BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
It was a day to reunite and reflect.
At its 100th anniversary celebration last Saturday at the Queens Botanical Garden, Boy Scout Troop 17 of Elmhurst gathered new and veteran scouts to eat, share stories and participate in outdoor activites.
A handful of exhibits at the celebration depicted a bygone era of scouting through antiquated camping tools, scouting artifacts and historic photos.
Ralph De Falco, who joined the Boy Scouts at age 12 and has been Troop 17’s scoutmaster for almost 60 years, said he has witnessed significant transformations in scouting throughout his lifetime.
“Oh, has it changed,” De Falco said, citing modernized camping techniques and new merit badges, such as the sustainability badge for environmental conservation.
However, he added, “the purpose of scouting never changed… it’s a place where a kid can go, number one to learn how to deal with other people his own age, number two to learn how to deal with adults.”
“[The Scouts] teach the things that the schools don’t teach,” De Falco added.
Troop 17 counts among its alumni Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Elmhurst native and Troop Committee Member Kris Kingpayom joined the troop at age 12. He said he credits scouting with teaching him leadership skills and preparing him for his first job as a lifeguard.
Both De Falco and Troop 17 alumnus Bob Williamson also noted that although the population in the area has risen, the scouts have seen dwindling enrollment and fewer adult volunteers over the years. For Williamson, the problem is that working parents no longer have time to devote to the scouts.
De Falco, meanwhile, faults bad publicity from the Boy Scouts’ national headquarters.
The Boy Scouts of America have recently received negative attention largely due to a reluctance to accept openly LGBT scouts. The Boy Scouts Membership Standards Resolution was amended in 2014 to allow openly gay scouts, while openly LGBT individuals remain excluded from adult leadership roles.
“We’re there to teach kids how to survive in their ecosystem,” De Falco said. “How can you teach people how to survive if you make them narrow-minded?”
De Falso said that he believes anyone who wants to be a scout should be allowed to join.
Throughout the anniversary event, current Troop 17 scouts worked together to scale a rock climbing wall, attended a lecture on sustainability and mingled with alumni.
Fifteen-year-old Christian Ventura said he joined the troop at age 11, after seeing a troop meeting advertised outside of his church.
“Right away, they welcomed me,” Ventura said. “I can gladly say that the past four years that I’ve been in the troop were probably [some] of the best years of my life.”
Ventura added that he was looking forward to chatting with older Troop 17 alumni at the anniversary, “to gain some knowledge about the past.”
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.