Thank you, Phil Gerhart. I’ll see you over the next ridge.

Mr. Gerhart and Crew on top of Tooth of TIme 1994I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the influence of Mr. Gerhart.* As my Scoutmaster, he invested his time and energy into young men like me. He showed us how to be servant leaders. If you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves. During his tenure as Scoutmaster of two different troops (Troop 412 and Troop 322), he saw 87 different young men achieve the rank of Eagle Scout (my brother and I are just two of those 87).  When you consider that only a small percentage of Scouts ever reach this rank, it is clear that he influenced several hundred young men over the years.

He saw something in me that many did not. For a variety of reasons, I did not reach my academic potential in middle school and high school. So I was not considered a good candidate for many leadership positions or leadership-related scholarships.**  But Mr. Gerhart saw something in me. He took me under his wing and showed me the true nature of a servant leader. Here are few examples of when he challenged me to grow as a leader and celebrated my successes…

“Matt, Jarod, remember this when you’re working here.”

Philmont Crew, 1990

During my first trek at Philmont Scout Ranch, we were met on the trail by one of our Troop’s graduates. He was on staff at Philmont that year, and we thought that was pretty cool. We’d spent a few days on the trail and we had grown tired of the re-hydrated dehydrated trail food that served as breakfast and dinner. All of a sudden, a watermelon appeared, courtesy of our friend the Phil-staffer.

Now, I’m not much of a watermelon fan, but this was the best tasting watermelon I’d ever had. It was like it had been picked from Heaven’s garden itself. It was a perfect setting. We were hot, sweaty, and dirty. And we were sprawled out in a small meadow in the middle of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in New Mexico, sharing slices of watermelon.

It really doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

Out of the bue, Mr. Gerhart looks my way and instructs me and my friend Jarod: “Don’t forget this when you’re working here.”

I was but a lowly underclassman in high school at the time. The thought of even attempting to get a job at Philmont was the furthest from my mind. But Mr. Gerhart planted a seed. And that was the first time I ever thought about spending a summer out at Philmont. At that point, it was nothing more than a pie in the sky pipe dream. But he planted the seed.

Fast forward…

Years later when I was working at Beaubien Camp at Philmont in 1995, I made a concerted effort to get my hands on a watermelon. My home crew, including my Dad and Mr. Gerhart, was due to arrive at my camp in a few days. I was almost frantic. I had to have a watermelon.

Alas, it was not meant to be. There was no watermelon available from the camp commissary. So I did the next best thing I could think of: I baked a chocolate cake for them. And I completed the challenge that I had accepted in that meadow several years prior.

As a mentor, you challenge. You inspire. And you might even plant seeds of a dream that won’t come true for several years. You keep the big picture in mind and play the long game.

He grew leaders

In our Scouting experience, Mr. Gerhart helped create an atmosphere where young leaders could celebrate their successes and learn from their failures in a safe environment. He equipped us with the tools necessary to become strong servant leaders. Then he challenged us by expecting us to follow-through.

Here’s what I mean…

Our Scouting calendar basically followed the school calendar. It began in September and ended in July/August, with Summer Camp and the subsequent Court of Honor serving as a transition time from one set of leaders to the next. Sometime during this transition (I don’t remember when – probably in June), the new leadership team, consisting of the Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Leadership Corps (older Scouts who were mentors without official leadership titles) would gather together to plan out the next year’s monthly themes and campouts.

Mr. Gerhart would set some parameters, like some non negotiable event dates. Then he would leave the room. The Senior Patrol Leader, as the youth leader of the Troop, was left to run the brainstorming session and the actual planning. An hour or so later, Mr. Gerhart would come back into the room, fully expecting a cogent plan for the rest of the Scouting year.

He could do this because he had equipped us. He empowered us. And he released us to do exactly what was expected. That’s what leaders do. They don’t manage. And they certainly don’t micromanage. They lead. Sometimes, that means they get out of the way.

And that requires trust.

Don’t get me wrong. There were times when I did some pretty boneheaded things. Like my “ax-ident.” But Mr. Gerhart expected me to learn from my experiences. And that helped us trust each other even more.

Mr. Gerhart showed me he trusted my leadership abilities during a time of crisis. It was during the Summer Camp when I served as Senior Patrol Leader. It was my last hurrah in that position, as the Senior Patrol Leader passes the baton in a peaceful transfer of power to the upcoming Senior Patrol Leader during the final moments of Camp.

Before that happened, we had to deal with a crisis.

A young Scout had mistreated an animal in front of the rest of the patrol. It was cruel and uncalled for and a clear violation of Scout rules – including the parts of the Scout Law that say a Scout is kind and a Scout is reverent.

In my Scouting experience, no one had ever done anything like this before. We were in uncharted territory. But Mr. Gerhart had faith in us. He told me to gather up the Leadership Corps and come up with a proper punishment. And he would help us carry out whatever punishment we deemed fit.

It was much like the planning meetings we had, except this had a much more heavy feel to it. Mr. Gerhart showed us that he trusted us by leaving in the cabin to brainstorm, deliberate, and come up with a plan. It was kind of like a final exam. And our teacher had prepared us in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

When we reached an agreement, we shared our conclusion with Mr. Gerhart. He agreed with our decision. And in what was probably the second-most difficult leadership moments of my life up to that point (the first was when I was called out on a mountainside in New Mexico), Mr. Gerhart sat behind me in support as I issued our team’s decision to the Young Scout.

Our decision was bold, but fair. I think it included a loss of rank and maybe a certain amount of probation. It was a devastating punishment, but it could have been worse. I think we showed a measured amount of grace. We could have kicked him out. But we didn’t. Because we knew how transformative the Scouting experience could be as part of our Troop. That, of course, is another testament to Mr. Gerhart’s guidance and leadership.

We could issue such a bold, fair, and graceful punishment because we knew Mr. Gerhart had our back. He trusted us. And we trusted him.

A servant leader has to trust AND be trusted. Mr. Gerhart did both.

Pointing the spotlight.

Mr. Gerhart lived out his faith every day that I saw him. He encouraged us to study creation as we were on our monthly campouts. Because he knew that as we studied creation, we would see the hand of the Creator at work. He encouraged us to take our faith seriously and live it with boldness. And he showed us that faith and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work together hand in hand.

He saw Scouting as an arm of our sponsoring church, reaching out to new families and encouraging young men in their faith. He took this role seriously. And I guess it was pretty effective. I mean, it got me and my brother to become active members of that church.

In addition to introducing me to Cullen Avenue Christian Church, Mr. Gerhart has another prominent place in my faith story. Shortly after mom and I had a discussion about how it was time for me to finally take ownership of my faith through the act of baptism, she set up a time for me to talk with Todd, my Youth Minister. Mr. Gerhart asked if he could sit in on our conversation.

I still have a few mental “snapshots” of this meeting. I don’t remember most of the words that were said. But I do remember knowing from that meeting that Mr. Gerhart took his faith very seriously and he was happy to know that I wanted to take my faith seriously, too.

The Apostle Paul instructed the believers in the church at Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That was Mr. Gerhart. He urged us to follow him as he pointed to Jesus. That’s what servant leaders do. They don’t point the spotlight on themselves.

They point it beyond themselves.

“It’s just over the next ridge.”

When hiking at Philmont, Mr. Gerhart and his friend, Mr. Dawes, would have a saying to encourage each other. The rigorous terrain was a struggle for them, but they insisted on pushing on. They would encourage each other by saying that our destination was “Just over the next ridge.”

Of course, the end of the day’s hike usually wasn’t “over the next ridge.” It was usually five or six ridges away. But this was a good way to break up the hike into manageable legs. And since good leaders know that words matter matter and that you don’t climb a mountain in just one step, this was a fitting saying for them to share.

During long drives while my kids were younger, I found myself saying similar things. “Let’s get past this curve.” Or, “Let’s wait five minutes and see.” And, of course, “It’s just over the next ridge.” It helped break the monotony of some long trips. And it certainly helped me keep my sanity.

That’s not a bad way to approach life. Yes, we live in the present. And it’s healthy to have goals. But in order to achieve those goals, we have to break things up into manageable pieces. Each mini goal that leads to the big goal is a ridge that we must conquer.

This is one of the many leadership lessons I learned from Mr. Gerhart. It is not uncommon that find myself using many of the lessons that he lived out. He was a great leader, teacher, and friend. I will miss him. Dearly. In fact, I already do.

“Happy trails, Mr. Gerhart. Thank you for the impact you made on my life and the lives of countless others. We’ll see you over the next ridge.”

 

Endnotes

* Phil Gerhart was a highly-respected professor of engineering at the University of Evansville. Because of his PhD, it was altogether fitting that we call him Dr. Gerhart. In Scouts, he had us call him Mr. Gerhart. I don’t know why he did that, but that’s what we called him. That’s what I will always call him. I saw him at the end of 2016 when he and his wife came to the Viewing before my Grandma’s funeral. I suppose I could have gotten away with calling him “Phil.” But I didn’t. He always was and always will be Mr. Gerhart to me.

** By the time I was a Junior in high school, I had leadership roles in Band. I know my band director had something to do with that. But I credit the preparation for those leadership opportunities to Mr. Gerhart. He certainly paved the way.

5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life

5 Ways Crater Lake Camp Prepared Me for Life

This post may use affiliate links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy.

Twenty years ago this month, I loaded my backpack, laced up my hiking boots, and boarded a bus that was bound for an Amtrak station. On that day, I said goodbye to what might have been the most memorable Summer I’ve ever had. After my seventh visit* to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico, I knew that a significant chapter of my life was coming to a close.

I was not going to return to Scouting Paradise in 1997. I was already committed to taking a Summer class at Milligan. 1998 was out, too. I was already on track for an internship that Summer. And who knew what was going to happen beyond college, but I was 99.99% sure that spending another summer on staff at Philmont was not going to be in the proverbial cards. I knew that my stint as a member of the 1996 Crater lake staff was going to be my last hurrah.

And I was going to make the most of it.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with during that final Summer. Andy, Ron, Karl, and Jon were some pretty great guys. They still are. Sometimes, I felt a bit out of my league as their teammate. They were hilarious. Creativity oozed out of their pores. You know how everyone talks about the Magnificent Seven from the Atlanta Games in 1996? I believe the 1996 Crater Lake crew was just as magnificent. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I was in the presence of greatness the Summer of 1996.

There are a lot of great memories that I still carry with me from that Summer: getting pelted by golfball-sized hail, climbing on the roof of our cabin to gaze into the vast expanse of stars every night, throwing a loaf of bread across the dinner table any time someone asked for some bread, and the hundreds of Scouts we taught how to climb a spar pole, just to name a few.

Spar Pole Climbing at Crater Lake in 1996

The Summer of 96 was life-changing for me. I became friends with an amazing group of guys. I made some amazing memories. And it prepared me for the rest of my life.

5 ways serving on staff at Crater Lake at Philmont Scout Ranch prepared me for life:

Continue reading “5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life”

My ax-ident

Scar Week

It’s no secret that my experience with Boy Scouts had a significant impact on my life. Philmont was only the tip of the iceberg. Our Scout troop (the now-defunct Troop 322) had a core group of dedicated adults who helped create an environment where leaders could be equipped and mentored. We had the opportunity to succeed…and fail…as young leaders in a safe environment. One of the things that set us apart from other troops in the area was the fact that we ran our own Summer Camp.

We could do this for two reasons: 1.) a dedicated group of dads who gave up a week of vacation in order to serve as adult advisers and teachers during the week. 2.)A strong Leadership Corps: older Scouts who served as mentors and teachers for younger Scouts. Who better to help a younger Scout learn the ropes of Scouting than by learning from the example of older Scouts who had already navigated through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class?

So let me tell you about the time that I was teaching a bunch of visiting Cub Scouts some important safety lessons. I was 16 at the time. Our Leadership Corps had set up a large area to serve as our base of operations. Because we had limited time and a bunch of visiting Webelos Scouts* (5th graders who were transitioning into Boy Scouts) to accommodate, each of us manned a station and rotated smaller groups through each station. We had about 10 to 15 minutes with each group before they moved on to the next station. One station involved knot tying. I think another was about pitching a tent. Yet another probably had something to do with cooking or campfires or something in that realm. My mind is getting a little fuzzy about those details and I’ve forgotten what was being taught at each station. But I can tell you that it was all hands-on stuff. And I can also tell you without a shadow of a doubt what skill was teaching that fateful day.

Ax safety.**

Ax

Yep. You think you might know where this is going. And you might be right. Then again, you might be wrong. Oh, so very wrong. Continue reading “My ax-ident”

Amazingly simple Peach Cobbler

Amazingly Simple Peach Cobbler RecipeThere are few things better than sharing a dessert while sitting around a campfire at the end of a long day of camping. When you think of desserts cooked by campfire, you might think of the common ones: s’mores or baked apples. They’re great treats to have on a campout, or even at home. One of my favorite desserts from my Scouting days was a little more fancy. In reality, though, this dessert might be easier to make than s’mores. It’s peach cobbler. It’s so good. And it’s so amazingly simple to make.

I learned how to bake this dessert in a Dutch Oven. But I don’t own a Dutch Oven. I might have to break down and buy one at some point, but that’s not in the plan any time in the near future. But I still need this peach cobbler in my life. Fortunately, there’s not much to change in order to be able to fix this at home. You just need to use a baking dish instead of a Dutch Oven. I used a 9×9 pan for this recipe. And you can use an oven instead of coals from a campfire.

You’ll be amazed at how easy this recipe is. But don’t tell anyone. Just let everyone think you’ve been slaving in the kitchen all day long. In addition to how easy and tasty it is, it’s also highly adaptable. In addition to peach cobbler, I’ve used a variation of this recipe to make apple cobbler, blueberry cobbler, and cherry cobbler. You simply change the cans of fruit and the canned pie filling and you’re all set!

Here’s how you make this Amazingly Simple Peach Cobbler:

Ingredients:

1 box of yellow cake mix
1 stick of butter
1 29 oz. can of sliced peaches
1 20 oz. can of peach pie filling
You’re welcome to make your own pie filling if you’d like. But we’re keeping this recipe simple. So you’re going to have to try that out on your own if you’re feeling adventurous. You can also add more cans of peaches if you’d like.

Optional: Vanilla ice cream. I mean, it’s really not optional if you’re at home. You really should have this with vanilla ice cream. It’s a little tougher to do when you’re camping, though. So we’ll just say it’s optional.

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Drain sliced peaches. When we were camping, we would set the syrup to the side and use it in our drink mix and called it “bug juice.”
  3. In a 9×9 pan, mix peach pie filling and drained sliced peaches.
  4. Sprinkle dry cake mix over the mixed fruit.
  5. Cover the dry cake mix with pats of butter. One stick of butter should cover the entire dessert.It should look like this:
    Butter on top of Peach Cobbler
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 45 minutes until golden brown. The time is really an estimate. You bake it until it’s done. You’ll know it’s done because it’ll look something like this:
    Peach Cobbler

Serve warm with a scoop or two of ice cream.

See?

It’s really that simple.

Amazingly simple.

Peach Cobbler Title

 

3 life lessons I learned on staff at Beaubien Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch

Beaubien Staff 1995

Some college students dream of working at Disney World during their Summer Break. Others work as camp counselors or lifeguards. Some spend the long, hot Summer days working at a part-time job.

Me?

Colfax County New Mexico Wall Map
Map of Colfax Couny, NM – home of Philmont Scout Ranch (*affiliate link*)

I had the opportunity of a lifetime. During the Summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Milligan College, I had the opportunity to live out my own dream. It is also the dream of many others who have been involved in Boy Scouts over the years. I was a Backcountry staff member at the summit of Scouting: Philmont Scout Ranch.

I had already hiked five different Philmont treks during my Scouting experience: four as a Camper and one as an adult Advisor. My love for Philmont ran deep. It still does. During my first trek, I had decided that I wanted to work in the Backcountry at Philmont. That’s not unusual, though. I would imagine that at least half of the thousands of Scouts who stream through this high adventure base have this same thought.

There is one event that solidified this dream for me. Continue reading “3 life lessons I learned on staff at Beaubien Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch”

A Tale of Two Hats

This picture is from the summer of 1995. I was a Backcountry Program Counselor at Beaubien, one of (if not the) largest camps at Philmont Scout Ranch. I made some lifelong friends and had an amazing time while living the dream at the ultimate Scouting experience.

Part of the 1995 staff at at Beaubien Camp at Philmont Scout RanchI still have that hat. It cost me a significant chunk of my first paycheck. The real cowboys were shocked, dismayed, and disappointed in me because I bought a black hat. Apparently white’s the way to go. You don’t get as hot. I didn’t care. I still don’t, actually.  I might still have those boots.

In 1996, I had the honor of returning to Scouting Paradise for one last hurrah. This time, I was a logger from the early 20th century at Crater Lake. I bought myself a bowler this time. It didn’t cost nearly as much as the cowboy hat did in ’95. And there was no astonishment at my color choice. Black bowlers are always in style. I just need to convince some fashion blogger that I’m right.

Again, I made some lifelong friends there. We also recorded a live album that was phenomenal. Would’ve gone multi-platinum. If we’d sold it, that is. Man…I can’t believe we missed out on that world tour. I think we would’ve called the tour EuroPhilWorld because of the story we would tell at campfire of how we were part of a top-secret plan of the Boy Scouts of America to eventually take over the planet and we would wind up renaming the planet EuroPhilWorld.

But I digress…

Serving on the Crater Lake staff in 1996 was probably the most memorable summer of my life, even though I missed out on watching the Magnificent Seven gymnastics team. And I knew this summer was one for the record books.

Self-Portrait. Crater Lake Camp at Philmont, New Mexico. 1996I have some pretty amazing photos from my Philmont staff experience. Many of those photos include one of the two hats. Those hats are full of some pretty amazing memories. In fact, memories seem to ooze out of them (all over the place. And yes, it’s a slooooow ooooze).

Mihret discovered my hats last night. She insisted on wearing one.

My Bowler and my Cowboy Hat from Philmont
Sorry, Philmont.

This wins.

Raingutter Regatta

This is Aiden’s fourth year in Cub Scouting. It was the first time we’ve been able to participate in the annual Raingutter Regatta race.

Aside from some glue issues, the boat was simple enough to make. And Aiden decided he wanted it to look like a Star Destroyer, the paint job was fairly straightforward: Chrome spray paint.

He took home some hardware, too. Third place! That, I think, is the best place to earn. You still get to take home a trophy, but no one can say you’re the one most full of hot air because two people finished ahead of you. 😀

Congratulations, Buddy!

A Scout is…?

Believe me, when I heard the news that the President was skipping out on the Boy Scout National Jamboree on the 100th anniversary of the BSA in order to do some fundraising and record an episode for the View, I was upset. This snubbing certainly comes across as a slap in the face to Scouting. As an Eagle Scout, I’ve been involved off and on in Scouting for more than 25 years. I know the good that comes from Scouting. If you’ve read this blog with any regularity at all, you know that I believe I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the influence of the Boy Scouts of America. I firmly believe President Obama should have made a public appearance at the Jamboree – especially since it’s the 100th anniversary. It’s not like this anniversary snuck up on anyone. We’ve known 2010 would be the 100th anniversary since…well…1910!

With that being said, I’m disturbed by the video that is making the rounds. It has bothered me since I saw it a few days ago and I’ve tweeted about it several times. The President decided to address the Jamboree via video. Yes. He mailed it in. But that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the reaction of a group of Scouts in attendance…

I have read the explanation of the Scout who posted the video. And I respectfully disagree. Here’s why: the Scout Law.

Let me refresh your memory.

A Scout is:
Trustworthy
Loyal
Helpful
Friendly
Courteous
Kind
Obedient
Cheerful
Thrifty
Brave
Clean
Reverent

Now, let’s look at a few definitions from the Boy Scout Handbook (emphasis mine):

Courteous
A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.

Kind
A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.

Cheerful
A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.

I realize there was disappointment. I get it. But that doesn’t give you license to treat people the way you want. This video hardly displays these key principles of Scouting as expressed in the Scout Law – the very Law they promised to live by when they took the Scout Oath.

There was one trip our Scout Troop went on (possibly to the US Space & Rocket Center, but I’m not sure right now) where a number in our ranks were very rude at the museum. They would cut in line and treat other guests with disrespect. Needless to say, they were giving Scouting a bad name. And our adult leadership found out about it. That night, they (and our Senior Patrol Leader) gathered us together and chewed us out, reminding us that this behavior was not acceptable.

I hope the adult leadership who was with these Scouts has talked with them about how their behavior does not line up with Scouting’s ideals. Yes, it was a video. No, they didn’t boo him in person. It doesn’t matter. It was rude to the President. It was rude to those around them who might have wanted to hear what he had to say. It was hardly courteous, kind, cheerful, or even friendly.

I learned in elementary school that you don’t boo. So, if they haven’t talked with them, maybe these Scouts need a visit from Mr. Wilhelm.

Philmont Crew 709R (1990)

My first (of 5) Philmont trek began 20 years ago today.

Wow. Twenty years. I had no idea how much that journey would change my life!

Grandmama was scared I was going to get eaten by a bear. I didn’t even see one that Trek. I did eventually see two bears during my time at Philmont. None of them ate me though. I’m glad Grandmama was wrong.

Flashback Friday

Left to Right: Laurie, Me, Bubba (aka Tubba), Trigger
Left to Right: Laura, Me, Bubba (aka "Tubba"), Trigger

I’ve been looking for a good picture to go with today’s Flashback Friday retro-video. I really wanted one of me doing something with fire. Unfortunately, I don’t have such a picture.

I do, however, have several pictures of me at the many campfires we did at Philmont. This might have been the most memorable part of our Beaubien campfires because we’d stop, mid-sentence, and strike a pose for whatever camera we saw. We’d even take people’s cameras and take pictures of ourselves (yes, that’s where I picked up this habit). We could easily turn a half-hour campfire into an hour by hamming it up for the camera.

And we did this every night.

It was our own little twist on the traditional Philmont campfire. But we didn’t start the fire…

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2491296&w=425&h=350&fv=]

more about “Flashback Friday“, posted with vodpod

I’m trying to find some older pictures of me, but I think most of them are still at my parents’. I’ll try to track some more down. I promise.

Oh yeah, and if you want to read a short summary of each event to which Mr. Joel refers, this site does a pretty good job.