For 30 years Rincon’s Boy Scout Troop 665 has been under the direction of one scoutmaster.
Lt. Col. Ken Luikart was raised in West Virginia and moved to Rincon where he worked at Union Camp’s research facility before becoming an officer in the Air National Guard where he works full time. He will retire on March 1.
Donnie Bradshaw assisted with Troop 665 for a number of years. The two worked together at Union Camp. He said it’s Luikart’s love of the program and working with the boys that has kept him involved.
Luikart is a Silver Beaver recipient, the highest award bestowed upon an adult for outstanding volunteer work by the Boy Scouts. He’s also earned the Wood badge. He’s also a Wood badge scoutmaster.
“That’s an adult leader-training program, but that’s something that he has that he’s done on his own,” Bradshaw said.
Luikart served two tours of duty in Vietnam, volunteering to go back the second time. Luikart’s younger brother was also in Vietnam at the same time, Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw said Luikart is a man who serves his community and country.
“You’re looking at a man who is serving his community and still serving his country,” he said. “Think about someone who served in Vietnam and now he’s continued to serve his country in the military and also serves his community by working with young men to get them going in the right direction.”
A way to give back
Luikart said working in scouting was a way for him to give back. His son was born in February 1976, and in November of the that year there was an accident and the doctor gave his son a 30 percent chance of survival.
“It took the wind out of my sails,” Luikart said. “I know you can’t make a deal with God, but I said if I can have my son back, I’ll give back to you.”
Luikart said the following day, his son was up walking like nothing had happened.
A year later, his opportunity to give back came when his neighbor Robert Helmly asked if he would help lead a scout troop that was being organized.
Originally Helmly was the scoutmaster and Luikart was the assistant. He said they changed places a couple of weeks later.
Luikart said there are some interesting facts about the troop.
“For the first five years, whenever we camped it rained,” Luikart said. “There was a headline in the Springfield Herald ‘Need rain send 665 on a camping trip.’”
He said the troop rarely sets up camp in the daylight, and when they do set up camp, while the sun is out, it is not as good as when they set up camp at night.
Adventures along the way
Over the years there have been some mishaps as well. Early in the troop’s history, the boys cooked with a skillet over an open fire. On the first trip the boys were cooking breakfast, and the grease in the skillet caught fire.
“I took a shovel with sand and put the fire out,” Luikart said.
He said the boys looked distraught at their breakfast under a pile of sand and dirt, but they learned how to clean the pan, and they started over.
“They eventually got their breakfast,” Luikart said. “It was about a half an hour later than we had planned.”
Bradshaw said one year when the troop went to the national jamboree, a 24-hour virus was passed around on the bus.
“There were 43 people in the bus — 34 got the virus,” Bradshaw said. “We took a five-day tour on the way up. We had kids sick as dogs. They blamed me because I had already had the virus about two weeks earlier. When we got there, there were only four leaders, three of them went down with the virus. They quarantined us; they wouldn’t let us leave for a while until they could figure out what was going on. So here we are all driving one bus.”
Luikart said the troop plays a game at night on camping trips.
“On one camping trip we were playing capture the flag,” he said. “The game was going long.”
He said the boys were being timid about going to capture the opposing team’s flag, so he decided to show them how it was done. When he did, an adult on the opposing team saw him and began chasing him.
“I’m running to escape, and it’s dark,” Luikart said. “I ran off a 10-foot cliff into Ebenezer Creek.”
The assistant chasing him fell in the creek on top of him.
Luikart said it’s important for him to go out and play a wide area game with the boys when they camp.
“They like the adult attention,” he said. “If the adults sat around the fire not interested, they would get bored. You have to go out and play.”
The troop has been camping all along the Southeast. Luikart has even taken the boys camping in West Virginia were he is from and shown them some of the places he camped as a boy.
“They keep me young,” he said. “I’m getting old, but they keep me young at heart.”
He said in 30 years the boys have always gone to bed around 11 p.m. without playing pranks on each other during the night and woken up at 7 a.m.
Luikart said scouting helps boys learn to become leaders.
He said if someone he works with were asked to describe him perfectionist would be what his co-workers might say, but he said he’s not a perfectionist he is a reductionist.
“I reduce problems to manageable tasks in order to fix the problem,” he said. “I also have to accept failure.”
Learning the hard way
Luikart said scouting allows boys to fail and to learn from failure.
“If you don’t allow him to fail, he doesn’t learn,” he said.
Even though he is retiring from his job, he does not plan to give up scouting yet.
“Realistically speaking I retire March 1,” he said. “I don’t want to burn myself out, but I won’t get 30 more years in.”
He said the way a scoutmaster can make it so long is by having adult support and good scouts.
Bradshaw said it is a credit to Luikart and to the community that there are good leaders, and good parental support that has helped Luikart through the years.
“I keep telling him he needs to retire, but I don’t think he will,” Bradshaw said.
Luikart said he can continue serving as scoutmaster for a few more years.
“As long as the boys can laugh and enjoy our camping trips,” he said. “When I’m not a fun guy to be around, it’s time to go.”
No. 1: Have fun
He said having the ability to be silly with the boys is important.
“You have to act like a kid,” he said. “If you can’t play, you can’t be a scoutmaster.”
Luikart said leading and playing have kept him working in the scout program.
“It’s a fun thing,” he said. “You have to commit yourself to understanding what makes things fun for a kid.”
He said that could be wide area games, board games, card games or a number of other activities.
“It’s important to wean them off of video games and high tech entertainment that wants to keep them in the house,” Luikart said. “It is teaching them a different way to have fun.”
He said it’s important to be “the adult that takes the chance of running off a cliff to play capture the flag.”
Luikart said in many ways scouting has been a way for him to heal from traumatic experiences in his life, including serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, and the near loss of his son.
He said war ages a soldier.
“I was an old man at age 23,” Luikart said.
Scouting has offered him a way to recapture his youth while teaching the boys.
Bradshaw said describing Luikart is like describing a fairy tale, but he’s real.
“That’s hard to imagine someone who’s dedicated themselves to his country and his community and his church and his family,” Bradshaw said. “He’s just that type of person.”