Three generations achieve rank of Eagle Scout

By Tammy Keith Published November 25, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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EILISH PALMER / River Valley & Ozark Edition

Chris Wilson, 17, center, of Conway was honored as an Eagle Scout this month in a Court of Honor ceremony at the Faulkner County Library, joining his grandfather, Dr. Joe T. Wilson Jr. of Jonesboro, and father, Russell Wilson of Conway. Eagle Scout is the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouting, and requirements include earning at least 21 merit badges and demonstrating Scout spirit through service and leadership, including completing a major project.

— Three generations of Wilson men have achieved something so rare there aren’t even records to track it.

Chris Wilson, 17, of Conway is the latest of the family’s Eagle Scouts, following in the footsteps of his father, Russell Wilson of Conway, and his grandfather, Dr. Joe T. Wilson Jr. of Jonesboro, all firstborn sons.

“I love to be challenged when doing things,” Chris said. “Achieving Eagle Scout was the hardest challenge, so that’s what I went for.”

The Conway High School senior said he joined Scouting when he was 10 because his father and grandfather “talked it up so much,” but he also loves the outdoors and wanted to try Scouting.

“I was not pushed to do it,” he said.

In an emotional moment at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony Nov. 18 in Conway, Chris gave his grandfather a pin as the person who influenced him the most.

“My dad and my grandfather both have been my real go-to guys; they are my leaning posts in life. They are just amazing to me,” Chris said.

Joe, 75, a pathologist and a Navy veteran, said, “It’s one of the greatest experiences in my life to do this.”

For three generations of a family to achieve Eagle Scout is unusual, he said.

John Carman of Maumelle, Scout executive for the Quapaw Area Council in Little Rock, said records are kept of each Eagle Scout, but not of multi-generations.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the first Eagle Scout award, he said.

“Only 2 percent of boys earn the rank of Eagle — it’s especially rare when three generations from the same family achieve that rank,” Carman said.

He said that in his 16 years in the job, he has known of only three or four families in the Quapaw Area Council who have achieved the feat. The council serves more than 11,000 youth in 39 counties.

The Wilsons didn’t just earn the ranks; they’ve devoted a lot of their lives to Scouting.

Chris’ father and grandfather — even though Joe lives in Jonesboro — both served as assistant scoutmasters for Chris’ troop, No. 534 at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway.

“When I was like 11 or 12, I would get homesick at Scout camp, but they would come up and visit, and they could even stay with us and help out. It really helped them bond with all the boys in our troop,” Chris said.

Joe said he enjoyed helping troop members earn awards and merit badges.

“We went to a number of activities at the Scout camp in Damascus,” he said, referring to the Gus Blass Scout Reservation.

Joe grew up in Pocahontas and started his Scouting journey when he was 12.

“Actually, I was spending part of the summer down in Louisiana with my mother’s folks, my grandparents, and I was bored. So, my grandfather decided I needed to get active with the Scouts,” Joe said.

“I’d grown up hunting and fishing there in northeast Arkansas, and I enjoyed it. When I came back, I joined the Scout troop in Pocahontas.”

One of his best memories was attending the National Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa., in 1950.

“I hadn’t had a whole lot of experience, no real travel experiences,” he said. Even though it had nothing to do with Scouting, “one of the things I remember very clearly was that I saw my first television.”

He also got lost.

“I left the reservation for some reason. … I remember it took me literally hours to find my way back and find my troop,” he said.

What about the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”?

“I had my compass with me, so I knew generally what direction I had gone. I never strayed much after that,” he said.

“Scouting was a great program for me, and I thought it was good for any boy. You had to be 12 to be a Scout when I joined,” he said.

When Russell came along, a boy had to have finished the fifth grade or be 11 years old.

Russell, 50, said his father obviously was a big influence on him.

“He was active in the troop to the best of his ability as a physician, but he was more active than most because he attended a National Jamboree with me,” Russell said.

One of his favorite memories with his dad is an 11-day trail hike at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and climbing to the top of Mount Baldy, 14,441 feet.

“Philmont was a blast,” he said.

Russell’s most challenging merit badge to receive — as was his father’s — was lifesaving.

“I was only 12, and the guy teaching it was 6-4, 240 pounds,” Russell recalled. “I had to pull him from the bottom of a 10-foot swimming pool. I probably weighed 80 pounds.”

He managed it on his fourth attempt, he said.

“I squatted down and had my feet on the bottom of the pool, put his head on my chest and thrust with everything I had,” Russell said.

Chris found it amusing that his father and grandfather had trouble with that one.

“Lifesaving, really?” he said.

“I do have [the lifesaving merit badge], actually, and I love that one. It was a difficult badge to earn, but when I was younger, I swam every day, and I was a little bit better than them at swimming,” he said.

The merit badge that challenged him was more mental.

“Just because it took time, I’d say personal management,” he said.

It required him to budget his finances for 90 days, and he admitted that he likes to spend his money when he has it.

He worked at a lawn mower shop March through October and now works at Paintball Arkansas. He also enjoys giving back to the community, including participating in Operation Christmas Child.

“My best memory of Scouting … that’s truly very hard for me to answer, but I’m going to go with when I was earning my canoeing merit badge,” Chris said.

He earned it at Blass Scout Camp.

“Pretty much every single member of my Scout troop was in it with me, and our camp counselor was very energetic and made it very entertaining,” Chris said.

“I truly was blessed with being in a good troop,” Chris said. “We were very active. All the guys were close to my own age, and we had some good bonding time. We loved to go fishing and camping. … We went canoeing a bunch. We went hiking all the time, and when we hiked, we’d do the high-adventure stuff.”

His final Eagle Scout project was to build a trophy case in the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Center in Conway for awards won at Senior Olympics-type events.

“This center in Faulkner County is very good at all these competitions. Their trophy case was being overwhelmed, so they just needed a new one,” Chris said.

Russell’s project was to landscape a youth home from scratch in Jonesboro, which took months of hard labor, he said.

Joe said no final project was required when he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

There’s no question that Scouting has seen changes through the decades.

“It has changed a whole lot, and it’s just because … life has changed,” Russell said. “There’s a lot more involvement with women in the Boy Scouts, and that wasn’t the case when I was going through the program. Because of legalities, there are things you can’t do that we used to do. The troop could just take off and go on a camping trip with very little planning. Now, you have to fill out a form, have release forms signed by all the adults, map an itinerary. … You have to have two adults signed off by the Scouting program.

“The day of the scoutmaster calling up and saying, ‘Hey, the water’s perfect on the Buffalo, let’s go float it,’ are gone,” Russell said.

“Some of the spontaneity is lost,” Joe said, “but for good reasons.

“It’s true that there are many, many competing interests, video games among those very much so, but the basic principles of Scouting have not changed,” Joe said.

“I really enjoyed Scouting,” Russell said. “I loved the leadership aspect of it and the teaching. I really liked working with the younger Scouts when I got a lot older.”

He was on staff at the Pine Trail Reservation in Viola in the summers.

Russell said there were moments when he and his son almost veered from their goal of Eagle Scout.

“We call it when the fumes kick in — the gas fumes and the perfume — when they’re about 16. If they hadn’t solidified becoming an Eagle, it won’t happen,” he said.

Russell remembers that when he was 15, his father had talks with him about commitment.

The same thing happened with Chris.

Chris said that when he was 16, he had a girlfriend he liked to hang out with on Monday nights, which was also the troop meeting night.

His mother, Tina Wilson of Conway, and his father talked to him about sticking with his commitment.

“I’m very glad,” he said.

Chris said being a community leader is important to him, and achieving Eagle Scout is another aspect of leadership.

“It was very heartwarming and nice to know I made it. I succeeded in completing my challenge I pushed myself for, and it made me realize I need a new challenge now,” Chris said.

Next on the horizon is college.

“I plan to major in architecture or international business. I love both,” he said.

And, he will proudly list Eagle Scout on his résumé.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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