Fourteen boys received the highest honor in Boy Scouting at a Feb. 1 banquet at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bangor. The presentation most likely set a record for the number of Katahdin Area Council scouts earning the Eagle Scout award at the same time.
In an ironic twist, however, the boys received their awards a month after their troops’ affiliation with Boy Scouts of America had ended.
That’s because the troops were chartered through the LDS church on Grandview Avenue in Bangor. And the LDS denomination, based in Salt Lake City, announced in 2018 that it was severing its ties with the Boy Scouts of America after a 105-year partnership over the Boy Scouts organization’s decision to admit gay and transgender scouts.
The LDS church teaches that homosexual relationships are sinful. Its separation from the national Boy Scouts group took effect Jan. 1.
That looming deadline spurred scouts in Troops 13 and 31 to finish their Eagle Scout projects by the end of 2019. To earn the award, scouts must plan, develop and lead others in a service project that benefits a religious organization, school or local community. The boys also must receive approval from scout leaders and the group their projects aim to help and raise the needed money to carry them out.
Two of the scouts, Levi Peterson, 15, of Holden and Abbott Valentine, 16, of Hampden, chose to help the Fields Pond Audubon Center, whose property sits on the Holden-Orrington town line. Levi built an information kiosk on the Orrington side where there had not been one before.
Abbott was able to persuade local hardware stores to donate all the materials needed for a new, larger canoe rack. The nine-canoe rack replaced one that held just six canoes and desperately needed replacement.
Abbott admitted that his church’s decision to discontinue scouting programs motivated him to finish his project more quickly than he might have otherwise.
“I was on my way to earning my Eagle when the announcement was made,” he said. “I decided I might as well finish. It is the culmination of what scouting is all about.”
Fields Pond Audubon Center Manager David Lamon said the scouts’ calls offering to take on a project came at a time when the center really needed help replacing the canoe rack and installing a kiosk.
The center’s budget did not include money for either project.
“We really needed a new canoe rack,” he said. “The old one was really on its last legs. The wood was rotting and it only held six canoes.”
As for the kiosk, the center had one on the Holden side, where its building is located, but not on the Orrington side, where there is access to trails and the water, Lamon said. The new kiosk includes a map of the site and room for notices about upcoming programs that can be placed under plexiglass.
If the center would have had to pay for them, Lamon estimated the canoe rack would have cost about $500 and the kiosk about $800.
With its relationship with Boy Scouts of America severed, the LDS church launched a new worldwide youth program on Jan. 1 that will focus on spiritual, physical, social and intellectual growth along with public service.
The church’s withdrawal from the Boy Scouts is expected to more heavily affect programs in the western U.S., where the church has many more members than in the Northeast. The denomination has nearly 6.7 million members in the U.S. and 11,000 in Maine, according to its website.
Chuck Major, district director for the Boy Scouts’ Katahdin Area Council, said the impact in Maine was expected to be minimal.
“We hope to retain as many scouts as we can from these former troops,” he said. “Our programs teach life skills, and we hope these Eagle Scouts will mentor the next generation of Eagle Scouts.”
Hans Peterson, Levi’s father and the head of the Bangor church, said that many of the boys who were part of the now disbanded troops, are in the process of exploring other troops in the community to join so they can continue being part of the Boy Scouts, including his own sons.
“There are very good feelings about the Boy Scouts in the church,” he said. “The [denomination] wanted to focus on one program worldwide instead of different programs for each country.”
The Katahdin Area Council, made up of troops in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo, Hancock, Washington and Aroostook counties, is not the only one in the state that had a large number of Mormon boys earn their Eagle Scout awards at the same time.
The Pine Tree Council, which includes York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and Somerset counties, recently had 11 scouts earn Eagle awards, according to Matt Klutzaritz, that council’s Scout executive.