Just call him “Mr. Scouting” in Elmira.
Brian Soehner has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to the organization, and last week he was recognized for that service with a bar for the Silver Acorn award he won back in 1997.
“It was certainly a very high honour that I don’t deserve,” Soehner said with a laugh. “Only a few people get it in Canada per year, and it was incredible.”
At the ceremony Nov. 10, Soehner was caught completely by surprise. The Venturers group that he leads in Elmira is currently preparing a Santa Clause parade float, and Soehner was not dressed for an awards presentation.
“We were painting, so I didn’t even have my uniform on. I was prepared to get paint on me, not win an award,” he said.
The Silver Acorn is one of the highest awards given to Scout leaders. It is a nationally-recognized award that signifies the recipient has made an outstanding contribution to the Scouting movement in Canada.
“The bar means that he has done something above and beyond that,” said Chuck Myers, who is responsible for the awards recognition for North Waterloo, and forwards all nominations to the council for voting. “He’s already received the Silver Acorn, and this bar would justify a second.”
The bar is represented by a green stripe down the middle of the yellow sash from which the acorn hangs.
It might be easier to list the things that Soehner, 61, hasn’t done in his nearly 50 years of Scouting than to list the things he has. He began as a Cub back in the 1960s and moved up through the
Scouts system throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, culminating as the president of the region for three years from 1998 to 2001. He had 11 territories under his jurisdiction, from Tobermory and Goderich, over to Stratford, and even as far as Orangeville and Collingwood.
“It was a lot to handle,” he said.
He is now the leader of Elmira’s Venturer troop, as well as the commissioner of the board of directors for the 1st Elmira Scout troop. For more than 20 years, Soehner has been involved as a member with the “Friends of Killarney Park” volunteer support group for Killarney Provincial Park, and he currently serves as the president of that group as well. He originally took a group of Venturers there in 1978, and has returned every year since.
“The current Venturer company has developed a strong association with Killarney, partially as a result of Brian’s influence, and has completed several volunteer projects including building portage bridges in the interior,” said Myers.
During his years with Elmira Scouting, Soehner has taken members to seven world Scout jamborees, as well as 10 Canadian and provincial jamborees. He not only arranged to be the leader and to accompany the youth, but he actively promoted the jamborees and helped arrange and participate in the fund raising, said Myers.
This isn’t Soehner’s first Scouting award, either. Aside from the Silver Acorn that was awarded to him in 1997, Soehner was also the recipient of The Medal of Merit back in 1982, which recognizes especially good service to Scouting.
“He’s got an interest in the kids and their welfare, and no one would stick around in what is a sometimes thankless and low-paying job for that length of time if they weren’t enjoying it and getting something out of it,” explained Ron Cressman, the former leader of the Rover troop in Elmira who is also on the executive of the 1st Elmira Scout troop, and has also been involved in Scouting off and on for about 30 years.
“He’s certainly ‘Mr. Scouting’ in Elmira. He’s been around forever,” Cressman laughed.
For Soehner, though, it isn’t about the accolades and the awards. For him it always comes back to the kids, and making sure that Scouting in Elmira is on solid footing. He says Scouting saw a steep decline in the late ‘90s, but that it is once again on the rise.
“It was demographics. There was a whole lot less children, and there’s so much more that they can do than there was in the 1960s and 1970s when I was a boy, like hockey through to soccer and baseball,” he explained. “But now it’s turned around sharply actually, especially in Elmira.”
It’s recovered so much, in fact, that the lowest level of Scouting – Beavers – has too many children and not enough parents to lead, he says.
“We’ve got a fantastic group of Cub leaders and Scout leaders and Venturer leaders, but we’re just short at the bottom end, and of course it’s the bottom end we need to protect because if the Beavers have fun they will stay with it all the way up to Venturers.”
His dedication to the Scouting movement is certainly one of the reasons why he was awarded a bar for the Silver Acorn. Just last month, four of his Venturers were also awarded for their work and dedication. They were given the Queen’s Venturer Award during a ceremony at Queens Park, which is the highest award that can be granted to a Venturer.
Ben Bell, William Johnson, Keegan Mathers and Alex Fisher were presented with the award by Lt. Governor David Onley, recognizing they possess the character and ability to be of service to their community.
And much of the credit lies with Soehner, an Elmira-native who has seen hundreds – if not thousands – of young boys make their way through the ranks of the 1st Elmira troop.
“I was a Cub and a Scout for seven years, and I’ve been a leader for over 40 years,” said Soehner as he reflects on his lifetime with the organization.
“Elmira Scouting is going to be 100 years old in 2012, so I guess I’ve been involved for about half of it,” he laughed.