Sept. 14, 1974, is a date forever etched in Bill Nicholson's memory.
Currently the vice president of marketing for 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, Nicholson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout on that day, following in the footsteps of his late father, John K. Nicholson, and his late grandfather, W.H. Nicholson.
“I was an Indian Guide and Cub Scout in Beavercreek, Ohio, in 1965,” he recalls. “I joined (Boy Scout) Troop 71, Aley United Methodist Church in 1968. My Eagle project was a landscaping project for the church's entrance and a hand-carved sign with all of the Order of the Arrow (OA) of Tecumseh Council and Troop 71's OA members.”
During 2012, Boy Scouts are celebrating the centennial of the Eagle Scout program. One hundred years ago today, the first Eagle badge was awarded to Arthur Eldred, and, since then, more than 2 million young men have earned Boy Scouting's highest rank.
Nicholson wears a small pin on his lapel — a BSA Eagle pin — signifying his membership in this unique and elite fraternity, which promotes service, traditional values and community involvement.
“There is an understanding of accomplishment,” he explains. “You're in a special group — not a club that you are voted in, but a group that you joined, you earned ... you made the commitment and saw it through to the end.”
In 2010, the John Templeton Foundation awarded a grant to Baylor University to measure the impact of scouting in general and of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout specifically.
The study found “the effort and commitment required to earn this rank produces positive attributes that benefit not only these men in their personal and professional lives, but also benefits their communities and the country through the service and leadership they provide,” said Dr. Byron Johnson, Baylor's lead researcher, said in the report.
The study, “Merit Beyond the Badge” discovered that Eagle Scouts often assumed leadership positions in business and community, exhibited high degrees of planning and preparation skills, donated money and time to charity, and evidenced close relationships with family and friends.
Challenging, but rewarding
Approximately 4 percent of Boy Scouts earn the rank of Eagle Scout, a process that must be completed by age 18.
Each Eagle Scout is required to earn 21 life skills merit badges and to plan, organize and execute an extensive service project — an endeavor that requires an average commitment of 130-185 hours. Environmental Science, Personal Fitness, First Aid, Camping and Family Life are a few of the required merit badges.
Famous Eagle Scouts include President Gerald Ford, Walmart founder Sam Walton, former astronaut and Apollo 13 commander James Lovell, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Microsoft's Bill Gates. For a century, Eagle Scouts have excelled as Olympic athletes, Pulitzer Prize winners, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and leaders in business, industry and community.
“If you choose to join the military, being an Eagle gives you one pay grade up,” says Nicholson. “(At) the NASA Research Center in Cleveland, there is a poster with all the departments, showing their patches from fuel tech, flight data, aerospace — (more than) 75 divisions.
The headline reads: 'Before they wore these patches, they wore this.' At the bottom, under all these NASA patches, is the Eagle patch. They found an Eagle in every one of the NASA Departments.”
“When you are hiring,” he adds, “look for the Eagle on the resume.”
Carrying on the tradition
Nicholson is now shepherding sons Miles, age 13, and Kennon, age 11, through their scouting experience.
“We home school, (and) both boys are accomplished violinists, active church members and very active in scouting,” he says. “They both have high goals for achieving their Eagle rank.”
Although Nicholson attributes the genesis of his scout experience to the examples set by his father and grandfather, he values the contributions of numerous scoutmasters, mentors, and coaches who walked with him through the process of earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
“It was not one thing, one event, one person,” he says. “It was the path, the journey, the goal, and all the life's lessons that (I) call upon. It was setting a goal, facing the goal and achieving the goal.”