By Paul Tennant and Mark E. Vogler
Andover Boy Scout Troop 76 Scoutmaster Don Milligan said it took him many years to realize “what a big deal” it was for him to earn the rank of Eagle Scout back in 1952.
“I got my badge on my 15th birthday and at the time, it really didn’t mean a lot,” Milligan, 75, recalled of how he once downplayed one of the greatest accomplishments of his young life.
“It was something I became more proud of when I got involved in scouting as an adult leader. Yeah, I think it’s a big deal now. That’s why I push it on the troop,” he said.
“When I have (an Eagle Scout) court of honor, I give a little talk. I try to catch the kids’ attention and the parents’ attention too, because the parents are just as important as the kids when it comes to earning the Eagle badge. The kids need their support,” he said.
In 25 years as scoutmaster of one of Andover’s oldest scout troops, he’s had 54 of his scouts — including his two sons, Craig and Eric — earn the rank of Eagle.
Six members of Troop 76 were among the 188 scouts who were honored Friday night by the Yankee Clipper Council during its annual Eagle Scout recognition banquet held at the Wyndham Boston Andover.
“It means a lot to me because it’s hard work,” said Ross Barton, 19, one Troop 76’s newest Eagles. He noted building a handicapped accessible bridge along the hiking trail at West Parish Meadow as the toughest challenge of his Eagle Scout journey.
“It’s something I’m proud of, not just for myself — but for my parents too, because my parents encouraged me and helped me a lot,” he said.
Most of the Eagle Scouts interviewed Friday night said the greatest challenge they faced on the road to Scouting’s highest rank was organizing and completing the mandatory community service project.
Not only is the project required, the Eagle candidate must recruit and direct others to help him finish the task. He can’t do the whole thing himself.
“That was the toughest part for me,” Richard Leung, 18, of Andover Troop 77, said of the 80-foot-long boardwalk he had built in the southeastern part of town near Harold Parker State Forest.
“It really challenged me in communicating with and organizing the kids who worked on the project,” said Leung, one of six scouts in his unit who made Eagle Scout last year.
“Earning Eagle — it’s definitely a big deal. It represents many years of hard work and dedication. The skills we learned and leadership abilities we developed will help us a lot in the future,” he said.
Leung is a freshman at UMass-Amherst. He’s considering pursuit of communications and media studies.
This year’s Eagle Scout class was recognized in honor of long-time scouter Ronald J. Fuller, who earned his Eagle Scout rank in 1963 with Amesbury Troop 4. He returned after graduating from Plymouth State College in 1970 to take over as scoutmaster of his old troop. During his 42 years as leader of the unit, 57 scouts — including his son, Todd — have gone on to become Eagles.
“I didn’t have to do a project ... ha ha ha,” Fuller joked during his speech before more than 400 people Friday night. He noted that a community service project wasn’t required when he made Eagle.
Fuller still had to earn at least 21 merit badges and hold a leadership position in his troop, however. He also had to face a Board of Review of five “men in neckties,” something he vividly remembers 50 years later.
“The sweat was running down my back,” he recalled during his remarks to the Eagles being honored, their parents and Scout leaders.
One of Fuller’s Scouts, Jonathan Ellen, 18, of Troop 4, Amesbury, went well beyond the 21-merit-badge requirement. He earned 47 badges — because “it’s fun,” he said.
For Ellen’s Eagle project, he and other Scouts under his direction painted the porch of the parsonage of the Market Street Baptist Church in Amesbury. Earning the Eagle rank is “something I’ve been looking forward to achieving since first grade,” he said.
Kyle Stuart, 18, of Troop 1 in Haverhill, organized a landscaping project at the Free Christian Church in North Andover. Stuart, who attended Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, aspires to be an aerospace engineer.
“Making sure you do right by others,” he said, is what Scouting and earning the Eagle badge have taught him.
William Corcoran, 17, of Methuen, led a group of his fellow Scouts as they cleaned up the basement of the Methuen Memorial Music Hall, where a flood damaged many items.
Corcoran is a senior at Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical High School, where he’s enrolled in the metal fabrication program.
“I’m proud of myself for making it this far,” he said.
“We’re very proud of him,” said his father, William Corcoran Sr. His mother, Ginny Corcoran, nodded in agreement.
“He’s my 51st Eagle,” said his scoutmaster, Paul Hale, who leads Troop 51, based at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8349 in Methuen.
The majority of the Eagle Scouts honored Friday night are veterans of Scouting, having gone through Cub Scouts, then crossed over to Boy Scouts at age 11. Zachary Bowen, 18, of Plaistow, N.H., is an exception to this norm.
Bowen, a senior at Timberlane Regional High School, didn’t join Scouts until he was 15 — but he made up for lost time. He earned his 21 merit badges, did his project and got it all done before his 18th birthday. An Eagle must complete all the requirements before he turns 18.
Like many of his fellow Eagles, Bowen said the long process of earning that rank honed his leadership skills. In his particular case, he also learned to be an effective manager of his time, he said.
Everyone who has earned the Eagle badge could say it took a lot of perseverance and determination. Alec Schaefer, 18, of North Reading, was in three different troops.
Yet, he still stuck with it and earned the rank.
“It means a lot,” he said. He’s a member of Troop 75, based at the Sportsmen’s Club in Andover. A senior at North Reading High, Schaefer built a baseball scoreboard for his school.
Another Eagle who completed a project for his school is Jared Parker, 18, a North Andover High senior who is also a member of Troop 75. He supervised the construction of a 12-by-24-foot storage shed for the school’s teams.
The project included the installation of an 8-by-8-foot garage door. Parker said the biggest challenge he faced was the paperwork. He said he has difficulty with organization — yet he earned 29 merit badges.
Parker also said he almost quit Scouts in sixth grade — because Scouting wasn’t the “cool thing to do.” Now he’s glad he had the “determination” to stay with it.
Parker said he hopes to attend either Norwich University or the University of Maine. Whichever school he attends, he aspires to earn a commission in the United States Army after graduating, he said.
The connection between Scouting and serving one’s country in the armed forces is a long and storied tradition. About four and a half decades ago, for example, when John Sullivan earned the Eagle rank, he was not wearing a Boy Scout uniform when the badge was pinned on him.
Sullivan, who went on to lead Haverhill Troop 1 as scoutmaster for many years, was wearing the uniform of a United States Marine at his court of honor. He then served in Vietnam.
Another member of the Yankee Clipper Council’s Eagle Class of 2012 who aspires to serve his country is James Karlson, 18, of Dracut. Karlson attends Norwich University and hopes to serve in the Air Force as a fighter pilot.
He earned 27 merit badges and said hiking was the most challenging because of the time involved in doing all those hikes. His friend, Alexander Ross, a freshman at St. Anselm College, said his community service project was his greatest challenge while working toward Eagle Scout status.
He directed a renovation project at House of Hope, a shelter for single mothers in Lowell. Ross and Karlson are both members of Troop 80, based at the Acacia Club in Dracut.
Ross said earning the Eagle badge has taught him how to lead.
“Years of hard work and determination paid off,” Karlson said.
Nicholas Kirkham of Haverhill, a member of Troop 1 — Sullivan’s unit — said personal management may have been the toughest merit badge to earn. Scouts who earn that badge have to keep track of every cent they earn and spend for several weeks.
Family life and personal fitness were also challenging, he added.
Kirkham attends Central Catholic High and aspires to be a physical therapist.
“A lot more people today recognize the value of becoming an Eagle Scout,” observed scoutmaster Milligan of Andover Troop 76.
“The military recognizes it. People in industry recognize it. It helps kids get accepted at college. It’s the type of thing they can put on their resumes. It’s a heck of an accomplishment,” he said.
Eagle-Tribune reporters Paul Tennant and Mark E. Vogler are both Eagle Scouts. Tennant earned his badge in 1969 with Troop 9 in Ipswich. Vogler earned his Eagle Scout award in 1968 with Troop 26 in Swansea.