Earlier this month I spent a week up at Scout Camp in the San Jacinto Mountains with our ward’s troop. This brought back great memories of the Scout camp I attended as a boy in the Cascades of Washington state. We were blessed to have leaders who were great role models. Two seasoned adult Scouters from the ward volunteered every year to attend camp for a week, so that our Scoutmaster and his assistants could take time off for trips during other parts of the year.
One of these brave shepherding souls who attended camp with us each year was Don Flinders. He was about 70 years old, but that didn’t slow him down. Between the day’s routine trips to the flag assembly bowl, dining hall, and other areas around camp, he rejuvenated himself by lounging on a camp chair and reading Louis L’Amour westerns by the fire.
Despite over five decades of age difference, us boys considered ourselves good friends of Don’s. We liked him because he was cheerful, laid back, and had a great sense of humor. He never behaved in a way that would cause us to question the things he taught us about living the Scout Oath and Law and being worthy holders of the Priesthood.
Don just couldn’t get rid of us. When we were age 10 he was called as the Webelos leader. About that time I have memories of bouncing paper balls off his head as he tried to teach us lessons in Church. I also remember a few of us ganging up on him one time in the back of a car on the way home from a church activity. We thought he was an old man so we could take him in a wrestling match. Surprisingly he was able to hold us at bay and return every bite, scratch, and jab we could dish out. I don’t think we ever tried to mess with him again after that. Despite these persecutions Don retained his patience in a way that I wish I could emulate now as an adult.
As older Scouts we got to spend a week every year with Don at camp. He kept up on the merit badges we were each working on and encouraged us to complete our courses and attend the camp activities. He knew that he couldn’t really compel us to do it, and he didn’t try to force us, but he had earned our respect and we wanted to do a good job for him. I believe that’s how successful Scout leadership happens. It’s more difficult to be that kind of leader than it sounds, so I’m grateful for the example of Don and others that I can look back to.
A few years after my last trip to camp, Don suffered a fatal heart attack while setting up tables for a Relief Society dinner at the church. The pallbearers at his funeral were all Eagle Scouts that he had worked with, including, by that time, me. I can attest that Don’s influence in the lives of the boys he worked with has lasted well beyond the day that he left this earth. This post is a tribute to him and many leaders like him who freely give their time and talents to help young men.