MIKE ROWE has some kind of résumé: Distinguished Eagle Scout, pitchman for Ford vehicles and Lee jeans, host of the Emmy-nominated show Dirty Jobs. The man’s Wikipedia entry goes on for five pages.
In fact, Rowe’s arguably the most visible Eagle Scout alive today. But to hear him tell it, he’s not even the most impressive member of his family. That honor, he believes, belongs to his younger brother Scott, who never earned Eagle but accomplished a feat Rowe thinks is even more important: Scott saved a man’s life.
Scott was working as a lifeguard one summer when he saw a man unconscious at the bottom of the pool. In a blur, Scott jumped in, pulled the man out of the water, and revived him.
Rowe shared the story of his brother’s heroic act with a group of 1,400 Scouting volunteers and professionals during the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in May. (Watch the speech at bit.ly/mikeroweNAM.) The cavernous ballroom fell silent when Rowe started to speak, with everyone hanging on his every word.
Rowe directly addressed his brother, who was seated at a table in the audience with their parents, John and Peggy. He shared a thought he’d had that morning while eating breakfast with his family.
“So I’m sitting here with my sausage and eggs,” Rowe began, “looking at my brother, who’s a Star Scout, who saved a guy’s life. You know, Scott doesn’t have a TV show in 180 countries. He doesn’t have one of these [pointing to the gleaming Distinguished Eagle Scout medal dangling from his neck]. The son of a gun saved a guy’s life.
“So,” Rowe added, looking at Scott, “you win.” A fitting tribute for his brother’s act of courage. But also a theme that threaded throughout the three-day event in Orlando, Fla.: celebrate the everyday hero.
While it’s true that the BSA is celebrating a big event this year, the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scout Award, Scouting has also made clear that it won’t overlook the 96 percent of Scouts who didn’t, or won’t, earn Eagle. The organization won’t forget Scouts like Scott Rowe who made a difference in the world because Scouting made a difference in their lives. It’s a promise to the modern Scout that he’ll still take away something priceless from the program: He’ll be “Prepared. For Life.”
TO CHIEF SCOUT EXECUTIVE Robert J. Mazzuca (below)—who attended his last annual meeting at the helm of the BSA before his Aug. 31 retirement—showing off the modern Scout means reintroducing Scouting to America.
Mazzuca’s farewell message stressed that the 102-year-old movement can no longer sit back and let others do its talking and that, to his mind, Scouting was too passive through the first 10 years of the 21st century. “We allowed ourselves to be defined by other people,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun to re-energize the notion that it’s OK to talk about Scouting.”
That’s why, more than ever, the BSA has embraced popular culture to get people talking about what Scouting is all about. For example, the upcoming debut of the National Geographic Channel show Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? will offer Scouting a rare opportunity to send a positive message about its mission to teach youth the skills and values that will help them overcome the challenges they’ll face as adults.
Already, it’s a hit—at least judging by the professional and volunteer Scouters who burst into applause at the end of an exclusive preview of the show in one of the meeting’s general sessions. But why not? The show comes from Thom Beers and the same production team behind the popular reality shows Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars, and Ice Road Truckers.
Are You Tougher? will likely have a positive influence on tens of thousands of viewers—adults and kids. Can you say “recruitment?” But that’s not all that the BSA has up its sleeve for leaders and Scouts to get excited about in the coming years.
STARTING WITH AN UPDATE to the BSA Handbook. Here’s the 411:
Development and testing for the new manual begins now, and officials have targeted spring 2015 for the release. The big change? All ranks in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts will revolve around a common set of five core-content areas: character development; participatory citizenship; personal fitness; outdoor skills and awareness; and leadership.
With these changes in place, Mazzuca said, “Our future is bright. We’re on a path that’s going to lead us to great things if we stay the course.”
Mazzuca also cited successes that include the ScoutSTRONG healthy-living program and the STEM initiative, the BSA’s commitment to promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Another highlight of the three-day event was good news from the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. AT&T has agreed to “light up” the site with wireless connectivity, a gift that’s reportedly of equal value to the Bechtel family’s original donation of $25 million to the base.
SUCH HIGH-TECH ADVANCES might create a lot of buzz among BSA members and nonmembers, but Scouting’s most valuable asset remains the same: the Scouts.
That point isn’t lost on Rex Tillerson, who, as CEO of one of the world’s largest companies, Exxon-Mobil, still finds time to volunteer. Tillerson, whose term as BSA president ended at the meeting, explained why he carves out time for youth.
Scouts are the boots on the ground, Tillerson said, the everyday heroes, and “The Main Thing.” “All you have to do is meet the young people, and you see the growth that occurs in [them] when they’re given the opportunity to participate in Scouting.”
Mike Rowe gets it, too. Those are the same kinds of people you saw on Rowe’s Dirty Jobs—ordinary, hard-working individuals. But Rowe’s passion for everyday people doing extraordinary things started even before his first episode aired.
“I remember this section in Boys’ Life magazine, ‘True Stories of Scouts in Action,’” Rowe said. “These were real people doing real things. They weren’t [always] Eagle Scouts. They were Scouts, First Class, Second Class, Star, Life, whatever it was.
“You read a story about a kid who runs over to a tractor, and the farmer’s stuck in it; the tractor is on fire, and he’s burning. The kid rips his shirt off and jumps on the guy—cuts the [seat] belt off and saves his life. And he’s 16 years old! Why isn’t that kid headline news? Why aren’t we taking that action and shouting it from a mountaintop?”
Rowe’s question was rhetorical, but his point is real. To Rowe, a Scout’s actions speak louder than the awards or patches he earns.
He added, “It’s their mettle not their medals, right? So finding people in this organization who walk the walk to help tell those stories—that’s something [the BSA] is standing by to do.”
Bryan Wendell is Scouting magazine’s Senior Editor.