by Robert Peterson
Illustration by Joel Snyder
In retrospect, it seems surprising that, in its first 60 years, the Boy Scouts of America did not try harder to hold on to Eagle Scouts after they had left Scouting. Many of them, of course, did become leaders in units and local councils, but not because the BSA made concerted efforts to keep them enrolled.
The first council leader to see the potential of Eagles for service was probably Raymond O. Hanson, Scout executive in San Francisco. On April 19, 1925, he convened a meeting of 10 Eagle Scouts in his office. Out of that meeting came the Knights of Dunamis (DOO-nah-miss).
The KD was primarily a service organization for the local council and its units, although some chapters also had social events. "We served wherever we felt we could be of help," said Al Moorbrink, who was commander of the San Francisco chapter in 1942.
The name "Dunamis" derived from the Greek word for "power," according to Orion E. Hill, who wrote a brief history of the organization. Eagle Scouts could join the Knights of Dunamis (at 15) as "Squires" and become "Sir Knights" after completing a service project.
The Knights of Dunamis had special ceremonies and rituals based on chivalry, and they wore special pins, arm bands, and neckerchiefs, but, said Orion Hill, "the Boy Scout uniform was the basic uniform of the KD, too."
Members could join at 15 and continue until they were 21. Older men, not necessarily Eagle Scouts, were selected by the Scout executive to be advisers to the chapter. The KD grew slowly, chiefly in California and on the East Coast. By 1972, there were 44 chapters in 22 states, although not all were active. Membership probably never exceeded 1,000.
The BSA's national leaders blew hot and cold about the Knights of Dunamis, mainly because of uncertainty as to whether KD membership took Eagles away from their troops. In 1934, the National Council endorsed the KD, and in 1956, the National Executive Board blessed the Knights. Two years later, when a new Exploring program for older boys was being developed, the board withdrew its blessing (although local councils were permitted to continue sponsoring KD chapters if they wanted).
During the late 1960s, the BSA's leaders switched again, endorsing the Knights of Dunamis and its objectives.
The BSA also ordered a study of what to do about older Eagles. In 1971, under the leadership of two members of the National Executive Board, Donald H. Flanders and J. Kimball Whitney, the concept of a national Eagle Scout association was firmed up. It differed from the Knights of Dunamis in several ways, most notably in making Eagle Scouts of all ages eligible for membership.
NESA was launched on May 19, 1972, at the National Council's annual meeting. Don Flanders, an Eagle Scout who was chairman of the Cub Scout Committee, became NESA's first national chairman. After Lyle Antonides, most recently Scout executive of Rhode Island's Narragansett Council, was named NESA's executive director in 1973, NESA began a steady growth in numbers and effectiveness. Many of the old Knights of Dunamis chapters joined NESA and continued their rituals and traditions for some years as constituent chapters of the new organization.
The transition from Knights to NESA may have been eased by Dr. Lester R. Steig, a San Francisco school administrator who had headed the Knights of Dunamis for eight years.
Don Flanders said, "He was a big help to me in trying to fold the Knights of Dunamis into NESA."
And an unsigned profile of Dr. Steig in a 1976 issue of NESA's "Eagletter" said that "Les Steig, probably more than any other single individual, provided the impetus for the birth of the National Eagle Scout Association."
But others also contributed to the transition process for bringing the KD into NESA, said KD historian Orion Hill. "Many KD people saw the need for a broader organization," he noted.
Today NESA has 247,800 members and about 175 local council committees, according to John Dalrymple, the association's executive director.
Robert Peterson writes from Ramsey, N.J.
Pre-NESA Eagle Nests
The Knights of Dunamis was the most prominent association for Eagle Scouts before the formation of the National Eagle Scout Association, but it was by no means the only one.
Eagle Scout groups had been formed in local councils in Cleveland; St. Louis; Suffolk County, N.Y.; and Oak Park, Ill., among other places. Their members were mostly adult Eagles who assisted their councils with summer camp scholarship funding and helped with Eagle Scout boards of review and courts of honor.
The St. Louis council's Eagle Scout association, for example, which was formed in 1947, helped with such council events as Scout circuses and local funding campaigns.
Perhaps the most unusual Eagle Scout organization was in several councils whose territory comprised the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. It was called the Diocesan Eagle Troop and was asked to furnish honor guards for such ceremonies as ordinations of priests. The troop also provided counselors for the church's summer camp in Chicago.
"The key to it was to attract [candidates] to the priesthood," recalled Art Bissonnette of Dallas, who grew up in Kankakee, Ill., and was a member of the Diocesan Eagle Troop. "[And] they did get a lot of [candidates] out of it."
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