Ottawa Scouting Museum


Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, but instead of doing something to honor our country’s 40th president, I did something related to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

“Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America,” a traveling display of reproduced artifacts related to Lincoln’s life and death, opened at the Ottawa Scouting Museum this past weekend. It will be there until April 12, at which time the exhibit will be transported to the next stop on its two-year tour around Illinois. (Interestingly, April 12 also will mark the 150th anniversary of when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter, starting the American Civil War.)

The Lincoln exhibit consists of seven learning stations and a dollhouse-sized replica of Lincoln’s home in Springfield. (The dollhouse was created by Ottawa resident Nancy Dominis.) Among the reproduced artifacts are Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, an ax the president used to chop wood for Union soldiers, a toy cannon given to his son Tad, and two Lincoln life masks.

Mollie Perrot, executive director of the Ottawa Scouting Museum, told me turnout for the exhibit was better than expected during its opening weekend, considering the Super Bowl took place Sunday.

The exhibit is worth seeing and doesn’t take long to go through it. If you get an opportunity to see it in Ottawa or elsewhere, I recommend you do so.

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I’ve been meaning to post this column all week, but it’s been a hectic five days in OD land. We’re hiring a new reporter at Ottawa Delivered, and we’ve been interviewing candidates all week. On top of that, I’m working on next week’s cover story and, well, there’s the rest of the usual daily deadline and managing editor stuff to juggle. It’s an invigorating experience, and quite time-consuming — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Back to the column: I wrote this last week as part of Ottawa Delivered’s package of articles about the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. I was very involved with Boy Scouts as a youth — as a matter of fact, I’m an Eagle Scout — and little did I know at that time, my journalism career would find me writing in the hometown of W.D. Boyce, founder of the Boy Scouts of America, and in BSA’s 100th anniversary year, no less.

Strangely, Scouting doesn’t seem to be a big deal in Ottawa, at least as much as it was in the Chicago suburbs when I was growing up, or compared to the popularity of 4-H in La Salle County. Perhaps that is because, equally strangely, Ottawa doesn’t really embrace Scouting the way you would think the city where the BSA founder lived and is buried would. This column addresses these things.

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My name is Craig, and I’m an Eagle Scout.

I chose to start this column with an Alcoholics Anonymous-style greeting because, for many years, I felt like I couldn’t talk about my Scouting career except with a select few people. Too many people find Boy Scouts an easy target to mock, and at some point I got sick of hearing their comments, so I stopped mentioning my involvement unless it was on my resume.

Eventually, though, I realized how foolhardy it was to ignore what was an important foundation in my life. In addition to providing me with a focus point during my parents’ divorce, Scouting taught me many useful skills and helped form the person I am today. For instance, Scouting helped instill a love of the outdoors – which makes me appreciate living near four state parks and inspires me to regularly plan trips around visits to national parks and other nature points of interest.

Success in Scouting – especially to achieve the Eagle rank – requires determination and drive, community-orientation and leadership. Obviously this is a good set of skills to hone before entering the real world. The same skills that lead to success in Scouting can lead to success in the workforce, too.

Yet, for some reason, staying in Scouting well into one’s high-school years is an act shunned by many, making those of us who do feel an uncalled-for embarrassment of sorts. Surprisingly, in Ottawa – the cradle of Scouting in America – this active shunning seems to extend to people in high places.

Yes, I am suggesting that Ottawa is not outwardly proud enough of its connection to BSA’s birth, even though one of its own founded the century-old organization that has directly influenced more than 100 million people.

Sure, Ottawa has a Scouting Museum, though that opened just 12 years ago and mainly thanks to the tireless efforts of a small core of very dedicated volunteers. But, in honor of W.D. Boyce, how about a nod to Scouting in the city’s marketing plan?

I understand that Ottawa’s powers-that-be believe the city must focus on a single “brand” – specifically, marketing Ottawa as the gardening and horticultural hub of the Midwest – but I respectfully disagree. I think any community with multiple potential draws should take advantage of them all. In the case of Ottawa, that includes the city’s historical ties to Abraham Lincoln and W.D. Boyce – even if we aren’t the only town in America with connections to those men. What draws one tourist may not draw another, so why not cast the widest net possible?

If nothing else, Ottawa should commission a Scouting mural to be added to the growing collection of historical depictions adorning the city’s buildings. Hasn’t W.D. Boyce earned that honor? More importantly, haven’t the Scouts earned that recognition?

By recognizing its connection to Scouting more openly, Ottawa could help lessen the stigma for any Scout who feels too embarrassed to mention his involvement with a quality, character-building organization. I wish that had been the case for me.