Dan Willis’ home sits north of La-Harpe, a large, dark-wood house that overlooks 200 acres along Rock Creek. It’s only fitting that members of Iola Boy Scout Troop 55 use his land for camping trips.
“It’s neat to give back this way,” he said.
Willis was in the Boy Scouts from 1979 to 1985, when he received his Eagle Scout ranking. While he appreciates it now, he almost didn’t take the time to complete requirements for the lofty ranking.
Dr. Jack Lundy was a district executive with the Quivira Scout Council at the time, and pushed “late bloomers,” such as Willis and his son, to complete their Eagle Scout requirements. Three days before his 18th birthday, Willis rushed to complete all of the paperwork to get the rank. In one week, he graduated high school, turned 18 and was honored as an Eagle Scout.
“I think about that a lot,” Willis said. “I talk to people in my business and personal life all the time about it. Once you’re an Eagle Scout, you’re always an Eagle Scout.”
Willis admitted he isn’t just any ordinary Boy Scout, he is an “Andy Dunlap Scout.” Referring to his scoutmaster at the time, who is still involved with the local troop. Willis said having Dunlap as a leader was special.
“I respect him so much, I still have trouble calling him anything but Mr. Dunlap,” Willis said with a laugh, while lounging on the back porch of his home. Willis served on the troop committee for a time, and assisted with the board of review. His peers often referred to him as an “Andy Dunlap Eagle” – somewhat of a rare compliment in the area.
NOW WILLIS, 46, is safety and environment manager for B&W Trailer Hitches, which he said often directly relates to skills he learned as a scout.
“It actually follows a lot of Scout training,” he said.
Willis’ son, Brett, 9, completed the “Tiger and Bear” ranks in Cub Scouts, before dropping out to make time for sports. He said he hopes his son will join Boy Scouts, but will never force him to make the decision.
“It’s got to be something he wants to do,” Willis said. “But if he’s in Boy Scouts, I’m in Boy Scouts.”
Willis said participation in Boy Scouts oftentimes seems “to be cyclical” and its numbers rise and fall throughout the years. He said the distractions in today’s culture also make the time and dedication Boy Scouts requires a difficult commitment for many younger people.
He laughed, and said one of the few reasons he stayed in Scouts was because his father spent $15 on a backpack when he started. He said it’s difficult to see the benefits and time-well-spent of an undertaking such as scouting until further down the road.
“They want kids to be active and be outside,” he said. “It’s coming back, it’s about the community and working together.”
Now more than ever, Willis said, women are involved in Boy Scouts, which was uncommon during his involvement.
“I see more and more ladies involved, and that can only be a good thing,” Willis said.
He said parents’ involvement is often essential to a successful Scout troop.
As his Eagle Scout project, Willis fixed and adjusted headstones at the Civil War memorial in Iola cemetery. Some days, he said, he’ll walk by the area and notice that the headstones still are much straighter than before he worked on them.
“I spent hours and hours getting those stones placed and at the proper height,” he said. “Sometimes I look at it and think, ‘Yeah I did that.’”
It’s just a simple, grateful reminder of Dr. Lundy’s prodding, urging and motivation during the end of his Boy Scout career. He still remembers what Dr. Lundy said to him before his high school graduation — “You’re going to be glad you did it.”
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