by Jim Boyle
Stewart Wilson had little time for Cub Scouting as a youth in the early 1960s.
There was a lot going on in the small town of Elk River when this future bank vice president was growing up. There were football games and basketball games. Of course, there was baseball, too, Wilson told a crowd last week at the eighth annual Scout Leadership Breakfast at the Elk River American Legion.
And there was more.
Major sports teams like the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings were coming to the state.
Time was needed for building models and trips to the Handke Stadium. And in the summer there was the Sherburne County Fair and the Fourth of July, Wilson said. And there was the soda fountain at Kemper Drug, where they dished up the world-famous lollapaloozas and banana splits for the youth.
“What was my mother thinking?” Wilson quipped. “Where would there be time for scouting?”
Well, she did it.
As Wilson, the longtime Bank of Elk River employee, recalls, his career in scouting was nothing stellar. He didn’t rise to the rank of Eagle. He never even advanced to Boy Scouts.
All that being said, Wilson still attributes some of his successes in life and some of the adventures he has found himself on to the two years he spent in scouting.
He cited the Scout Law. “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent,” he said. “These became guideposts for me.”
He learned such lessons at the Lookout Flame Cafe in downtown Elk River. His den, Den 6 of Pack 90 if memory serves him correct, met there. His den leader was Katie Cornelius, who ran the cafe with her husband. Katie waited on patrons and tended to scouts at the same time, Wilson recalled. The scouts enjoyed phosphates and malts on occasion.
And then there was the Blue and Gold Banquet.
“That looked to be about as important a meeting there could be in Elk River,” Wilson said, noting the reverence added to it with the Cub Scout salute and the challenge placed on these young boys who had to recite things like the Cub Scout pledge in front of every one.
“Never did four lines ever seem so long to me,” Wilson said.
Fun times included a train ride. Wilson can’t remember any overnight camping trips, but those would come later in life as a camp counselor and on canoe trips he took.
Perhaps the most endearing moments as a scout for Wilson came during the community’s Memorial Day programs. That’s when scouts marched in a parade down Main Street with veterans.
“It was a poignant moment in our community every year,” Wilson recalled.
Wilson got to march with his grandfather, Roland, a World War I veteran, and his father, Tom Wilson, a World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Corps.
Wilson retired his scout shirt after achieving Wolf and Bear badges, and as the years passed gave very little thought about the impact of scouting on his life.
That was until Jim Acers, a scouting volunteer who helps organize the annual breakfast, asked him to speak. The thought of it petrified him at first. What would he talk about? What would he say? Then he got to thinking about his times as a scout and how the things he learned helped him navigate life.
And it all came home to him on a recent trip with a crew of men he has been getting together with since 1976. The group started going on annual hunting trips. Thirty-five years later, the group owns an old farmhouse in Big Stone County.
Eight members of the group gathered one recent spring weekend to do some repairs, trim some trees and take care of other chores.
“We worked communally,” Wilson said. “We prepared our own meals. We worked hard. And at the end of the day we had sore muscles.”
It was at the dinner table Wilson raised a simple question. How many in the group had been a scout?
“Each and every one of them,” Wilson said.
Wilson concluded his stories of being a scout were not unique. But he knew at the core of this friendship he had with these other men were the fundamental values he learned as a scout.
“It was the original social network,” he said. “It had many distinct advantages over the modern-day version.”