Scout's honor bestowed on Parker
Neither rain, snow, ice or tornadoes can keep Debbie Parker of Hartselle away from Boy Scout camping trips. Perhaps it is this love and dedication to the program that earned her the coveted Silver Beaver award, the highest honor given to scout leaders by the Boy Scouts of America.
Parker was nominated for the award by two area troops-the Arrowhead district, which includes Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone Counties, of which she is now a committee member and her former troop, the Venture Crew of Muscle Shoals.
The award, which Parker, along with Wayne Thrasher of Decatur, picked up at an awards ceremony in Birmingham last month, is presented to adult scout leaders who have been nominated for outstanding service to youth or outstanding longtime service to youth. Parker has been volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America for 18 years.
Parker began her scouting career in 1984 when her oldest son Chris, then 11, was too old to continue in Cub Scouts and wanted to continue in scouting, but there was no Boy Scout troop to join.
"We lived in Cotaco and there wasn't a Boy Scout troop there," Parker said. "At that time there were not any women in Boy Scouts and you couldn't form a troop without a male scoutmaster, so John Henderson, Mike Mangum and I reformed the old Pack 210 troop, which had dissolved in the early 1970s. I'd never been in scouting and didn't know what to expect, but John guided me. We went to monthly district Round Table sessions to plan activities and get ideas for the next month."
She continued to work as a den leader, recruiting other volunteers to assist her, holding pack meetings with only six boys in the pack. They took camping trips and generally ran into stormy weather.
"The pack continued to grow through the years," Parker said. "We tried to go somewhere once a month, but with Troop 210 on the move it's gonna rain even in the middle of a drought. We've camped in snow, ice, rain and two tornadoes. We even had to be evacuated once."
Parker raised her four boys, all of whom earned their eagle badges, the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn. "My youngest son Allan and his friend Matt (Thrasher's son) want to form a Venture Crew in Decatur," Parker said.
Parker became involved in the Venture Crew in Muscle Shoals when she moved to Sheffield after her boys grew up.
"I had been a registered nurse for 28 years and I was burned out and wanted to try something new, so I went to work with my brother at Irons Electric as an electrician's helper. We worked on the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Staples and Cato's in Decatur," Parker said.
The Venture Crew is a young adult's answer to scouting activities.
"A scout moves through the ranks to attain his eagle merit badge, which he has until age 18 to get, after age 18, they are considered adult volunteers and pretty much out of activities. That's where the Venture Crew comes in," Parker said. "It is for youth age 18-21 who want to be involved in more high adventure activities such as rock climbing, caving, spelunking or cave exploring, repelling, kayaking and canoeing."
Parker decided to go back into nursing and worked at Helen Keller Hospital before returning home to Hartselle in December.
"I'd worked for what was then called Hartselle Hospital for seven years in the 80s, so when I decided I wanted to come home, there was nowhere else I wanted to go except Hartselle," Parker said.
It was at Hartselle Medical Center that Parker learned that she won the Silver Beaver award. Dennis Griffith, the Arrowhead district chairman, called Parker's employer, HMC CEO Tim Puthoff and arranged to notify Parker in the presence of Puthoff and co-award winner Wayne Thrasher of her Silver Beaver award.
"I was told Mr. Puthoff wanted to see me in his office and that's never good," Parker said. "But I didn't know of anything I'd done. They said he wanted me to be on a survey committee. So I walked into his office and there was Dennis and Wayne. I knew Wayne had won the award, but I didn't know I had and it was the same for him. Dennis made the formal announcement and I just cried."
Griffith marvels at Parker's dedication to the Boy Scouts. "She's raised four eagle scouts and worked very hard and has been a fantastic scout leader. She's the most deserving of the award that we've ever had," he said.
Parker was honored by the award, but said she doesn't feel worthy of it.
"I think it's great to think that so many people think you deserve the award, even if I don't," she said. "I went through the Woodbadge training, which is the highest advanced adult leadership training course you can take, and I want to continue to stay in training."
Parker devotes one of two weeks of vacation each year to a family trip and the other to a scouting trip such as an 11-day back packing trip to New Mexico. "My dream would be to be able to afford to take off the entire summer and work with Tim Campbell, the program director at Xtreme Adventure base in New Mexico."
She recently purchased a 28-foot Carver cabin cruiser she calls the "Mama Eagle" and plans to use it for future scouting adventure trips.
"I came to love the scouting program. I love to see youths grow and develop and learn skills to put them to use," Parker said. "It's not about winning awards for the leaders, it's about designing our program so that they can achieve awards, in particular their Eagle scout merit badge."