Recollections on Troop 8 from 1989 to 2009 on the 20th-Year Reunion Celebration by Ron Sunker, Retiring Scoutmaster
IDEA FOR TROOP 8
The idea for Troop 8 actually germinated about one year before its actual launch after Den 8 from Deerwood Pack 3938 joined Troop 839 at the Kingwood First Presbyterian Church. In that year, we took 6 boys and 3 leaders to a then-struggling Troop 839. With our additional boys, Troop 839 was worried that their troop would get too big to handle. At that time, I volunteered to start a new troop if size became an issue. In 1988 there were approximately 35 boys in Troop 839. By the spring of the next year, they had another growth spurt, and we started to put together a plan for a new troop. A total of 23 boys agreed to start a new troop along with the following adults as the leadership: Ron Sunker, Chuck Ballard, Mike Mulcahey, Mike Burke, Dan Eaton, Joe Nothwang, David Prator, Al Turner, Dan Greenberg, Jerry Mackey and Ruth Sunker.
The first step in starting a new Boy Scout unit is to find a sponsor. David Prator, an early member of Strawbridge United Methodist Church, approached the church about sponsoring the unit and they accepted. Paperwork was completed and approved by the Sam Houston Area Council. I requested the lowest unit number available, and it was “8”. How convenient! The boys already had an “8” in their Troop 839 numbers, so they didn’t even have to purchase new patches.
On paper we were up and running before the summer camp of 1989. We joined Troop 839 for that summer camp, which was held at the El Rancho Cima River Camp. This was the first official event for the new Troop 8.
To launch the troop we needed leadership. The adults mentioned above were all involved in some position. I volunteered to be Scoutmaster, Mike Mulcahey and Chuck Ballard became Assistant Scoutmasters, Mike Burke became the Troop Committee Chairman, Joe Nothwang was the Treasurer, Ruth Sunker was the Secretary and produced the newsletter, and Dan Eaton handled advancements. The majority of the boys were 14 or under, which made it difficult to pick a Senior Patrol Leader for the start-up phase. I made the executive decision to appoint, instead of elect, the first Senior Patrol Leader (SPL). Jerry Mackey and his family had recently moved to Kingwood and joined Troop 839, and I approached their 16-year-old son, Scott Mackey, about being our first Senior Patrol Leader. He accepted and was a great role model for the younger boys. During the first 6 months of the troop, we set the requirements for SPL as Life Scout and having served as ASPL (Assistant Senior Patrol Leader). Our second SPL was duly elected by his fellow Scouts.
FIRST YEAR’S OUTINGS
After that first summer camp in 1989, the planning process for the year began. Many of those first-year outings became so popular that they have been repeated many times over the years — some have been held every year for the last 20 years. Our first campout was at Double Lake in September. In October we went to the District Camporee, and in December we attended Scout Fair and held our first Winter Camp. Vicksburg was added in January as a travel trip and has since expanded. Canoeing was also a part of our calendar and remains so to this day.
Our monthly outings were offered after canvassing the resources of our adult volunteers, and then formulating a plan that we could present to the boys for their final selection.
Canoeing – For canoeing, Chuck Ballard had already led a trip for Troop 839 on Village Creek. Village Creek has an unpredictable flow in September, which was the month designated for a canoe trip; after several years, the outing was changed to the Guadalupe River thanks to the efforts of Chuck Ballard. The Guadalupe has been our canoeing home ever since.
Rock Climbing – I had a background in rock climbing in California and already had some of the specialized climbing equipment. After visiting Enchanted Rock on a family trip to check out the site, we added rock climbing to the program in 1990. In those years most troops were focused on rappelling, but we focused on climbing with some rappelling.
Backpacking – Several adults had backpacking experience, and Chuck Ballard led the effort to conquer the Lonestar Trail. Starting in 1992, we spent the next 5 years covering the 100+ mile trail that starts near Double Lake and extends to the northwest of Lake Conroe.
Vicksburg, Mississippi and the Other Winter Travel Trips – I had heard that Kingwood Troop 1377 had traveled to Vicksburg, and it sounded interesting. The goal for the travel trip was to do something fun, educational, and stay inside instead of camping outdoors. We stayed in the National Guard Armory and did the 14-mile battlefield hike. After that first year, we looked around for other venues that the boys might like. Since those early years, we hiked the San Antonio Mission Trail, and also traveled to Corpus Christi for the Aquarium, the USS Lexington and the Aransas Wildlife Reserve. Later Tom Lemm spearheaded a trip to Pensacola that included the Navel Air Museum, the USS Alabama, Fort Morgan, and the Stennis Space Center.
Rifle and Shotgun Shooting – These have always been popular summer camp activities for Scouts, so I became an NRA instructor thereby allowing us to hold troop shoots. In the early years, we used the National Forest near Double Lake. However, once the Trykoski family purchased a ranch near Oakhurst around 1995, they graciously invited the troop to use their ranch. We have continued to hold at least one shoot a year and have sometimes coupled it with a wilderness survival outing. Our goal is to first train all of our Scouts in gun safety and then give them some practical skills by shooting 22 rifles and shotguns. We also have had an archery range for the boys to practice their archery skills. Oftentimes it is difficult for boys to qualify at summer camp for the rifle or shotgun merit badges, but by including the troop shoots in our program, we have had many boys successfully meet the qualifications after just one of our outings.
Winter Camp – The Sam Houston Area Council has provided a winter camp between Christmas and New Years for over 20 years, and in 1988 Mike Mulcahey and I took 5 boys from Troop 839 to attend this camp. However, with the start of our new troop in 1989, we asked the boys if they wanted to attend the Council camp, and they all agreed that 5 days took up too much of their holiday vacation time. So, Mike and I came up with the idea of holding a 3-day winter camp at the Double Lake covered pavilion. The lodge was not available, so we had to improvise by building a temporary kitchen at the end of the pavilion. The pavilion was wrapped with plastic to keep in the heat – military field kitchens had nothing on us! We cooked on wooden tables made by Dan Greenberg that are still in use today. The adults did all of the work in the kitchen and taught the merit badge classes. The schedule has not changed in 20 years, although the menu has been gradually adapted to more attendees and to different equipment, and facilities. The first year we had 25 boys and 9 adults from both Troop 8 and Troop 839. Ruth Sunker and Marilyn Ballard designed the menu and purchased all of the food. By year 3 we were able to use the large hall, but we chose to cook outside on a makeshift trailer kitchen. Starting in year 4, we cooked inside on a couple of old, used ovens that were purchased just for this camp – just using these ovens was an adventure.
In 1999 we moved the camp to Lake Houston State Park because the U.S. government had shut down Double Lake; that was the year that the legislature could not decide upon a budget, so facilities like Double Lake were temporarily closed. That is the same year we initiated the big Winter Camp BBQ dinner. We have had up to 5 troops attend the camp and have had up to 180 people in attendance. We have always offered several of the core Eagle-required merit badges. However, we have also offered a wide range of merit badges such as computers, law (where the kitchen staff was once brought to trial), a camp newspaper produced by Jeff Trykoski, fly fishing, atomic energy, farm mechanics and many, many more. For the past 3 years, attendance to the camp has been limited to members of Troop 8.
The Scouting program uses advancements as one of its methods to measure progress and provide guidance in helping a youth set and achieve personal goals. We have been very fortunate in having very dedicated adults leading our advancement program. It is much more than simple record keeping. Our first Advancement Chairman was Dan Eaton, who helped with advancements at Troop 839 and knew how to get us started. Dan also tutored the first 37 Eagle Scouts through the process. Milo Meixell stepped in as the next Eagle Advancement Chairman and helped the next 51 youth through the process. Roy Blieberg took over last year and has seen over 20 Eagles in a very short time. Nationally only 4% of boys who join Scouting reach this rank.
Most of the boys, as adults, will reflect back on their Scouting days and not remember many of the adults that made the program successful. In reality, even a small troop requires many adults to insure that the program is delivered properly and safely. This would not happen without a strong Troop Committee and most definitely a strong Committee Chairman. Troop 8 has had the good fortune to have a string of exceptional chairmen. We started with Mike Burke for the first 2 formative years. Steve Wood took over the position for the next 7 years and took a leading role in the inter-troop July 4th BBQ. Craig Freeman served for 4 years during a time when the troop was actively growing; he also emphasized the part religion plays in Scouting by encouraging many youth to work on their religious awards. As we continued to grow, Matt Greer took over the chairmanship for the following 6 years. By 2002 we had grown to about 90 scouts, and Matt embarked on more “corporate” volunteer structure to better define roles and responsibilities and spread the workload in order to better serve our expanding membership. At this time we adopted the specific Assistant Scout Master assignments. Matt also restructured the Committee to be more efficient. Paul Howley took over in 2008 knowing that he had a strong foundation and many willing adults.
Financing a troop of our size is a challenge. In that first year we were even more challenged and had to work hard to acquire the necessary outdoor equipment. Troop 839 helped with a donation as did the Strawbridge United Methodist men’s’ group. With dues, outing fees, sale of activity books and Scout Fair tickets, we made it through to the spring bark mulch fundraiser. By 1990, after one year of trying to collect individual outing fees, we adopted the policy of charging annual dues that paid for outings. Fund raising is another method used in the Scouting program to reinforce the fact that you need to earn your way. We expect boys to earn their way and help with the common goals of the troop for shared equipment.
Troop 839 was looking for a fundraiser in 1988. I had known of a troop in Atascocita that was selling bark mulch once a year as a fundraiser. After Troop 839 investigated the bark mulch potential, we launched and have continued to have a joint fundraiser. When Troop 27 of Kingwood formed the following year, we asked them to join the group and the 3 troops have continued to join forces. The staging area has moved over time from the Presbyterian Church parking lot to a temporary lot behind Randalls, to the current location at the Metro Park ‘N Ride. We started small at 3,500 bags but have grown to over 23,000 bags at our peak. It is a very successful fundraiser and has helped many boys learn about selling, and it continues to fund troop activities and high adventure trips.
The second fundraiser for a number of years was the July 4th BBQ. At one time the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department had limited means to directly fund their services, so they put on a BBQ at the Bear Branch gazebo each year where the 4th of July parade terminated. In 1990 the water districts were finally allowed to add a small service fee to each water bill to fund the fire department. One of our dads, Ken Austin, was familiar with the operation and started the process for the troops to take over the BBQ. After a couple of years the parade route was changed and Kroger helped sponsor the event by supplying most of the food and drinks. At that point we were serving about 1,500 people on the 4th, and it was very profitable. Once Kroger stopped their sponsorship and the construction started for the expansion at the high school, we lost our site and our profitability. We discontinued the BBQ, and in 2007 we decided to pass out cold water along the parade route and then pick up trash at the end of the parade. It has proven to be very popular with the crowds and the Scouts are well recognized.
SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTH
Leadership Skills – We talk about a boy-led troop and are always striving for that goal. To accomplish that goal, in 1996 we developed a procedure whereby each boy beginning a new leadership position received a form describing the duties of that position, leaving a space for him to identify his personal goals for that job plus signatures by the SPL and an adult leader. During his term in office, he is given guidance regarding his role and job performance in meeting his and our expectations. Hopefully this evaluation will contribute to each boy’s sense of accomplishment and guide him in the development of leadership skills needed throughout his life. Bill McMahon has been instrumental in making this process work over the last several years resulting in increased leadership skills for the boys.
Jamboree – Two boys attended the 1989 National Jamboree in Virginia, and several of our Scouts have attended subsequent Jamborees, which are held every four years. Attendance also includes the 2008 International Jamboree in London.
High Adventure – Our first high adventure trip was to Philmont, New Mexico in 1990 where 3 boys and 3 adults attended. Since that time, we have sent dozens of boys to Philmont; had 2 trips to canoe base in Minnesota and Canada; sent 3 groups to Sea Base in the Florida Keys; sent one group to Colorado; and one group even went to Kanderstag, Switzerland.
The Camporee of 1989 – I had committed to chair the District Camporee in the fall of 1989, and a large part of the organization and execution fell to Troop 8. The Camporee had over 500 people in attendance and was held at the Alabama Coushata Indian Reservation. It was quite a challenge for our newly formed troop.
Ship 8 – At the request of several boys, Mike Mulcahey and I started Sea Scout Ship 8 in 1992 that specializes in sailing and attracts older male and female youth, ages 14-21.
SERVICE TO OTHERS
We estimate that there have been about 400 boys that have experienced Scouting at Troop 8 in the past 20 years. Of those boys, 108 have reached the rank of Eagle Scout. Youth that stay in the troop typically serve in multiple leadership positions, and I estimate that there have been over 700 leadership terms served by the boys since 1989.
Lastly is service… I estimate that our Eagle Scout projects have accounted for over 11,000 hours of community service in addition to approximately another 4000+ hours on other community projects.
As a youth in Cub Scouts (Pack 8), Boy Scout (Eagle Scout 1962) and a Sea Scout (Quartermaster 1962), I took full advantage of the program and have always felt it was an important and formative part of my life. As an adult leader during my college years, I realized how I had grown and benefited from the program and that I could help others experience the same fulfillment.
As a parent I hoped my children would have similar opportunities and experiences. I became a Girl Scout leader in California for my daughters and when my sons, Robert and Ronald, expressed an interest I recommitted myself. In a growing community like Kingwood the youth have so many alternatives, it is refreshing when we can capture and excite young boys to follow the Scouting trail. The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. As Scouting leaders, we strive to meet this mission statement in all of our programs.
My goal to help my sons through the program resulted in Robert becoming the Troop’s first Eagle Scout and Ronald following a few years later as the 35th Eagle Scout. Both sons, as well as my daughters, took advantage of our new Sea Scout Ship. Most people thought I would retire about 10 years ago when Ronald turned 18. It did cross my mind; however, I felt that there was still more that I could do and I do enjoy camping and the outdoors.
A successful troop does not deliver program or continue very long without a dedicated staff of adult volunteers. Troop 8 has been blessed from the start with a very large group of volunteers. We have always had strong committee chairmen who could recruit many other adults to fill all the roles necessary to meet our often-ambitious plans. As a Scoutmaster, I have had dedicated Assistant Scoutmasters that can share the load in dealing with the youth leadership of a troop our size. Although the success of the Troop is often attributable to the Scoutmaster, in reality, the entire staff together is the only way the Troop can be successful.
I would like to thank all of the adults who have joined me and shared this experience of the last 20 years making Troop 8 what it is today. I also know that the adults we have today will continue to deliver a quality program benefiting all present and future youth in Troop 8.
Thanks for the opportunity and the memories.