Jerry Aldridge loves teaching and few in Newton County have helped as many boys develop into young men as the former educator and current scoutmaster.
Aldridge recently reached a Boy Scouts milestone when 16-year-old Noah Green became the 50th scout to reach the pinnacle of Eagle Scout under Aldridge's tutelage.
Aldridge took his first scouts training course in the April of 1964 and has been involved ever since at various levels and in various positions. He became scoutmaster of local Troop 222 in 1989.
"I sort of set that goal a long time ago, and I thought maybe I might make it. But now I've made it, and somebody asked me if going to set a new goal of 75. I said no, 60. Then if I get 60, then I'll set a goal of 65," Aldridge said, smiling.
"Being an educator, I always liked to see young people grow. Now I'm no longer an educator, so I see them grow through scouting," Aldridge said. "It makes me feel great to watch kids come in who can do nothing and don't know nothing about scout skills. And when they leave at 18, they're accomplished young men and they know the skills. They're going to be good citizens and that in itself is fulfilling to me."
While he's had 50 Eagle Scouts, he's seen hundreds of young men go through his troop. Green was an appropriate choice to be the 50th Eagle Scout, considering his older brother, Parker, earned the honor last year, and the Greens have three more boys coming through after Noah.
Green's project was to build an information kiosk at the entrance of the Georgia Wildlife Federation's property off East End Road in Covington. He had to organize efforts to clear the area for the kiosk, build a foundation using only native rocks and mortar and build the wooden frames for the information signs.
The project took a few months and cost around $1,200, Green said.
"Yeah, proud," Green said when asked a leading question about he felt about the project. He's not a very talkative boy. "The hardest part was getting all the rocks. It was a lot of rocks."
Green's project was a continuation of scouts' efforts in recent years to develop the 16-acre property into usable wildlife space. When the Georgia Wildlife Federation purchased the land, it was just a wooded dumping site and a "place for drinking and other things," Aldridge said.
First, the local troop created a parking lot, clearing out the shrubs in a convenient access point off East End Road. Then, fellow Eagle Scout Kevin Thompson built a trail through the woods, and Green built a kiosk to display information about local wildlife and the wetlands around the Alcovy River. Other efforts have led to a small classroom being built on the property along with a canoe put-in on the river.
Aldridge has seen more than three decades of such projects come to life across Newton County, beautifying parks, schools, businesses, churches and outdoor wildlife centers. His dedication and passion for scouting bleed over to his students.
"When Jerry conducts a scout meeting and holds his hand up and gives the Scout pledge and Scout law, I think that's what he lives. I think those boys saw it in the way he conducted himself and the way he conducted his life," said Denny Dobbs, who has been involved for scouting for many years and had two sons become Eagle Scouts under Aldridge. "He taught them why it's important to do things the right way and to follow the rules...they learned so much about teamwork and preparation and being organized.
"Luke will be 24, Lane just turned 20, and to this day, they call them Mr. A and Mrs. A. If they see him, they will speak to him. The care and concern he had for all those boys and their successes came through in those actions, the way he did things. I can't thank him enough for that."
As for Mrs. A, also known as Lee Aldridge, people can't mention Jerry without mentioning Lee who is responsible for tracking and preparing all of the paperwork for the Eagle Scout process. She also gives some of the scouts a friendly, little nudge if they're procrastinating.
"I've known Jerry since he came to town, and I've also known his wife Lee who helps him tremendously too with getting the paperwork processed for the boys," said Sam Ramsey, who's also been involved in scouting for a lifetime. "She was in my class in school; I've known her all my life. They're a fine couple; we're fortunate to have them."
From his first Eagle Scout, Luke Gregory, to his latest, Noah Green, Aldridge has always kept his focus on the boys, and he has no plans to let up too soon as he has another prospective Eagle Scouts in the queue.
"We get boys who come in and get enthused when they see other people do their Eagle projects and say ‘I'll do mine.' Seeing Eagle Scouts encourages others to do that too," Aldridge said.