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75 years of transforming boys into men

May 13, 2014

Brookfield's Boy Scout Troop 23 is nearing its second diamond anniversary.

Some traditions call for a diamond on the 60th anniversary, others on the 75th. Either way, Troop 23 has made it.

Troop 23 will celebrate its 75 years of helping young boys mature into young men with a reunion and commemoration of its history July 12 in Harnischfeger Park.

The event will be a celebration that spans the weekend. Former Scouts and their families are invited to submit photos and stories to be shared and to camp out with the current troop.

"We're trying to reach out to anyone involved in the troop over the decades. We'll have good food, water sports, some hiking, and it will just be a celebration of the troop's history," Assistant Scout Master Tom Wier said.

The troop was started in 1939 by Earl Parsons, Walter Hinz, Robert LaPhilliph, Noah Bennetts and Emil Prudlow.

"When they started this troop, Dorothy hadn't even walked down the yellow brick road," Wier said. "Guys from this troop fought in World War II."

Impacting young lives

Wier and Scout Master Jeff Hershberger effuse about the impact that involvement with Boy Scouts can have on boys.

"The way Scouts should be run is that it's a boys-run organization, and us adults are there to help them get where they want to go," Wier said. "We teach them how to plan and organize, but it's up to them."

Tom's son, Matt, recently aged out of Troop 23, but he still fondly reflects on his memories during his six years as a Boy Scout.

"I'd say there were three main things that I learned (from Scouts). Respect, not only for authority, but for others and for myself; responsibility; and how to interact with people," Matt Wier said. "When I came into Scouts I was very shy, I would hide behind other people."

Troop Instructor Luke Fatla noted that he and Wier were part of a generation of Scouts that had to learn quickly due to an unusual age gap.

"When we came in and the older guys aged-out, we had to take over and quickly learn how to do things," Fatla said. "Because it's a big group, a lot of it is just learning to interact with each other and work together."

Going against the trend

Troop 23 boasts 49 members. Hershberger said the troop has generally averaged between 20 and 25 Scouts.

"We've skyrocketed," Matt Wier said.

Hershberger noted that the general trend around the country has seen enrollment in Boy Scouts decrease and acknowledged that Troop 23 is an anomaly. Hershberger credited the current Scouts' involvement with Cub Scouts in the area with helping to create a healthy pedigree.

"Keeping the pipeline between us and the packs is very important. For our Scouts to work with the Cub Scouts is great. Not only are they learning something, but they're having fun doing it," Hershberger said. "They learn the faces and names of our members, we learn theirs as well, and they want to be a part of us."

Hershberger credited Troop 23 committee member Gina Stiemke with helping to revitalize the Cub Scouts programs in the area.

"When Gina took over as Cub Scout master eight or nine years ago, they were tanking it. They were down to about 40 (members)," Hershberger said. "She turned it around, and in a couple of years they were heading back up again."

Stiemke credits parental involvement as being of paramount importance in the maintenance of Scouting at any level.

"You've got to have the parents' support. If the parents don't support the program, it's tough for the kids to stay involved," Stiemke said.

Boy Scout troops can lose their charter if they lack the necessary quartet of adults willing to fill leadership positions.

"You could have a troop of 100, but if you don't have those leadership positions filled, you lose your charter," Matt Wier said.

Troop 23 is primarily made up of children from Brookfield, but overall, five school districts are represented within its ranks with Scouts from Sussex, New Berlin and Menomonee Falls.

More expected

The Scouts have had major impacts on the Brookfield community, specifically its parks. Troop 23 members have helped maintain Mary Knoll, Mitchell, Wirth, Lamplighter and Rolling Meadows parks through Eagle Scout projects.

"It's all about community involvement. Everything evolves around service to others while having a good time doing it," Hershberger said. "A lot of kids will go through things with us that, chances are, they'd probably never do otherwise."

The men noted that the troop has been healthy in recent years, but has experienced some hard times throughout its long life.

"The '70s and '80s were pretty lean. I think in the '80s, the troop had one Eagle (Scout) the whole decade," Hershberger said.

And now, after nearly 75 years, Troop 23 is fully on the rise. Scouts age out at 17. Fatla is the only member of Troop 23 set to reach that point this year. Meanwhile, 20 new recruits are expected, bringing the potential membership up to 68.

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