Longtime scoutmaster passes the reigns
Many people wear multiple hats within the community. These people, many times, have full-time jobs but still find time to provide support to their communities.
One of these people, Joe Fernald, serves as the city attorney by day and, for 23 years, has also served as the scoutmaster for Troop 119 of the Boy Scouts.
As one of his last duties of the year, Fernald spoke at the induction of four new eagle scouts on Nov. 16 at First United Methodist Church. These four make 28 scouts who have obtained eagle scout status under Fernald’s leadership.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for any scoutmaster,” Keith Starrett, U.S. district court judge, said.
Starrett gave an address during the ceremony and being good friends with Fernald, said he has participated in three Eagle Scout ceremonies for Fernald.
Fernald said he was a boy scout in Troop 346 in Boston, Massachusetts when he was younger. Upon coming to Brookhaven, Fernald has been active in Troop 119 for 43 years, worked as district scout executive before starting his stint as scoutmaster. Fernald said a source of his motivation to become scoutmaster was born from a promise he made to a friend that if he had a son he’d become scoutmaster.
Fernald shared that Troop 119 is 105 years old, was founded a year before the national organization. It has ushered through 225 boys since its beginning.
“This troop has produced leaders of this town,” Fernald said.
A statement proven during the ceremony Sunday when all Eagle Scouts in attendance were asked to stand and participate in the eagle scout pledge.
In his address to the audience that day, Fernald listed such well-known figures in the wider national community such as Sam Walton, Steven Spielberg, and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Fernald is a life scout and acknowledges that he did not become an eagle scout.
“I haven’t made the cut,” he said. Fernald recalls when he received a Silver Beagle award and his son, who is an eagle scout, jokingly said “you may have a Silver Beagle but you’ll never be an eagle scout.”
To become an eagle scout, scouts must progress through the Boy Scouts and go through a leadership experience that Fernald said is crafted to each scout’s abilities. While being proud of those that do make eagle scout, Fernald said those that don’t make it, for whatever reason, are still quality.
Overall, Fernald takes an approach to being scoutmaster that allows for each scout to progress in a way that’s best for him. Fernald said that when they go camping with other troops “we go with the mind to be perfect.” Fernald then reminds them how to define the word and what it means to them.
“Nobody should define who we are. We define who we are, and no one can do that for you. If you do the best you can do, it doesn’t matter if you win or not,” Fernald said regarding the competitions the scouts would compete in while camping.
This approach seems to be working because the troop won Best Campsite 21 out of the 23 times they competed. Through it all, Fernald still said he hates camping.
“I told myself I’ll never sleep on the ground again. I sound like Scarlet O’Hara,” Fernald said laughing.
Still, Fernald’s dedication to the boy scouts is strong and his respect for the boys he leads is just as comparable.
“I used to be a coach, and I’d rather do this,” Fernald said. “There are certain moments in someone’s life when the light comes on. One minute they didn’t know what they’re doing, and one minute they’re making their own decisions and doing things you didn’t know they knew how to do.”
Fernald said in the troop every boy is allowed and encouraged to make their own decisions regarding their involvement with the scouts.
Throughout his years as scoutmaster, Troop 119 has had six special needs scouts. Fernald’s wife is a special education teacher and helped make sure all the boys were well taken care off when it came to earning badges and participating in certain challenges to reach eagle scout status. Fernald said that none of the six scouts wanted to take the easy way and participated in the same capacity as their peers.
“In a town where we celebrate old things, old buildings and the old cemeteries, the troop is a diamond in the rough,” Fernald said.
Fernald has passed on his title as scoutmaster to Robin Roberts but will continue to work with the scouts by offering any help asked of him in the coming years.