By Martha Helton
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law…” These familiar words have formed on the lips of many a boy scout since the Boy Scouts of America was formed in the early 1900s. Amazingly, these words have been and are spoken by four generations of Erath County’s Donald F. Smith family. These words are also imprinted on their hearts and continue to shape their lives with lifelong values, friendships and shared family experiences—all wrapped up in fun. And for the Smith family, scouting is truly a fun family legacy worth repeating, from generation to generation.
Troop 39 was started in the late ’30s–when scouts answered President Franklin Roosevelt’s request to collect food and clothing for the needy as the Great Depression ravaged the country. Service to God and country has continued through the BSA across the nation and in Troup 39. Since the beginning of Troop 39, there have been 23 scoutmasters who have led and encouraged and coached many boy scouts over the years to achieve their goals.
The most dedicated and honorable scoutmaster was Donald F. Smith. He served from 1967-1987, a total of 20 years—the longest of any man that served in his position. The present day Scout House is named in honor of Donald F. Smith for his dedicated service to the Boy Scouts of America, Troop 39 and Stephenville, Texas.
“Dad achieved Star Scout as a youth, and when I joined as an 8-year-old, he joined as an assistant Cubmaster with E.R. Henningsen,” Larry Smith, Don Smith’s son, recalls. “Back then, scouting was very popular in first though twelfth grades—at a time when our nation seemed to promote scouting and service. Most of my school buddies were active in scouts. Our next door neighbors, Bob and June Walker and kids, were also big into scouting. My three sisters all earned the highest Girl Scout award—the Girl Scout Gold Award. My mom was an active Girl Scout leader, helping in my sisters troops.”
A core part of scouting is earning some of the more than 120 merit badges, with subjects ranging from careers, sports, hobbies, and scouting skills. It’s like a trophy case you can wear on your chest. And the Smith family cheers each other on in their accomplishments. “I earned 36 merit badges from ages 11-17,” says Larry. “I felt such a sense of accomplishment each time my mom sewed one on my sash. The most challenging badge for me was the lifesaving badge because it was the most physical. Swimming is hard work. But I would say seeing my son, Cory, earn his Eagle Scout is my most rewarding merit badge experience.”
Cory had scouting instilled at an early age. “Even before I was old enough to join, I remember going to events with my dad and grandfather,” relates Cory. “When I reached the second grade, I was able to join Cub Scouts and my dad was the Cubmaster for Pack 18. This was also during the time when my grandfather (Don Smith) was the scoutmaster of Troop 39. Upon my graduation from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, my grandfather stepped down and my dad stepped in as the Troop 39 scoutmaster.”
Building leaders with integrity is a big part of scouting. With Donald, Larry and Cory all involved in scoutmaster roles, the vision has been cast for the upcoming young men to aspire to those roles of leadership. “My grandson Caleb Smith is a Life Scout and well on his way, my grandson Connor Jones is well on the path having recently completed the Bear Rank and is now a new Webelos Cubscout and my grandson Garrett Jones is four and still is a few years out but is already working on his swimming skills,” proud grandpa Larry shares. Larry’s daughter, Mary Kaci Jones, has some scouting experience but is now into other pursuits. “She started in Brownies and went to Girl Scout camp. She also became active in 4H and music and she is a very accomplished Stephenville High School French horn band member.”
Those leadership skills came in handy as an adult when Larry was just starting in the workforce. “I learned leadership at the young age of 11 and as a young manager out at Comanche Peak, I was watching my new supervisors under me. I was also leading a scout troop of 30 kids with new patrol leaders under them. I realized the learning curve was just the same—they were having the same management troubles. I turned to the scout handbook, written for fifth grade level kids, and realized the leadership information was applicable in both situations. That was fun to see.” That same knowledge is also useful in his position as a training and development consultant in human resources at Tarleton State University.
Another aspect of scouting that has impacted the Smiths is striving to “…do my best to God and my country…” This excellence in achievement inspires this family, so much that Larry and his son, Cory, received the prestigious Silver Beaver Award. The Silver Beaver Award was introduced in 1931 and is a council‐level distinguished service award of the Boy Scouts of America. Recipients of this award are registered scouters who have made an impact on the lives of youth through service given to the council. About receiving the award, Larry says, “It is indeed humbling as it is the highest award a Boy Scout Council can offer.”
Ingrained in the Smith’s family is the principle of giving back. Of course great-grandpa set the “giving back” bar for the Smith family by serving twenty years as a scoutmaster and grandpa, son and grandson are scoutmasters. Also, Larry currently serves on the board of the 17-county Texas Trails Council. The younger ones have this rich legacy to look up to and absorb what it means to give back.
Crisp, cool mornings listening to mountain streams under a clear blue sky… the boy scouts, more than any other organization, teaches about the wonders of the outdoors and how to maneuver when exploring it. “The best thing about scouts is the opportunities to camp and enjoy the outdoors. I spent six summers as a youth at Camp Billy Gibbons on Brady Creek (located 13 miles south of Richland Springs, Texas). I went on a canoe trip in northern Minnesota and Canada, and I went backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico,” says Larry.
Philmont Scout Ranch is the Boy Scouts of America’s largest national high adventure base. Its 34 staffed camps and 55 trail camps provide an unforgettable adventure in the gorgeous expansive views along hundreds of miles of rugged, rocky trails. For many scouts, it’s a rite of passage to return to their troop, having climbed and conquered.
“Where else does a young person have an opportunity to go learn self-confidence and leadership,” asks Larry, “then step into the outdoor environment for immediate application and learning? This summer a trek of eleven young men and adults returned from a Philmont trek—my son and grandson among them. They hiked, sheltered, entertained and cooked for themselves in the New Mexico mountains for twelve days. They completed a hike to the summit of Mt. Phillips at over 11,700 ft. The boys indeed walked taller with their newly strengthened self-confidence and experience.”
Larry made the exciting journey to Philmont himself in the 1960s and Cory completed his own trip in the 1990s. “I was fortunate to go on a trek at Philmont when I was 16-years-old and have looked forward to going back ever since I stepped off the trail,” says Cory. “To be able to go a second time, and this time with my son, is truly special. I hope Philmont holds a special place in his heart now, too.”
The shared sense of community and sheer fun made up of family and friends is a wonderful by-product of scout involvement. “Scouting provides families the opportunities to share experiences and build some great friendships as well. Also, as an adult leader you have as much or more fun than the scouts,” Larry smiles. “And watching the kids mature and become more self-reliant while learning and strengthening their leadership skills is so much fun.”
“I’m very proud that my family has such a history with scouting in Stephenville,” says Cory. “I’ve personally witnessed the impact that scouting can have on a person’s life and have seen how lives were changed with my dad, grandfather and others as scoutmasters. I hope I can provide the same impact to the youth in Troop 39 today.”
“Scouting develops the boys of today into the young men who will lead tomorrow.”