Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. President Gerald Ford. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Bill Gates Sr. George Meyer, writer/producer of “The Simpsons.” Ross Perot. NBA veteran Bill Bradley. Hotelier J. Willard Marriott Sr. A motley crew, you might say, but they are all Eagle Scouts.
That’s “are” and not “were” because the National Eagle Scouts Association says on its website: “The award is more than a badge. You are an Eagle Scout, never were. You may have received the badge as a boy, but you earn it every day as a man.” The rank of Eagle Scout is not something received and put on a shelf, clearly, but something that defines an individual all his life.
Soon there will be another name on the list: Sam B. Hay IV. The 13-year-old son of Sam and Loucy Hay is among 12 local Boy Scouts now pursuing their Eagle Scout rank under the tutelage of Jerry and Lee Aldridge. Jerry, a veteran of 47 years in Scouting, took over leadership of Boy Scout Troop 222 in 1989, and since then he’s “graduated” 44 Eagle Scouts who must have at least 21 merit badges before seeking Eagle Scout status. Lee works closely with the candidates to plan the required final project and to submit the extensive paperwork for district, state and national approval. Projects must be completed by the Scout’s 18th birthday.
The requirements for an Eagle Scout project, according to Jerry, are that it must make a lasting or permanent contribution in the community and that it must be done for a nonprofit organization. The candidate must put in at least 50 hours in planning and completing the project and must demonstrate leadership in fundraising and organizing volunteers to participate.
Sam’s project — a sturdy, arched bridge built to ADA standards — was a popular new feature at December’s annual Christmas festival of lights — Twilights at Chimney Park — staged in the quiet woodland behind the Newton County Library by Friends of Newton Parks. At least 1,500 participants turned out for the event where they found the bridge decorated in lights and a giant wreath. The bridge spans a sometimes muddy swale that divides the front of the park from activities in the back. “I liked the vision for Chimney Park to be universally accessible, but I could see that it would be difficult for wheelchairs or strollers to get to the far side of the park, so a bridge was necessary,” Sam said to explain his choice. He considered landscaping and refurbishing trails, but the bridge sounded the most challenging and fun, he added. “Plus I wanted to build something that was permanent.”
Building the bridge meant Sam had to learn a lot about construction, various woods to be used, engineering, fundraising and organizing and leading a group of volunteers. All told Sam put in more than 90 hours of design consultation and hands-on work. The 20 volunteers — many of them other Eagle Scout candidates — put in almost 200 hours. Finally, Sam raised over $3,800 needed for construction materials, no small feat, for sure. Scoutmaster Jerry Aldridge had this to say about Sam: “He’s not loud or boisterous. He’s very quiet and he gets the job done without a lot of rigmarole.”
Lee Aldridge cited Sam’s “great attitude.” “He’s driven and dedicated to excellence,” she added. But beyond that, she was struck by the 13-year-old’s long-term vision and well-developed perceptive abilities that came to light in writing his “Statement of Ambitions and Life Purpose” as required by the Eagle Scout process.
He wrote: “From an early age, I have always wanted to have a job that involves being in the woods. I believe this love of the land and the outdoors comes naturally to me … ,“ citing lessons learned from one grandfather, a farmer and cattleman, and another, an avid hunter who modeled appreciation for “the woods and wildlife.” “Both of them have given me a love of nature and all of God’s creation.”
Sam plans to attend Auburn University that boasts one of the best programs in the U.S. in wildlife and fisheries. He then sees a career for himself in wildlife management, even setting his sights on heading up the Wildlife Resources Division for the State Department of Natural Resources, as did now retired David Waller. Having his own family and practicing his faith are central to his life’s plan. “My church has provided me many good friends and opportunities to grow my faith. I plan to be an active church member and for my faith to lead me to do good things in the world.” Check out Sam’s bridge at Chimney Park. Check out “Chimney Park Covington GA” on Facebook.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.