Family Histories of the First Ten Eagle Scouts of BSA Troop 401 Chief Seattle Council (Auburn, Washington)


A pair of American bald eagles near their nest on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. The bald eagle was chosen to adorn the Great Seal of the United States on June 20, 1782. The Eagle Scout award, in emulation of this selection, was approved as the highest award in Scouting in August 1911. The first Eagle Scout, Arthur Rose Eldred of Long Island, New York, was awarded this honor about a year later. Seventeen years after that, Troop 401’s first Eagle Scout was likewise honored. Photo by Ben M. Angel.

Auburn, Washington, in 1923 appeared in writing to be no more than a simple railroad junction. Sitting in the middle of some of King County’s most valued farmlands, the town was serviced by both steam train and an electric interurban railway, the latter of which faced imminent closure with the expansion of automobile roads in between Seattle and Tacoma. About 6 years later, the opening of Highway 99 provided officials the excuse the authorities needed to shut down the electric trains, and shut off the deadly third rail that frequently electrified stray cattle and careless track-crossers.

That was also the year that the Boy Scouts of America expanded into South King County. In 1923, Troop 401 held its first meeting, bringing together a group of boys that would immediately and enthusiastically begin pursuing merit badges and earning rank on their way to the coveted Eagle Scout badge, the highest honor bestowed on a Boy Scout.

When I was in the troop, I would see at the few Eagle Courts of Honors we had at the time the list of those boys who had earned the rank before whoever was the current honoree. It was fascinating for us to look over the list, and wonder why there was this big break for something like a (baker’s) dozen years spanning the 1950s when no one in our troop earned their Eagle Scout. No matter the actual answer to this question, this period did effectively divide the first ten Eagle Scouts of our troop from those that came afterward.

Next year, in 2018, the troop will be celebrating its 95th anniversary as one of the pioneer units of Scouting in Washington State. Additionally, as of January 2017, the troop has already produced some 96 Eagle Scouts, and it’s very likely that the troop will soon produce its 100th before too long. It seemed to me that it was time that there be some remembrance of the first among our troop who achieved Boy Scouts greatest achievement.

Unfortunately, being in western Poland, I couldn’t delve very extensively into the actual thoughts and efforts of the first ten Eagle Scouts of Troop 401 while achieving their awards. Indeed, out of all of the first ten, only two are still alive as of this writing (one in Tacoma, Washington, and the other in Pasadena, California). So, instead, I chose to study what I could of their family histories for insights, and now I want to share a little of where their families came from, and how their family might have helped shape the success stories that belong to them. Perhaps this will someday contribute to a more authoritative work on this part of the history of South King County Scouting.


Type 1 1925-1932 Olive

Type 1 Eagle Rank (1925-1932). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

1. John Paul Darst, Jr. (Sept. 26, 1915 – July 17, 2000), Eagle awarded February 1929 (age 13 years, 7 months)

John Darst was born in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, the so-called “Queen City of the Washita Valley” in the south central part of the state. His family left Oklahoma in 1918, moving to the eastern Washington town of Malden, a railroad town not far north of the university town of Pullman. A couple years after Troop 401 got its start, his family moved to Auburn, arriving in that railroad junction in 1925. His father, John Paul Darst, Sr., a native of Illinois, served society as a medical doctor, and he practiced medicine for decades in South King County until he retired in 1960 (at the advanced age of 81, eight years before his death).

John’s mother, Julia, came from further afield than his father. She was born in Swedish Lappland in the Västerbotten province of that country. After she immigrated to the US, the two parents had married in Iowa while the father was based in Houston in the summer of 1904, and they started their family life in the southern plains, living there through the time of the younger John’s birth.

Although John’s mother was foreign-born, the Darst family had been in North America since colonial times. Abraham Derst (1725-1772) was likely from Worms within the still-existent Holy Roman Empire (today’s Germany), but he had set sail for the New World sometime before his 20th birthday, when he and his wife, Mary (died 1777), had their first child. Six generations passed before John earned his Eagle Scout.

John turned 11 in late September 1926, and would have joined the troop around that time. No one probably knew it then, but he would prove to be a significant figure for the fledgling Troop 401. He was not only their first Eagle, but if his obituary in the South King County Journal has it correct, he was the first Eagle Scout in Chief Seattle Council, the regional organization that oversees all Boy Scout troops in King County. As an adult, he worked in pharmaceutical sales, and served as a buying agent for the State of Washington. He followed his father’s footsteps into Freemasonry and other civic organizations, but unlike his better-traveled parents, he never really moved away from the Northwest. His obituary noted that he enjoyed 35 years with his second wife, Caryl, before passing away in the summer of 2000 at St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia, age 84. He left behind three sons (all living in Oregon) and a Washington-residing daughter. He was buried near where she lived at the Mills and Mills Memorial Park in Tumwater (near Olympia).


Type 1 1925-1932 Olive

Type 1 Eagle Rank (1925-1932). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

2. Byron Arthur Roe (July 31, 1913 – Sept. 26, 1991) , Eagle awarded May 1930 (age 16 years, 9 months)

Byron Roe came from a place much closer to Auburn, having been born in the railroad town of Easton, just the other side of Snoqualmie Pass. His family arrived in the valley sometime before the 1920 census, the year he turned 7, which meant that he quite likely joined the troop immediately after turning 11 in the later part of the summer of 1924.

Byron was the youngest of a family of seven children. His father, Nathan worked as a railroad engineer for the Northern Pacific, and moved around quite frequently throughout western Washington. Both Nathan and his wife Estelle (born Story) were transplants to the Pacific Northwest, the former from Tioga County, Pennsylvania, the latter from the forest country of Montcalm County, Michigan. The two appear to have met in Washington State. Going back in their tree, both families are difficult to trace into the colonial period, but it appears that the Roe family passed through Rhode Island in the 18th century sometime after their arrival in the New World (I could only trace back five generations along his paternal line), while Estelle’s Story family may have their American origins in the area of Dutchess County, New York (I could only go back three generations).

There wasn’t a lot of biographical information to be found on Byron – his obituary wasn’t available when I checked for it online. However, he did marry a few years after obtaining his eagle to a slightly older Jean Bell – their May 1937 marriage is registered in Kitsap County, just across Puget Sound from Auburn. He eventually passed away in Seattle at age 78 in September 1991. I wasn’t successful in finding his burial location.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

3. Robert J. Connolly (Sept. 25, 1919 – Sept. 17, 1986), Eagle awarded February 1936 (age 16 years, 7 months)

Robert J. Connolly was Auburn-born and -raised. One of two children born to Minnesota-born Ned Dixon Connolly and Michigan-born Eva Oelker (his second wife), Robert appeared to remain in the Puget Sound area for pretty much all of his life. His father was a Northern Pacific locomotive engineer working within the Seattle Division, but apparently after settling in South King County, he never had to go very far afield as a result of his work.

Robert’s paternal grandfather, Thomas J. Connolly (1837-1885), was considered a pioneer of St. Paul, Minnesota. He and his father, the latter having crossed from Ireland to Montreal at around the time of the potato famine, plied the Mississippi River together as steamboat engineers, and then later Thomas went to work for the locally famous Kittson steamboat company on the Red River of the North. Before he died of a stroke, he served as engineer for St. Paul’s fledgling fire department.

Robert’s maternal grandparents had, on the other hand, come from the German states and settled briefly with their families near Chicago. Herman Oelker and Augusta Conrad met there, and married in Lyonsville, Illinois, in 1879, before migrating northward to the western shore of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Eva eventually moved to Auburn herself before marrying Ned and starting a family with him.

There is not a whole lot of biographical information to be found about Robert. Indeed, his last name has been misspelled in the troop’s records as Connally (although it’s fairly clear from the records, and the lack of any competing prospects named Connally, that this is the person described as having earned the Eagle award in 1936). He eventually married a girl, also the grandchild of German immigrants, from Long Island, New York, named Adeline Zoder. Robert passed away in 1986 while in Tacoma, and was buried in the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

4. Lewis Shelton Armstrong (Sept. 21, 1915 – Mar. 15, 1982), listed as having earned his Eagle in March 1936 (when he would have been 20)

Lewis was a difficult one to sort out. There is only one Armstrong family that combined the use of Lewis and Shelton in their first and middle names and lived in the Auburn area in the 1930s, so the question of who he was seemed obviously answered. However, this Lewis Shelton Armstrong was born in 1915. This meant that, if this is the person described as the fourth Eagle Scout of Troop 401, he couldn’t have earned his Eagle in 1936. He would have been limited by age to a period between March 1929 and September 1933 (ages 13-1/2 to 18).

Presuming that the date in which he earned his Eagle is incorrect (mistakes happen everyday), Lewis was born in Spokane at the start of autumn 1915. His father, also named Lewis Shelton Armstrong (1883-1960), moved to Auburn sometime between 1920 and 1924. In the latter year, the older Lewis was already the owner of the Oak Cafe in downtown Auburn, according to a Mark Manson photo kept by the White River Valley museum as part of its “Past Perfect Online” collection. By this time, Troop 401 had already begun meeting, so it is possible that the younger Lewis, the third in a line of Lewises, could have joined the troop two years later, when he turned 11.

The Armstrong family was one of those families that dates back to the time of the first English colonies in the New World. According to secondary sources, the first American Armstrong was Francis Armstrong (1629-1669), a Scots-Irish migrant who left Ireland for colonial Maryland. His family is said to have settled in St. Peter’s Parish of Talbot County on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, likely in the 1660s. It is not clear if he was indentured or a freeman, but eventually, over the course of nine generations and moves from Maryland through Missouri, his descendants would eventually come to Auburn, and if my supposition is correct here, before one would earn his Eagle.

The mother of Lewis was named Vadda Courtright (1888-1983), and, as had Lewis’ family, her family moved from Missouri to Stevens County, near Spokane, sometime between 1900 and 1910. Lewis and Vadda found each other shortly after their families’ arrival and married each other sometime before their future Eagle Scout was born in 1915. The Courtrights were not as traceable as the Armstrong family. Secondary sources seem to trace it only four generations, to roughly the time of the American Revolution, when Samuel Courtright married Martha Westfall somewhere in New York.

Lewis eventually went to the University of Washington, where he pledged to the Delta Chi Fraternity and met his future wife, Henrietta Wright (1914-2003). He graduated there in 1939, just in time for World War II. By February 1942, when their first son, Lewis, was born, they were married and living in Seattle. The couple would have three sons by the time that the 40s were over, allowing his wife to continue her career as a window display designer for I.G. Magnin and Frederick & Nelson.

Lewis, Troop 401’s Eagle Scout, passed away in the middle of March 1982. His son, the fourth in a line of Lewis Sheltons, continued the family’s Scouting tradition after he grew up and moved to Grand Coulee in eastern Washington, where he served as a hydro maintenance man in one of the world’s largest dams. He stood as Scoutmaster in Troop 24 in the Columbia Basin District of the Grand Columbia Council before his death in 2010. The burial location of his son isn’t available online, but Lewis Shelton Armstrong of Troop 401 is buried in Lake View Cemetery on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

5. Eugene Anthony Otis (born June 13, 1923), Eagle awarded September 1938 (age 15 years 3 months)

The Troop 401 Eagles list identifies Eugene, or “Gene” as he was sometimes called, as having been a judge. However, that was difficult to verify by online records. He is the eldest of the two who remain alive as of this writing.

Out of all the early Eagle Scouts of Troop 401, Eugene’s was probably the one with the most interesting and recently illustrious family history. He was born the son of John Vincent Otis and Anna Victoria Hudspeth in Auburn around the start of summer 1923 as the youngest of six kids. However, Eugene’s father, John, was a uniquely placed descendant of two prominent American families. First, he is a verified descendant of American frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734-1820), being his great-great grandson (through Jesse Bryan Boone, 1773-1820). He was also a descendant, through Union Col. Elmer Ignatius Otis (1830-1897), of the same Otis family that contributed to the membership of the so-called “Boston Brahmins” of American Revolution fame.

Eugene’s mother’s family, the Hudspeths, were somewhat less famous, but appears to extend at least into the colonial history of North America. I was only able to trace them five generations back to Surry County, North Carolina, where Benjamin Hudspeth married Millie Coe, but a more extensive investigation would no doubt turn up some interesting stories.

Eugene remained at home with his parents at 111 H Street in Auburn through at least the 1940 census, after which the United States went to war against the Axis powers. Indeed, he enlisted into the army in February 1943 in Tacoma; the details of his military service are not as easily accessible. By the 1950s, he had married a woman, Jaqueline Ficke, who was about the same age as him. Eventually, they raised two daughters and two sons together, according to Jaqueline’s obituary; she died in 2011.

Eugene is supposed to be living in Tacoma (he had his 94th birthday a couple weeks ago). No doubt an interview would turn up more information about his career, and perhaps even some interesting stories about the early history of Troop 401 and Scouting in South King County.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

6. Samuel Lyman Stone (1922 – 1942), Eagle earned March 1939 (roughly age 17)

Whereas Sam’s predecessor is one of the last living Eagles among the first ten for Troop 401 in Auburn, Sam himself appears to be one of the earliest to pass away. According to what appears to be his gravestone in the Sumner Cemetery, presented by photo by Melissa Sherry on Find A Grave in 2007, he died shortly after the United States went to war in 1942. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out where or how he died.

Sam’s family came over the mountains from Pasco, Washington sometime in the 1930s. Likely, Sam was born in the Tri-Cities, though all the census records for 1930 shows is that he was born in Washington. His mother, Agnes Mae, came from Columbia County in the far southeast of the state, while his father, a Northern Pacific Railroad employee named Walter Lyman Stone, came from Deerfield, Iowa.

Sam’s paternal line within the Stone family extends back from him four generations to Eli and Polly Stone, who gave birth to Lewis Lyman Stone in Vermont back in 1800. Lewis’ son and Sam’s grandfather, Samuel Sylvester Stone, moved the family across the country to southeastern Washington, taking it through Iowa before continuing to the Pacific Northwest.

Sam’s maternal line, which went by the unusual name of Rainwater, actually was much easier to trace. The first North American Rainwater family members appeared six generations back from Sam, according to secondary sources, when Robert Rainwater (1669-1706) crossed the ocean from England to the 17th century Carolina colony. The family appeared in the New World for the first time in Surry County, North Carolina. After the Revolution, the family moved into Sevier County, Tennessee. James Rainwater (1811-1894), Sam’s great-grandfather, was the person who led that family to southeastern Washington.

Sam was survived by his parents (his mother would be a resident at the Masonic Home in Zenith, Washington, for a number of years before she eventually died) and two sisters, Patricia M. and Leah Louise. Patricia would marry Walford McBride of Arizona, while Leah married and later divorced Randolph Kirchof of Florida (she lived in Yakima shortly after her divorce, according to her mother’s obituary).


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

7. Robert Adelbert Sinex (Mar. 4, 1923 – June 9, 2009), Eagle earned May 1939 (age 16 years 2 months)

Robert Sinex, sometimes called “Bob”, was actually a classmate of Eugene Otis, who earned his Eagle Scout a year earlier. Both graduated Class of 1941 from Auburn High School.

The Sinex family came to Washington from Indiana sometime between 1900 and 1910, when Robert’s grandparents, Thomas and Luella, moved from Salem, Indiana, to Puyallup, south of Auburn, according to census data. Ford, Robert’s father, married a girl named Clara Heisserman shortly after arriving in the Pacific Northwest and by the 1920 census, they moved to Seattle, where Robert’s oldest sibling, Juanita, was born. He had worked as a meat cutter in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, according to the “Picture Perfect Online” archive of the White River Valley museum. By 1930, they returned to South King County.

Robert’s paternal line, the Sinex family, dates back to the Dutch takeover of the New Sweden colony in present Delaware. The immigrant ancestor to the New World for just about every Sinex in America is a Finnish gentleman named Sinnick Broers (c1606-1672), who apparently arrived between 1655 and 1664, when the Dutch seized the lands that once comprised the colony. Under the English, who took over all Dutch New World lands at the start of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Governor Lovelace granted him a large portion of land at Deer Point on the Christina River, alongside fellow Finn Anders Andersson and Walraven Jansen DeVos. He later received further acreage on Appoquinimink Creek, a grant protested by William Penn himself after he received the right to colonize Pennsylvania. His sons were the last of their family to follow the Swedish patronymic naming custom of that time, taking on the family name of Sinnicksson. Over time, this evolved to Sinnexon, and before the American Revolution was reduced further to just Sinex. Nine generations would pass before Robert would earn his Eagle award.

On his mother’s side of the family, the Heissermans have a much shorter North American history. Indeed, both his grandparents were immigrants arriving from unspecified parts of Germany. Martha Schoengarth (1878-1961) would arrive in New York City from Amsterdam on board the ship Surrey, while Charles Heisserman (1862-1926) would reach North America on board another vessel. By late August, 1897, they were both located in Auburn, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which announced their wedding license approval on the 26th of that month.

While at Auburn High, Robert played football for the Trojan team (wearing jersey number 14), and like his classmate Eugene Otis, also went into the military during World War II. Before the end of his service, he married a Swedish-American girl named Violet Sundberg (born 1922), whose parents immigrated in the first couple decades of the 20th century and married in Washington State. She passed away in the summer of 1997 in Seattle, and he died more than a decade later at the start of summer 2009 up in Everett (survived by his brother, Dr. Mel Sinex, who provided most of the photos that the White River Valley museum has of the family). Both Robert and his wife are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Auburn.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

8. Dr. Charles Irving Peckenpaugh, Jr. (Feb. 4, 1924 – July 17, 2006), Eagle earned March 1940 (age 16 years 1 month)

Charles Peckenpaugh, often nicknamed “Peck”, came into the world in Puyallup. However, his father’s name was on a drug store located not far from the Methodist church that the troop used to meet at when I was a member, which indicates his family’s prominent ties to Auburn. (A photo of him serving as a drug store clerk in 1924 exists with the White River Valley museum’s Picture Perfect Online project.) For most Scouts from my time, his name was the most recognizable among the first 10 Eagle Scouts of the troop.

The Peckenpaugh family (originally Beckenbach) emerged from the village of Eiterbach in the Duchy of Baden in the 17th century. Johann Adam Beckenbach (1682-1747) was the family’s immigrant ancestor, and according to secondary sources, he died in Fredericktown, Maryland. The family passed through Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois on their way to the Pacific Northwest. Stephen Douglas Peckenpaugh (1856-1940) was the family member who finally arrived in Tacoma. It would take six generations, all told, before this branch of the family produced its first Eagle Scout.

His mother, Lillian Adam Smith (1892-1982), was born in Tacoma, but her father, John Gibson Smith (1859-1904), emerged from Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire, Scotland. The family of her mother, Jessie Adam (1862-1944), came from Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland. I didn’t manage to find their ancestries.

According to his Mountain View Tacoma obituary, Charles graduated a year after Eugene Otis and Robert Sinex from Auburn High School in 1942. He supposedly deployed with the Merchant Marines right out of school and was deployed to Dutch Harbor when the Japanese attacked the Aleutian island port on June 3 and 4 of that year. After that summer, he spent a year at Washington State College in Pullman before joining the U.S. Navy as a corpsman the following summer. After the war, he returned to WSU, and while finishing up a degree in veterinary medicine, he met his future wife, Dorothy Perry. In 1949, they married and returned to Auburn where he took on a career at the Button Veterinary Hospital between 1950 and 1984. He was a big motor home enthusiast, and of course an outdoorsman (both hunter and fisher). He passed away in the summer of 2006, leaving behind two sons and a daughter. He is buried at the Tahoma National Cemetery on Kent’s East Hill.


Type 2 1933-42 Tan

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1933-1942). Photo courtesy of Craig Murray.

9. Charles Raymond Sonneman (Oct. 8, 1925 – June 22, 1990), Eagle earned November 1940 (age 15 years 1 month)

Of all the early Eagles, Ray Sonneman (along with perhaps Eugene Otis) was the most visible politically. In the 1960s, he served in the City Council of Auburn, following several of his family into local Northwest politics.

Ray was born in the fall of 1925 somewhere in Western Washington. His parents, Ray Koch Sonneman and Esther Edna Irle (previously of Chehalis) married in Pierce County in July 1920, and were in Auburn by the time of the 1930 census. Of course, they remained in Auburn in 1940, the year Ray earned his Eagle award.

The name Sonneman is of course a German name, but getting much farther past Ray’s grandfather, Charles E. Sonneman (1868-1954) of Wisconsin toward his immigrant ancestors proved to be a difficult task. The father of his paternal great grandmother, Charlotte Spencer, was an English emigre named John Spencer. The story of his journey to America remains to be discovered, but he eventually found his Irish-American wife in Galena, an iron mining community in northwestern Illinois.

On Ray’s mother’s side, his maternal great grandfather, Charles Irle (1819-1899) was born in Marienborn, Prussia, while his wife, Elisabetha Winnerling (1821-1876), was born in Hohenberg, Bavaria. They met and married after getting off their respective boats in New York City in 1847. They too passed through Wisconsin’s German expatriate community on their way to the Pacific Northwest.

Ray graduated from Auburn High School in 1943, just as World War II began turning in favor of the Allies. His uncle, Leonard Sonneman, had preceded him into politics, becoming Mayor of Chehalis, and no doubt served as an inspiration for his own career in local politics. He had also inherited his father’s stake in the Sunset Laundry and Cleaners business after he died in 1957.

Ray eventually married a woman a couple years his junior named Mary (1927-2012), and they had at least two children together: Patty, who married Fillmore Tellez in California, and Ray, who married Wendy Jo. Unfortunately, the stories that he could have told died with him at the start of summer 1990.


Type 2 1946-55 Khaki

Type 2 Eagle Rank (1946-1955). Photo courtesy Craig Murray.

10. Rev. Dr. Bryce Little, Jr. (born June 28, 1933), Eagle earned in March 1948 (age 14 years 8 months)

The last of the early Eagles of Troop 401 turned out to be the one who would pursue the Scout Law of Reverence and the obligatory Duty to God into a full-on religious career.

Bryce Little was born in Iowa in the summer of 1933. His family had arrived in Seattle’s Rainier Valley before the 1940 census, when he turned 7. When World War II had ended, he was already of the age in which he could pursue his Tenderfoot badge, and had achieved Scouting’s highest award in relatively short order in Auburn.

The Littles are another one of those families whose story extends across American history. However, there is no certainty as to who were the original Little, or Klein, migrants to the New World. I was able to trace the ancestry of Bryce’s father, also named Bryce (1895-1967) back six generations to Capt. Daniel Little (1731-1775), whose renown comes from his early participation in the great migration of Germans from Colonial Pennsylvania and Maryland to Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1750. He is also suspected to have been one of the first members in his family to arrive in the New World. However, according to L. David Roper, a family history researcher based in Blacksburg, Virginia, exactly who his parents were is under debate. The most popular supposition, supported by the “official publication of the Family of Captain Daniel Little, Esquire, Inc.” entitled “The Little bit” (vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 1879-80, and Vol. 20, No. 2), is that his parents were Johann Heinrich Klein (1704-1810) and Anna Margaretha Grimm (born 1712) of the village of Kussel in the County-Palatinate of Zweibrücken (Pfalz-Zweibrücken). However, Paula M. Shook in her 1994 book “Naturalization, Dan’l Klein/Cline to Dan’l Little, Capt. Daniel Little and His Contemporaries, 1753-1789”, his parents were Sebastian Cline (born between 1710 and 1715) and Elizabeth Bieber from an unspecified Palatinate in France (possibly the Kurpfalz near the French border in the Holy Roman Empire). A third and considerably less popular theory, proposed by Stan Little, suggests that he was actually Irish, but his supporting arguments haven’t yet been published.

Bryce’s mother, Willie Vernon, came from a family whose New World story spanned even more American history than had the Littles. Their immigrant ancestor, Robert Vernon (1642-1708) sailed with his wife Elinor (1648-1720) on board the ship “Friendship”, one of 24 early arrivals to Pennsylvania under the Quaker leadership of William Penn. Their ship landed on Aug. 14, 1681 at the Delaware River port of Upland, which was later renamed Chester, after the city that governed the English county that many of the early inhabitants (including the Vernons) came from (they had originated in the town of Acton). Shortly after their arrival, they occupied the town of Nether Providence and began to disburse their family into the New World from there. Some eight generations later, the Vernon family helped sire Troop 401’s tenth Eagle Scout.

Bryce himself, after finishing high school, went to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he graduated in the Class of 1954. He then went on to the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he obtained his doctorate. Somewhere along the way, he met a woman named Phyllis and married her. The two of them served as missionaries for the Presbyterian faith in Thailand for seven years, after which they lived two years in Singapore. According to one of his lectures captured in a YouTube video (on the FTPC USA channel), two of their children were born in Bangkok, one in Singapore, and a fourth and final child in the States. In 1999, he was recognized as “Individual of the Year in the field of New Church Development” by the Presbyterian General Assembly, having assisted in starting 39 new congregations in California and Texas, and was serving as executive presbyter within the Presbytery of San Gabriel by that year. By 2012, he was based in Pasadena (his YouTube videos show him holding services in that city in 2014). No doubt, he would have a number of inspirational stories associated with his time in Troop 401 at the end of the 1940s, were he to return to the troop to visit.


Following Bryce Little’s Court of Honor, it would take a little more than 13 years before the next Eagle Scout, Charles H. Slightam (born around 1943, and apparently still living in the Auburn area), to earn his award in May 1961. Along with the Gunderson boys who earned their award in September 1967, they would be the only three to reach Eagle Scout in Troop 401 in the 1960s. In the next decade, there would be only four more boys to earn the award before the 1980s brought in at long last an explosion of Eagle Scouts under Scoutmaster Sherrill Clark. A total of 14 new Eagles would emerge from the troop over the ten years before the start of the 90s. Indeed it would be that decade (one in which 19 boys would achieve their award) when Charles’ son, Robert E. Slightam, would become part of the first father-son Eagles within the troop (Robert earned his award in October 1998, 37 years after his father).

Family seems to play a large part in the success of a boy in obtaining Scouting’s highest honor. A lot of work goes into earning the award, and a supportive tradition within the family can be the difference between success and failure. It matters little who is in the family tree, whether it’s Daniel Boone or a modest German migrant. The real strength in a Scout’s chances of earning the highest award is in what is happening in his life at the time that he is going after his badges. It’s easier with stronger supportive traditions that date back generations, but I believe that anyone who really wants to do good in the world can do it, if they set their mind to it, and if they have their family behind them.

Special thanks to Craig Murray for the permission to use his images of historic Eagle badges for illustrations in this blog entry. Please note that these images carry his copyright, and permission must be obtained from Mr. Murray before their use. Please visit his website for further information on how to do this.

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