Scouting was the thing to do in the 1960s in East Dubuque, Ill. The small community had just one troop, but that troop had almost 30 members and was very active. After Stephen Williams joined in 1963, he quickly fell in love with camping — something the troop did regardless of the season or the weather. Not surprisingly, he ascended the ranks of Scouting and became an Eagle Scout.
Williams worked on staff at Camp C.S. Klaus for three summers before turning 18 and becoming an assistant Scoutmaster. He later served as Scoutmaster and Exploring Advisor.
Now retired and living in North Carolina after a career in the U.S. Navy and law enforcement (including time as an international police advisor in Iraq), Williams works to get today’s Scouts as excited about camping as he was at their age. But he’s also quick to embrace newer outdoor activities — like flying drones.
How did you revitalize your district’s camporees?
When I got to North Carolina and saw that camping wasn’t what I was used to, I asked if I could take over as the camping committee chairman. After that, every time we had a camporee, there was something different the boys could do or participate in that would challenge them. We had events like knot tying, fire building, map and compass, physical fitness — that kind of thing.
Why the focus on variety?
When you start off in Scouting, everything is new and exciting, and you always learn new things. As you get older, you start to burn out because you’ve done things over and over and over again. That’s why we need to change things around a little bit and give older Scouts something new to do. They don’t want to go back to the old stuff they’ve done a dozen times. It’s always good to change things around a little bit. I think that’s what helps kids stay in Scouting.
Is engaging older Scouts why you’re also involved in the Order of the Arrow?
A lot of these boys who join the Order of the Arrow are getting up in age where they’re thinking about getting out. If we can keep them in the Order of the Arrow, where a lot of the Scouts are 16 or 17 years old, they’ll stay in Scouting. It’s very important to try to keep them involved in Scouting, and the Order of the Arrow is a way to do that.
What’s your commissioner role all about?
I’m assigned to a Cub Scout pack and a Boy Scout troop. I visit those as often as I can. They require us to do at least six visits a year, but I triple that, usually. I will go and participate. I tell them why I’m there, that I’m going to make sure things are run the way they should be run. If they have any questions and I don’t have the answer, I’ll find the answer. If they’re having problems with recruitment or fundraising, I try to help them out.
How do you ensure leaders don’t see you as a babysitter from the district?
You have to show up more than one time every two or three months. If they’re not used to seeing you there and all of a sudden you pop in, they wonder why you are there. If you go about every other meeting day, they’re going to get used to seeing you there.
What’s your secret to avoiding burnout as a Scouter?
My advice to Scouters who’ve been in a while is to change things up a little bit to keep it interesting for the Scouts. If you do that, you’ll stay interested. Like me — I was interested in drones. That’s something that the Scouts might be interested in. If you can keep their interest and you also have that same interest, that’s going to keep them involved — and keep you involved longer, too.
Fact Sheet: Stephen Williams
Years as a Scout Volunteer: 27
Current City: Eden, N.C.
Current Positions: Assistant district commissioner, unit commissioner, district program and activities chairman, Webelos resident camp aquatics director, Order of the Arrow cook crew
Day Job: Retired police officer
Most Satisfying Moment in Scouting: Becoming an Eagle Scout. “My Scoutmaster at the time didn’t think I would make it because I was getting older. He thought that I would just give up, but I received 18 merit badges in one court of honor, which gave me the 21 I needed for Eagle.”
Favorite Camp: Camp C.S. Klaus, Colesburg, Iowa. “It’s in a nice big wooded area. It’s got a beautiful waterfall, eight or nine campsites, and a very nice aquatics area.”