Boy Scouts of America Santa Fe District Executive Paul Verwers called this year’s annual Friends of Scouting breakfast a rousing success.
“Definitely this is the largest attendance we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Verwers said. “We had right around 90 people or so, which is a great community support of Scouting in our area.”
Breakfast Event Chairman Terry Kelley agreed.
“Support for Scouting is growing and we certainly appreciate everyone who attends each year,” Kelley said. “I think that support really indicates the profile of our community leaders.”
The annual breakfast raises awareness of and support for area Scouting. This year’s breakfast, held Thursday at the Cleburne Conference Center, honored local businessman and philanthropist Lowell “Stretch” Smith Jr.
Banker Guy James introduced Smith.
“I still call him the chairman,” James said. “Because I worked for him for 25 years at the Cow Pasture Bank in Rio Vista. Now I could talk about Stretch all day if I wanted because this man has done everything as most of us who live around here already know.”
Smith’s life, James said, exemplifies the Scout law (A scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.)
James listed Smith’s many accomplishments: running, with his wife Shirley Smith, the Rio Vista ranch his family started in 1887; graduating from Southern Methodist University; serving in the U.S. Air Force; becoming a bank president in his 20s; serving as president of the Texas Banker’s Association; providing scholarships for students and other philanthropic causes; receiving the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce’s first Lifetime Achievement Award; and being named to the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“That type of character is really the reason we’re here today,” James said. “This is our opportunity to support and recruit our next generation of leadership and what better mentors than community leaders like the Chairman.
“He’s a legacy leader in that he transcends the organization, in that he’s about mentoring and developing people from customers to the employees who worked for him.”
James read testimonials from several of Smith’s former employees.
“He wears a white hat and has a heart as big as Texas,” one employee wrote.
Breakfast attendees gave Smith a standing ovation after James said another former employee wrote that Smith should be president of the United States.
Smith called the honor humbling and voiced support of Scouting.
“Scouting is a wonderful opportunity to change lives,” Smith said. “You don’t get those kinds of opportunities everyday.”
Smith said with every opportunity comes a challenge, and called upon fellow residents to also support Scouting.
“I was a Boy Scout briefly when I was young,” Smith said with a laugh. “Of course, back then in rural Johnson County, with fishing and camping we just did a lot of the things Boy Scouts do anyway.”
Johnson County has 23 Scouting packs and troops, including three in Cleburne, Verwers said. Fundraisers and fees help, but about one third of the district’s $1.8 million annual budget depends on donations.
Those donations help maintain and renovate camps, train Scout leaders and fund programs, Verwers said. Kelley said it costs about $200 to support each Scout per troop annually.
Santa Fe District representatives are working with the East Cleburne Community Center to set up Scouting in east Cleburne as well as after school and other programs, Verwers said, and working to establish a troop in the east Johnson County and Venus area.
While delivering the breakfast’s opening prayer, Cleburne Ford owner Bobby de la Garza called upon residents to support local Scouting. De la Garza called upon the community to continue the tradition of ‘the men who were there before us when we were boys,” and to exemplify the morals, values and fun of Scouting.
To donate to or learn more about Scouting, visit www.beascout.org.