Advice from a den leader who calls Philmont home

SHELLEY O’NEILL FIRST visited Philmont at age 1 when her dad attended the Philmont Training Center. After her first year of college, she joined the seasonal staff — at her parents’ insistence. She’d wanted to spend the summer in New York City instead but quickly succumbed to the magic of Philmont. “I called them probably two or three days after I’d been here and thanked them,” she recalls. “I still have never made it to New York City.” Shelley O'Neill

After seven summers at the ranch, O’Neill joined Philmont’s permanent staff as manager of what is now the Tooth of Time Traders, a position she’s held for 18 years.

Six years ago, O’Neill and her family enrolled in Pack 68 in Cimarron. She served as Tiger, Wolf and Bear leader with older son Cullen’s den and did the same thing with her younger son, Cameron. She now serves as the Bear leader while her husband, Tim, serves as Cubmaster.

What’s it like to do Scouting in the shadow of the Tooth of Time? It’s unbelievable. I think we’re spoiled. Our chartered organization rep is Mark Anderson, director of program. A lot of the den meetings take place at the Philmont Training Center. We are able to use various Philmont resources to put on an excellent program.

Do you get into the backcountry? In recent years, we have gotten the pack out a lot. For example, we have gone to the Hunting Lodge and Zastrow for campouts. The best times are while Philmont is in season and we can climb Hart Peak or take the boys to the Ponil Cantina. They are able to see older Scouts out on the trail and be part of their adventures of a lifetime.

Do the parents go? When we hiked the Tooth, a family went along that was born and raised here but wasn’t connected to Philmont. The mom was just in awe. She had seen that forever — that icon — and now she had the opportunity to share it with her child. Now she and her husband are even more involved.

How do you raise money in a town of 900 people? We sell a lot of popcorn — more than the Santa Fe, N.M., pack. We have 26 boys and sold almost $17,000 worth of popcorn this year, which is absolutely amazing. That means people in this town are buying from more than one kid. There’s so much support for the pack. Whether they work at Philmont or not, a lot of their livelihood depends on what’s happening at the ranch in the summer, directly or indirectly.

So money’s not an issue? Since I’ve been here, there’s never been any financial worry. The pack pays the membership dues; the pack pays for all the advancements. If we go on an outing with our den, it’s completely paid for. We used to give the boys all their uniforms, but we found that if they didn’t buy it themselves, they treated it differently. Now, they have to buy their shirt, but we provide everything else: their scarf, their slide and their patches.

What about service opportunities? Philmont recently built a trail to Cimarron. Each den is responsible for cleaning a mile of that on either side of the road. Now we see random dens out there picking up stuff.

It must be a challenge to be a three-hour drive from the council office. Getting supplies from the council office is definitely a challenge. Nobody can do last-minute advancements.

So how do you deal with submitting advancement reports and picking up badges? I have gone down to Albuquerque, but I do most things through Internet advancement. The Scout Shop down there has been really, really helpful. Also, we have a Philmont ride board because people are traveling all over the place; sometimes we can get stuff picked up for us so we don’t have to pay shipping.

Do boys have to order uniforms online? No. Once I became involved in the pack, the Tooth of Time Traders began carrying Cub Scout uniforms. Also, my staff will go to different pack events and take a little supply of council stuff. We’ve just purchased it and stock it here in the store.

What other challenges does distance cause? Things like roundtables exist, but it’s a challenge to travel to get to the events.

So how do you get your leaders trained? We have had some formal training, but it’s really just among ourselves. We’ve tried to make a big effort this year with online training.

You’ve had some luck recruiting nonparents to work with the pack, right? We have a lot of young people working at Philmont who are in their mid-20s, and we just started tapping them. They want to help. Recently we had an achievements powwow, and those guys came in to do knots and fire-starting and all kinds of fun stuff that they loved from Scouting.

So what advice do you have for units that aren’t right next door to the world’s largest Scout camp? We have this incredible partnership with Philmont, but I know from talking to other volunteers that there are so many other potential partners out there. They just have to be asked. They’re willing to donate their time and money and energy to kids.

Fact Sheet: Shelley O’Neill

Years as a Volunteer: 6

Current City: Cimarron, N.M.

Current Positions: Den leader and advancement chair, Pack 68

Day Job: Manager, Tooth of Time Traders

Favorite Camps: Philmont Scout Ranch. “I grew up here and married my husband here and am raising my kids here. It’s an incredible place of passion and life-changing adventure.”

Proudest Moment in Scouting: Watching her first Tiger den perform a flag ceremony for a BSA retiree reunion just six months after they’d joined Scouting. “It was so awesome in those six months to see the leadership skills those boys learned.”



  1. Shelly has done a fabulous job at Tooth of Time traders. She has made a lot of changes, and tried out many things. Because of this, it is better suited for people going on treks, and has received several national awards. I’m very proud to know her !

  2. Shelley and Tim O’Neill provide some great leadership to this pack, and the pack committee is part of both the community and the chartered partner, making for a great community effort.

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