Bill Hamilton has one more award to add to the stack of patches, medals and pendants he’s accrued over 35 years in the Boy Scouts of America.
And this one — the Silver Beaver — has some prestige.
The heavy silver pendant is the highest achievement an adult can be awarded in the organization, and is the equivalent of the renowned Eagle Scout Award to which teen boys aspire.
“I was very surprised,” Hamilton said of receiving the award. “You put in and kind of hope. But I was really, really ecstatic when they called me.”
Hamilton, Brookings City Council’s newest member, was three badges shy of earning his own Eagle Scout Award, accomplished by completing a project within his community. His original plans were to make benches to put in fishing spots where he and his family lived in Fort Bragg, Calif.
“I made the mistake of reprioritizing my senior year in high school,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “It kind of backfired.”
He was the equipment manager for the baseball team and served on a variety of committees.
“Then time went by; it just flies,” he said. “And then it was too late.”
Boys have until the age of 19 to complete their Eagle Scout projects.
Missing his opportunity to achieve the coveted award, Hamilton, now 52, made it his goal to help other teens earn theirs. He has helped 24 teens complete their projects and earn the award.
Immediately after high school, and while working as a locksmith, he became the assistant scoutmaster in the Fort Bragg community. He moved a few times — Klamath, Ukiah, Anderson Valley, back to Fort Bragg — but each time became involved in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in those areas.
It wasn’t until 1995 that he started getting official scout training — and it was two years after that that Becker’s muscular dystrophy tried to lay him low. That form of the disease is similar to the more commonly-known Duchenne MD, in that it involves a weakening of the muscles, but it progresses more slowly.
For the next three years, Hamilton drove back and forth between the Scouting troops in Del Norte County and the local troop in Brookings, until his disability forced him into a wheelchair.
At that point, he joined the Elks and became the charter representative for the local Cub Scout packs and the Boy Scout troops — and was awarded the District Award of Merit by the Oregon Trail Council.
His friend Alan Neerenburg nominated Hamilton twice for the Silver Beaver Award. It is awarded, in part, for training and years of service a volunteer has.
In his decades of service to the organization, Hamilton’s had his share of fun working to help youth grow into productive members of society. His favorite memory is that of earning his Wood Badge, an eight-day course.
“It was eight days of going back and being a Boy Scout again,” he said of the foray into the woods. “It was the best fun I ever had in all my experience as a leader.”
And it proved to him what he has always known, that, as a kid — then an adult — with a disability, he can do what others can.
“In the beginning, they told me my mom might have to come with me on camping trips,” Hamilton recalled. A volunteer official at the Boy Scout office even tried to keep his mother from filling out application forms.
But Richard Larson of the Episcopal Church in Fort Bragg took Hamilton under his wing, helping pave the way to memorable years in the Scouts — and in life.
Others he attributes to his success are Jay Schaefer, Tim Buehler, Joel Walter, Mary Fox and Bill Coons.
Now he helps oversee Boy Scout Troop 32, with 16 members, the Cub Scout Pack of about 80 younger children and Latter-day Saints Unit 251, with a pack and troop of its own.
“I like being with the youth; I’ve always enjoyed working with them,” he said. “It’s something for the kids to get out from under the pressures of life — and an opportunity to be somebody.”
Hamilton should know.
“It’s a great moral program I have a lot of confidence in,” he said. “It’s such a great program.”