Rewards exceeded investment for retiring Boy Scout leader

TIM KENYON ended his 30-year career with the Boy Scouts this spring. While serving as scoutmaster, he worked on recruitment and retention by planning annual trips. In 2005, on a hiking trip to Colorado, scouts climbed La Plata Peak which is 14,336 feet high.

Tim Kenyon said his wife Mary knows. It is not a secret that the 13 years he spent as Troop 5 scoutmaster were the best 13 years of his life.

"The job of scoutmaster is a hard job and takes a lot of time, but the rewards exceed the time and effort you put into it," Kenyon said. The rewards "far exceed" the investment, he continued.

Kenyon's scouting adventure began before he became a scoutmaster and continued after he stepped down. Only recently did he step away after investing 30 years in the BSA organization, beginning when his oldest son Andy became a Tiger Cub in 1990.

Having been a Scout when he was growing up, Kenyon was excited when his son joined. He even admits that he made the decision that Andy would join.

"I think it's the responsibility of the parent at that age. You don't ask what they want. You give them what they need," he said.

While he was involved as a parent during the first year, Kenyon didn't hold a leadership position until the following year. When Andy joined Cub Scouts, Kenyon stepped up to fill a vacant position -- that of Cubmaster, which he held until Andy became a Boy Scout.

When Andy joined Troop 5 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Kenyon joined the parent committee which oversees the troop. That lasted for a single year. In September 1996, he because the troop's scoutmaster, a position he held while all three of his sons -- Andy, Charlie and David -- went through the program.

In that position, Kenyon worked to engage both young people and adults by offering them memorable opportunities -- opportunities for which they would be willing to work.

"One of the biggest challenges to scouting is recruitment and retention," he explained.

His solution was a rotation of trips for which scouts would prepare by earning badges and raising money. Each year, they went to a different location. Kenyon took them to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota where they had a wilderness adventure that involved canoeing and primitive camping.

"On my last trip, I had the pleasure of having two of my sons there. That was extra special," Kenyon said.

He took them canoeing down the Niobrara River in Nebraska. That was just a weekend trip, unlike the other trips the troop took. However, it did have something in common with the other trips. Each trip grew out of a personal experience Kenyon had.

Canoeing the Niobrara was the result of recalling trips he made when he was a student at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. Hiking trips in Colorado resulted from recalling visits to relatives when he was growing up.

Each time, he would tell himself the same thing: "This would be a great place to bring scouts."

With the exception of the trip Kenyon considered the crown jewel of their adventures -- going to Maui -- he said the annual trips were not costly. The scouts camped and cooked their own meals, so expenses were limited, even including the gas needed for transportation.

Raising money was just part of preparing for the trips The scouts had to qualify for each trip, meeting age and physical requirements. Often, they had to earn merit badges prior to going to demonstrate they had the necessary skills.

To make a trip to the Boundary Waters, for example, scouts had to be capable of carrying 75 pounds. This was not an arbitrary requirement.

"If you can't do that, you're not going to have a good time," Kenyon explained.

Each trip had its own challenges. In Colorado, the scouts would camp at 10,000 feet and take 12- to 13-hour hikes which involved a 4,000-foot increase in elevation. Among the peaks climbed on every trip was Mt. Elbert, which at 14,440 feet is the second highest peak in the contiguous United States.

"That's high for a flatlander from South Dakota," Kenyon said, noting the air was thinner.

To prepare for a trip to Maui, scouts needed to acquire skills that would enable them to spend time in the ocean. They had to swim, know lifesaving and be familiar with snorkeling.

"We didn't do the tourist stuff," Kenyon explained. "We spent almost all our time on the beaches and in the ocean."

While their costs were relatively low because they stayed at a church camp and did their own cooking, they did have to raise money for plane tickets. To do this, they sold Christmas wreaths, as they did to raise money for their other trips.

"It teaches individual accountability, individual responsibility and reward for your hard work," Kenyon said about this annual fund-raiser.

In 2009, when his son David graduated, Kenyon stepped down as scoutmaster and turned over the reins to Steve Olson.

"I knew that Steve would do the right thing, and I was kind of worn out," Kenyon said.

However, he did not step away from scouting. He became an assistant scoutmaster, a position he described as "that old guy" who would be the voice of caution at campouts and other activities. More recently, he returned to the oversight committee where he served as chair.

Then, when COVID-19 hit, "scouting ground to a halt as so many things did," Kenyon said. With the hiatus provided, and recognizing he had invested 30 years in the organization, he decided it was time to retire.

Kenyon doesn't know how many young people passed through Troop 5 while he served as scoutmaster, but he does know that 36 became Eagle Scouts. He also knows that scouting made a difference in the lives of those who participated.

"As I go through town, I see so many people I knew as kids. What they got out of it is how to be a good person," Kenyon said. Scouts grow into adults who are trustworthy, who treat people well and who are committed to service, he said.

Kenyon knows that he cannot take sole credit for the success of the program during the years he has been involved. He indicated that a great many people have been part of his scouting career, but five are especially noteworthy: Tim "Hootie" Hentges, Doug Bordewyk, Steve Olson, Gina Peak and Kristie Olson.

In looking back, some memories remind Kenyon why he stuck with the scouting program so long. He shared one of those stories.

One summer during camp, a teen had trouble climbing the tower. Kenyon encouraged him when he wanted to quit halfway up. Years later, the young man sent Kenyon a letter from boot camp in which he said, "When you gave me that confidence in myself to go up that tower, that allowed me to get through this training."

"That is the paycheck you can't cash but is absolutely priceless," Kenyon said.