In 1969, the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church asked Bill Shaffer to serve a couple of years as Scoutmaster of Troop 26, of which he’d been a member. Shaffer agreed, thinking he could do anything for a couple of years. Forty-six years later, he’s still leading the troop.
Over the decades since he took the reins, Troop 26 has grown from 12 Scouts and a couple of adults to more than 125 Scouts and at least 60 adults, including more than 45 Silver Beaver recipients. Shaffer figures he has spent four years of his life sleeping in tents — and he’s nowhere near ready to retire.
(Above: Scoutmaster Bill Shaffer sketches a new patch design to add to the nearly 400 custom creations he has drawn for Troop 26 of Tulsa, Okla., and the Indian Nations Council.)
What has kept you going for 46 years? Why haven’t you burned out? My leaders have become my best friends; we’ve grown old together. It’s gotten to be kind of a family extension. It doesn’t feel like a troop anymore.
How does having long-tenured leaders benefit the troop? There’s a consistency that sells itself. It’s not a question for parents who bring their sons to us. They know we’re still going to be there when their son is 15 and 16 and 17.
How do you personally keep track of so many Scouts? In my Scoutmaster conference with a Scout, I try to ask questions that help me get to know the boy and for him to get to know me. I think the Scoutmaster needs to know the name of every kid in the troop. It really doesn’t work when you say, “Hey, you in the blue hat.”
You have dozens of highly capable adult leaders, but your troop is Scout-led. Why? I think the growth of the kids depends on them actually making decisions and then looking at those decisions in terms of the things that were successful and also the things that weren’t successful. If you can do that for kids, then they go into adulthood really prepared when they face those same kinds of decisions.
Talk about sharing responsibility with other leaders. You recruit people who can do things that you can’t do. Let people bring things to the table. Let them be territorial with it. Give them credit for it, praise them for it. The more things you can bring to your program through other people, the stronger your program will be.
What are kids like today compared with when you started? They like the same stuff kids have always liked: to play in the dirt, to see what’s under the rocks, to reach into the water and see what’s down there. I think they really appreciate activities where there’s not somebody yelling or somebody with a stopwatch or a starter gun or a coaching technique.
Kids are busier than ever today. How do you compete with activities like sports? We don’t compete with other activities. We validate those activities. We go to those games. We go see the kids in plays. We have to be there, and we have to show that we care about them in all the things they do — not just Scouting.
How does that affect retention? It’s more difficult for them to quit the troop when we have that kind of relationship. If this were just an activity, they could walk away in a heartbeat. But if they’re committed to the adults and they know the adults are committed to them on so many levels, they’re more likely to stay.
What’s it like to have former Scouts come back as adult leaders? It’s easy. They remember me when I was younger and slimmer and had hair, and I remember them when they were young and goofy. They know I cared about them when they were young, and they want me to do the same for their kids and their grandkids.
Fact Sheet: Bill Shaffer
Years as a Scouting Volunteer: 46
Current City: Tulsa, Okla.
Current Position: Scoutmaster, Troop 26
Day Job: Insurance administrator, Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System
Proudest Moment in Scouting: Besides his 10 Philmont treks, nine national jamborees, his Silver Beaver and Silver Antelope awards, he’s most proud of his 675 Eagle Scouts. Plus, a memorable moment when former President (and Eagle Scout) Gerald R. Ford came to his troop meeting and presented 13 Eagle Scout badges. When Ford talked about coming across some memorabilia that rekindled memories of his own Scouting days, “suddenly it was like we were on the same page — us and a president of the United States.”