CONWAY — Diana Ashley of Conway was the little sister who grew up tagging along with her brothers to Scouting events, never dreaming she’d join their ranks as an Eagle Scout.
Not only did she achieve the rank, but she’s the first female Eagle Scout in Arkansas.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said. Being first “really wasn’t important to me; I just wanted to get it done before I was 18 [and aged out of the program].”
Diana earned 42 merit badges — twice the number required for Eagle Scout — and completed her requirements in August before turning 18 in September.
She said it was a surprise that she had made history as the state’s first female Eagle Scout. Diana said her family has a legacy of Scouting.
Her parents, Dennie and Lillian Ashley of Conway, are longtime troop leaders. Diana, the youngest of four siblings, said it was her late brother, Daniel, who started the family Scouting tradition. He and their brother David became Eagle Scouts. Their sister, Denise Baughn, attended Scouting activities with the family but primarily got involved in Scouting as an adult volunteer.
“I was always along for the ride,” Diana said. “I was involved as a sister. … I took pictures, and I made cookies for David’s friends in Scouts. That was kind of my thing. There was never a possibility of girls joining the [Boy] Scouting program, so I never really thought about it.”
Diana said she didn’t join the Girl Scouts because she spent her time at events with her brothers. In 2019, when females could join the previously all-male Boy Scout organization, she jumped in and blazed her own path. She immediately set a goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, which is Scouting’s highest rank.
“I planned it out. I took my calendar, and … I mapped it out. I knew I could get it done by Aug. 29, so I did,” she said. It took Diana 18 months to become an Eagle Scout, which assistant leader Heather Fields said was a condensed timeline.
“She has earned the exact same thing any boy has been set for; she did it in less time because that’s all [the time] she had. It really is impressive that she knocked it out in that amount of time,” Fields said.
The Eagle Scout Court of Honor will take place Jan. 2, when Diana will be recognized and receive her Eagle Scout patch.
For now, she’s wearing the Eagle Scout patch earned by Daniel, who died in 2015 in a car crash at age 27 when Diana was 12.
“Daniel found a flyer for Scouts when he was like 11 and showed it to my parents,” Diana said.
That’s when her parents got involved as Scout leaders, and her father leads Diana’s group, Lightning Patrol, within the all-female Troop 6071. It is affiliated with Troop 71, which is for male Scouts. The troops share a governing committee.
Dennie Ashley said he wasn’t surprised by his daughter’s interest in being an Eagle Scout because of her family’s long involvement in Scouting.
He recalled that he helped Diana build Pinewood Derby cars in their garage when she was 3 or 4 years old — a “pink Corvette” comes to mind — even though at the time, she couldn’t race her cars with the Cub Scouts.
Eagle Scouts must complete a project, and hers is a fire-pit plaza built in Conway’s First Family Park at Conway First Baptist Church. The park was dedicated in 2015 to the families of the church in the memories of Daniel and two other former church members, Barbara Isom and Herb Stuart.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the park, just kind of for my brother, to give a nod to him,” Diana said.
She asked church leaders what they needed, and they mentioned the fire pit.
“I kind of took it overboard; there’s a platform underneath it made of paver stone — it’s 18 feet in diameter. It’s quite large.”
The pavers took seven hours to install, she said. She and about 16 youth and adult volunteers spent approximately 200 hours on the project.
She said the fire pit has been well utilized by the church and community, particularly during the pandemic.
“Small groups use it because you can socially distance,” she said.
On a warm day in December, Diana and her mother were sweeping leaves off the pavers surrounding the fire pit.
Lillian, known as “Mrs. Liz” to the Scouts, said she and her husband weren’t surprised when Diana said she wanted to become a Scout and an Eagle Scout.
“We understood … when from the time you’re born, you’re going to Scouting events,” she said, so it was a natural transition.
She said it is special that Diana’s project is in the park named in memory of Daniel.
Diana said Daniel “was really sweet, and he had a good sense of humor. … He was a pharmacist, so he was obviously intelligent. … We were close; we’re all close in our family.”
The Ashleys are the poster family for high achievers. Diana is a biology major in the Honors College at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and plans to become a pediatrician. Daniel was a pharmacist, David has applied for veterinary school, and Denise is a pediatric psychiatrist.
Diana said her inspiration comes from her parents, whom she called “outstanding individuals who taught me everything I know.”
David, a senior at Mississippi State University, said it took him five years to earn his Eagle Scout honor, which he was awarded in 2016. Diana’s 18-month time frame “is pretty unprecedented, for sure,” he said.
He recalled that she made cookies for his fellow Scouts and attended events, even out of state, when she couldn’t participate in them.
“She was always there, willing and ready,” David said.
The fact that Diana’s Eagle Scout project is in a park that is in part dedicated to their late brother “goes back to the family thing. … It brings it back full circle,’ he said. “That it’s for the church, on top of the Scouting connection with our brother, that it’s going to something that’s a part of something so integral to our life, is a special thing to me as well.”
Fields is David’s fiancee, and they met through Scouting. Fields said she’s seen Diana blossom through her Eagle Scout experience.
“She’s very organized and very driven. She’s always been that way to an extent, but Scouting has enhanced that. It’s kind of brought her out of her shell a little bit,” Fields said.
Lillian said male and female Scouts lead.
“They tell the adults what they want to do: ‘We want to work on this merit badge,’ etc.,” she said.
“For males and females to have that experience, that’s why I want people to be involved. I see what a difference it’s made in my kids’ lives,” Lillian said.
Diana said her parents didn’t pressure her to join the Boy Scouts, and she didn’t do it to prove anything.
“I just love it,” she said.
When Diana is not involved in Scouting, she enjoys reading and baking — her specialties are chocolate-chip and “no-bake” cookies.
Diana said she plans to stay involved in Scouting throughout her life. This past year, she served on staff for the National Youth Leadership Training as a troop guide. She taught skills to other Scouts, once at a camp via social distancing and on Zoom thereafter.
“There are different courses on how to set your goals and determine a vision. It’s an ‘if you can see it, you can be it kind of thing,’” Diana said, a mantra she took to heart.
She is also the Quapaw Lodge vice chief of program with the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society.
Noah Smith of Jonesboro, national vice chief with Order of the Arrow and a student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, is a friend of the Ashley family.
“If I could think of someone who embodies the values of servant leadership, I have to say it’s Diana Ashley,” he said. “She’s highly motivated; her work ethic is unmatched, not just among female Scouts … but among all Scouts. She’s working her way up in the hierarchy. I believe she can do whatever she sets her mind to.”
Diana said she thinks Daniel “would be really proud” of her Eagle Scout accomplishment.
She said she is happy to serve as a role model for other young women or men to achieve the Eagle Scout rank.
“If you put in the work, you can do it,” Diana said. “It’s not impossible. There are so many people around you who can help you, and if you need help, ask for it. I just think it’s a great opportunity. I’ve learned so many life skills and outdoor skills — first aid, camping — leadership skills that I can use for my whole life.
“Everyone can experience that, no matter boy or girl, and that’s just really cool.”