John Baker’s favorite Scouting adventures were either backpacking in the Sierras, on the Lost Coast or earning his Scuba certification on Catalina Island. On Oct. 28, he was honored with a Court of Honor after earning 38 merit badges to reach the rank of Eagle Scout in St. Helena’s Troop One.
Troop One Scoutmaster Jon Dodge said 71 local Boy Scouts have earned the Eagle rank since the troop was formed in 1920. In the entire BSA organization, the first Eagle Scout rank was awarded in 1912, and since then 2.4 million scouts have attained the Eagle Scout rank, according to the meritbadgeknot.com.
During a recent interview following his Court of Honor, Baker said he’s been in scouting for six-and-a-half years and earning the rank of Eagle has “been a very long process but a very valuable one as well.”
Baker said scouting teaches boys the scout law, which lists key and core values. He quickly rattled them off: “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Baker added, “Over the years I have learned them and know how it is to live by them. I know when I’m living by them and I know when I’m not.”
He added, “It’s not so much getting the Eagle Scout rank that really matters, it’s learning the values of scouting and being able to give back to scouting and to the community in a daily life.”
Baker’s Eagle Court of Honor was held in the Odd Fellows Hall and arranged by his parents, Jerry and Emily Baker. “They did a fantastic job,” their son said.
Jerry added, “We invited all of the people who touched his scouting career, all of the people that were important in the accomplishments and development along the way. Plus his friendship circle and our immediate families.”
Two of those attending were Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon, both St. Helena residents.
The Bakers have lived in the Upvalley area since 1990 and have lived in St. Helena for the past five years. Jerry has spent his career working for many of the major wineries up and down the valley.
Not an easy task
The new Eagle Scout said reaching the highest rank is “not an easy task by any means” and added he’s worked a long time to achieve it. Baker said he hopes his accomplishment might inspire other scouts to become Eagle Scouts, to “stick through the ups and downs of scouting.”
Earning the required 21 merit badges – there are some 135 total that can be earned – takes time and planning. Baker said some, like personal fitness, took him six weeks, because there are tests done at both the beginning and the end of the period, while others, like swimming, he was able to accomplish in one week at summer camp. “There are some badges that take months, while others you can earn in 15 minutes,” Baker added.
Traditionally, only 4 percent of all scouts attain Eagle rank, although in 2014 – the last year figures are available – 6 percent of all scouts were named Eagles. Still, it’s pretty rare. Even rarer is a scout who earns all 135 merit badges. Since the Boy Scouts of America began in 1910, only 388 Scouts have earned all of the merit badges available, according to meritbadgeknot.com.
In Troop One, the last Scout to earn the Eagle rank was Glen Williams, about three years ago, Dodge said; and the next Scout to achieve the rank will be George Conwell.
Eagle Scout project
Beyond merit badges, a scout has to plan, design and complete an Eagle project. Baker’s project was building three benches and a shade structure on the 1.3-mile Sam the Eagle trail in Moore Creek Park, off Sage Canyon Road, near Lake Hennessey.
Imagine three really hot days in the middle of June. Baker is directing a dozen people who are using iron bars to dig holes three feet deep for the welded shade structure. After the holes were dug, they anchored it and the benches in concrete.
One bench was placed at the beginning of the trail, the second at the end of the trail and the third next to the shade structure in the middle of the trail. Trucks were used to transport all of the materials, tools, benches and shade structure, which had to be carried in by hand. Half of the people Baker was directing were scouts. The other half were parents and friends. Jerry Baker was there all three days, taking photographs to document the work.
“I was not allowed to do any of the work, because an Eagle project is how well you plan, execute and lead a group through a project like this. It is not so much can you do something for your community,” Baker said. “The Eagle project is a test of your leadership skills and style and a way for you to assess what you did right and what you did wrong.”
Although the installation took three days, the planning took some nine months, from August 2017 to May 2018, when Baker worked with an architect, a soil engineer, and a geotech to design the project. Part of the delay, however, was because of the horrific Northern California wildfires, when those people were just too busy to help. His father estimated the project was delayed three or four months.
After Baker got the designs approved, he sourced all the materials, most of which were donated. He sought and received funds from the Rotary Club of St. Helena to pay for concrete and steel for the shade structure. Then he contacted and worked with Carl Shellhorn, owner of Carl’s Welding & Repair Service, to get the shade structure welded together. “He was very easy to work with and he donated materials as well,” Baker said.
After those three hot days in June, after everything was set in place and the concrete had dried, Baker had more paperwork to do, which was basically just an evaluation of himself, he said.
Jerry Baker said his son’s Eagle project was advanced and something special. “We like to have our boys earning the Eagle Scout rank to have really earned it,” he said.