Friday, June 18, 2010

Eagle Scout

It was probably our first date when I asked George Rodrigue,
“How would you describe yourself? What are your best qualities?”
Without hesitating, he rattled off a list:
“I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
“Goodness,” I said, secretly hoping I could measure up.
It wasn’t until months later, after he’d repeated this list a number of times for various reasons, that I learned it was the Boy Scout law, something he memorized nearly sixty years ago and has taken seriously ever since.

(pictured, Eagle Scout, 2004, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue for the National Scouting Museum)



George’s older cousin Donald LaBauve was scoutmaster of Troop Number 136 in New Iberia, Louisiana, part of the Evangeline Area Council. George and Donald’s son Red spent every Monday evening throughout the 1950s working on their merit badges and planning for outings to Camp Thistlethwaite.



It was in Boy Scouts that George first painted monsters, images so popular among his friends that he transferred them to t-shirts, selling them to earn money for gas.



He also learned to play a musical instrument, the bugle, specifically to perform as the ‘echo’ for Taps during a special scouting event. He hid in the bushes and mimicked the older player, who stood in front of the troop and guests. He recalls that when his fellow scout missed the high ‘G,’ George echoed the note perfectly from the shadows, thereby securing his promotion as head bugler going forward.




He played baseball as a Boy Scout, following in his father’s footsteps, a minor league pitcher (Big George, pictured below, in New Iberia).


Equally rewarding was the year George won a full scholarship to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. It was at the National Junior Leader Training Camp that he learned the skills, specifically the ability to teach younger scouts, that eventually earned him the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.



It was hard for me to understand at first George’s pride at this achievement. I was a Girl Scout and earned badges by playing the harmonica, selling cookies door-to-door, and plaster-casting squirrel tracks. I spent a week or more each summer in a tent or cabin somewhere in the north Florida woods, cooking over the fire and stringing our food high in the tree, lest the bears get to it. 

It was a wonderful part of my childhood, but by the sixth grade I didn’t care anymore, and today I’d be hard-pressed to put my hands on my sash, and I’m sure the harmonica went to Goodwill years ago.

And yet within the curio cabinets of George Rodrigue’s studio, carefully placed among the numerous awards and keys to cities and photographs with presidents, are his merit badge, his bugle, and his Eagle Scout pin.


He does speak with regret about the ceremony he missed:
“It was a big deal, Wendy. Everyone gathered at the Iberia Parish Courthouse.”
But in 1960, sixteen-year old George, home sick with the mumps, missed the Eagle Scout presentation. His cousin Red stood in for him at the courthouse and afterwards the entire troop visited George at home and pinned his pajamas.


In 2004 the Boy Scouts of America asked George to commemorate his experience with a painting. They specifically requested the Blue Dog; however George, as with his Jazz Fest posters of 1995, 1996, and 2000, wondered at its relevance. In the end, he focused on the American bald eagle as the painting's subject and incorporated the Blue Dog as a neckerchief slide.

George was honored by this commission not only because of his past, but also because he joins the great tradition of artist Norman Rockwell and his Boy Scout paintings. Selections from the Boy Scouts' collection, including both Rodrigue's Eagle and Rockwell's Pinning (pictured below), tour U.S. museums. We attended one such special exhibition, on view during 2008 in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art.



Today, when not on tour, George’s painting remains on view with the Rockwells and other fine original works at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas.



Finally, I’m reminded of a story George often recounts as pivotal. It was his last summer at Camp Thistlethwaite near Opelousas, Louisiana, where he worked in the general store. His enthusiasm for scouting waned that summer, as he looked towards college and concentrated on his art studies. He tells of his last day as an active scout, recalling clearly his thoughts as he swept the dust out the door of the store:
“This is the last time I will hold a broom; and I will never work for someone else again.”
It was a personal and symbolic pledge, for better or worse, which he kept.


It was scouting that gave George independence, confidence, and pride. Sometimes I think even today that he approaches a project as though it results in a merit badge. Although it appears on the outside that he moved on after high school, inside George remains ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.’ He remains, always, an Eagle Scout.

Wendy

For a related post see "A Distinguished Eagle Scout"
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15 comments:

  1. Dr Ralph ArmstrongJune 18, 2010 at 8:44 PM

    Wendy........this is awesome. George is truly an exceptional and distinguished Eagle Scout. Thanks for the interesting scout story.
    Ralph and Gabriella

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  2. I love it! I never made it past Brownies, and all I remember doing is singing songs and going to McDonald's. George may not hold a broom, but he has no problem extinguishing rats and hurling them off a mountain! Now that's brave!

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  3. Wow, what a perfect time for this blog. My son Adam, who is a huge blue dog fan, is curretly working on his Eagle Project. Is there any place that has this picture in print (possibly books) so that I might be able to display it at his Eagle Ceremony and reception.

    Robin Hendricks
    hend4@att.net

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  4. Enjoyed this special Father's Posting. It reminds me of a favorite quote by Emerson: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

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  5. Wendy,
    Great posting I am going to forward this on to the rest of Ryans troop. By the way once an Eagle always an Eagle, that is what we tell the boys at their eagle board of review.

    Randy Eaton

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  6. Thank you all for these wonderful comments! I never know what the appeal will be regarding these kinds of more personal posts, drifting away from the art. And I'm so pleased at this response. I mean, I find George's history fascinating, but I wonder sometimes if it's just because he's my husband, and I'm still a bit lovesick even after all these years. Many, many thanks for reading.

    And to those of you who have asked about prints: unfortunately the eagle piece is not available in a print form; nor is it reproduced in any book that we've handled. If I get the chance with a publisher down the road, I'll remedy that --- I promise.

    The brochure in the photograph is from the traveling show belonging to the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps the originating museum in Irving, Texas has some sort of available catalogue.

    Best of luck to your young Scouts!
    Wendy
    P.S. I'm especially happy to hear from you, Randy!

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  7. Well Happy Father's Day to that scout of a guy. Man, now those were some badges and Tony's badges are the ones with five points on them and came from some local, at the time, police station.

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  8. I always find it interesting to find out an adult is an eagle scout. My 34 year old son is an eagle scout and enjoyed several trips to Philmont. It influenced his choice of profession, bioenvironmental cleanup. He truly enjoys and cares for the outdoors, hiking, camping, biking, etc. It is totally true that once you are an Eagle you are always an Eagle soaring high in the sky.

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  9. What an interesting piece. My 13 yr old son returned from the National Jamboree last night, exhausted and our 16 year old daughter volunteered as junior staff. Next on my son's agenda is his Eagle project. I'm passing your story on to our troop, I think in this historical 100 year scout celebration, another Eagle's scouts story should be told.

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  10. Thank you for the continuing interest in this post! George especially has enjoyed your comments, and I am of course honored for the post to be passed along to other scouts and their families.

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  11. It was a great surprise to find out that George was a scout! We are a cub scout den in Spring Texas, actually a Webelos troop and our boys will be boy scouts this coming February. When we were working on our Art advancements we discussed the Blue Dogs paintings and each boy had a theory about the reason behind these paintings. They were all so excited about them. And once they will find out (when we will meet again at the end of August)that the artist was a scout they will be very happy as this is something they could relate to.
    Thank you for sharing all this great information.

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  12. Wendy and George - That's wonderful news about the Eagle Scout award that they are giving George. I know Craig was so proud of Kyle when he became an Eagle Scout. I don't know if you know this or not, but when Kyle joined the Coast Guard, he started at a higher rank than everyone else because he was an Eagle Scout! Much Love, Joan Beth

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  13. Hi Joan Beth --- I did not know that about Kyle. Such an amazing young man!

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  14. Happy New Year Wendy! Just re-read this post, and realized the special presentation is coming up soon. Hoping you will tell us all about it! All my best, Dana.

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  15. Hey Dana! The presentation is now in May. The time was getting short and the plans ambitious --- including an art contest and Rodrigue-designed art badges and projects. I'll keep you updated. Good hearing from you!

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