponsor about 9 percent.
Scouts and faith
The faith group/Scout relationship seems to work well, Meinholtz says.
"Duty to God and country will continue to be the hallmark of the program as long as it lasts."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) has more than 37,000 units nationwide serving more than 400,000 youths, the largest faith-based group in the Boy Scouts.
The Scouts' ties to faith - the Scout oath asks members to affirm a duty to God - have cut some of the club's ties. The Scouts have had some battles with the issue of excluding atheist and homosexual members, and no longer use military buildings or land for any meetings.
But Meinholtz says the future of Scouting remains bright and necessary. With nearly 3 million active Scout members and 1.1 million adult volunteers serving, the Boy Scouts of American seems to be going strong as ever.
"You're teaching kids to help other people," he says.
"It made me a better person. I hope it lasts another 100 years."
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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