Roger Gabrielse points to a small fabric circle at the bottom of the sash.
“We’ve got a swimmer there, that’s the swimming merit badge,” he says, as he begins naming off the patches he stitched on decades ago in his quest to become an Eagle Scout.
“I got 31 merit badges and you needed 21 to be an Eagle,” he said.
The Wenona man continues, weaving his way up through badge after badge. There’s lifesaving and rowing, artistry and pioneering, woodworking, cooking and of course, camping.
‘The biggest draw for me’
It all started sixty-five years ago, thanks to camping.
Six-year-old Roger joined up with the Cub Scouts with his eyes on the prize — even though he knew it would take a few years to reach his goal.
“When I was a Cub Scout I wanted to get the crafts and songs and that kind of thing out of the way so I get into Boy Scouts and go camping. That was the biggest draw for me, the camping,” Gabrielse said.
He finally graduated to the Boy Scout camping trips in 1959. Four years later, he made Eagle Scout.
In the years that followed, Gabrielse attended college and served in the Navy from 1969-73. He worked as an electrician on a ship three miles off the coast of Vietnam.
When he returned from the Navy, he took over as scoutmaster of Troop 1, his former troop back in Peru for a couple of years, before work duties led to him stepping back from his scoutmaster role.
But he wasn’t done with scouting and he once again took over leadership roles with the Cub and Boy scouts as his sons Brian and Kevin grew to scouting age in the late 80s.
He’s been heavily involved in scouting ever since.
As he sits at his dining room table, Gabrielse points to a nearby wall lined with plaques and awards he’s received for his dedication to scouting and community organizations over the years. There’s the Scoutmaster Award of Merit and a gold card recognizing 50 years of service to the Boy Scouts, not to mention the Silver Beaver Award presented by the local W.D. Boyce Council.
“That’s his wall,” says Jane, Roger’s wife of 50 years. She calls herself his scouting “support staff,” and herself served as a Cub Scout leader.
Gabrielse stepped down as scoutmaster of Troop 727 a few years ago, after some health problems held him back from frequent camping trips. His successor, Jake Jaquet of Toluca, said he knew he’d have some big shoes to fill.
“He was an excellent scoutmaster. He knows scouting in and out. He’s been there over the years, he’s been through all the training. He’s just an all-around scout,” Jaquet said.
Nowadays, Gabrielse serves as the chartered organization representative to the scout troops in Wenona and Peru, and still attends meetings and events for Troop 727.
“Our troop is blessed with a lot of individuals with a lot of experience. But he’s one of the ones that really stands out when you look back over all his years of experience in scouting and how to work with the boys,” Jaquet said. “He’s awesome.”
When asked what’s changed over the years in scouting, Gabrielse mentions a decline in participation. Back when he working his way up the scouting ranks, there were five troops in Peru.
“Now the whole town only has one troop,” he said.
While there are fewer taking part, those that do have more opportunities to learn, with many new options for merit badges, including badges based on different occupational opportunities and even subjects like computer technology and robotics that were more science fiction than merit badge material when he was a scout in the 60s.
There’s one other big change he notes with enthusiasm — nowadays Cub Scouts can go camping.