Thursday, January 19, 2012

Eagle Scout earns all 129 merit badges, saves grandpa

By Carol Lindsay

Special to The Tribune

Published: January 19, 2012 11:50AM
Updated: January 18, 2012 04:35PM

Courtesy of John Bill Eagle Scout John Bill — sitting with hid dog, Jake — earned every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts of America. Clearfield • John Bills’ quest to earn every Boy Scout merit badge had an unexpected result: It saved his grandfather’s life.

It wasn’t the life-saving merit badge that did it. Or first aid. Or emergency preparedness. The badge the now-Eagle Scout credits with his grandfather’s rescue was actually dog care.

The story went something like this: During a visit to the Humane Society for his dog-care merit badge, John adopted a red Irish setter named Jake. It was an impulse decision. But on a freezing February night, just two days after bringing the dog home, it paid off.

It was 2 a.m. when Jake began to growl and fidget. The noise awoke Chris Bills, John’s father, who arose from bed to see what was the matter. After finding nothing amiss, he lay down again. But Jake refused to calm down. So Bills arose for a second time. It was then that he discovered John’s grandfather — an 84-year-old with Alzheimer’s — standing on the doorstep in 2-degree weather wearing nothing but pajamas. The ailing man had been locked out.

“I couldn’t believe it,” John said. “My dad and I rescued Jake as part of a merit badge, and Jake actually ended up saving my grandpa’s life.”

Serendipity is the word John’s father uses to describe many of the events that occurred during his son’s search for every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts of America.

John — the 19-year-old son of father Chris Bills from Holladay and mother Diane Prince and stepfather Robert Prince from Centerville — decided shortly after earning his Eagle, at age 13, that he wanted to earn every merit badge. It was a lofty goal. Although it takes 21 merit badges to earn the Eagle rank, the Boy Scout organization offers 129 patches.

John met his goal, finishing his last merit badge on Oct. 29 — the night before 18th birthday.

“I tell people I have a whole flock of eagles,” John said.

Earning all the merit badges was a goal John couldn’t have achieved without his father. Because John’s parents are divorced, he spent every other weekend, every other holiday and a couple of weeks during his summer vacation at his father’s house. Most of that time was spent working on scouting.

“If we had more time,” John said, “I could have finished this by the time I was 15.”

John graduated from Viewmont High last spring. A court of honor, celebrating his accomplishment of earning every merit badge, was held late last month.

Early in his scouting career, John learned that pursuing merit badges opens doors. His second badge was in law. Dressed in full Scout uniform, John went to a criminal trial with his father. During a break in the proceedings, federal attorneys introduced themselves to John. Then they introduced John to the judge. Because of those connections, John soon found himself in another courtroom listening to goings-on of the high-profile Olympic bribery scandal. Before the day was done, he was invited onto the street for an interview by a journalist.

“These kind of experiences just kept happening over and over,” Chris Bills said. “It was almost like someone was opening doors all the way through this whole odyssey. It is amazing the number of places we’ve been and exciting experiences we have had. People have let us into their world and behind their curtains. We’ve seen things you wouldn’t see in a lifetime.”

When John went to earn his disability merit badge, he wanted to research blindness. So his dad opened the phone book and dialed a number. Ron Gardner, an attorney and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, answered the phone. Not only was he willing to help John with his merit badge, he invited him to join him in Baltimore for a convention. John and his dad attended the convention and experienced being part of promoting legislation for the blind.

On the way back from Maryland, John had an unexpected experience.

“At the airport I was in my uniform and a huge plane landed,” John said. “Off came 80 Iraq soldiers with bags and luggage. One of the soldiers came over and started talking to me and he asked if I was an Eagle. I said no, but I would be soon. He asked if I collected coins and I said yes. He pulled out a campaign medallion he was given for his service in Iraq. … He said he grew up in the ghetto in L.A. If it wasn’t for his mom putting him in Scouts, he would be dead.”

Continuing to work at Scouts became a challenge in high school. Most of John’s friends had finished with Scouts in junior high.

“There were so many distractions, friends, school work, sports, girls, it was hard to keep myself motivated,” John said. “My friends had all stopped doing scouting and they wondered what I was doing. They would give me a hard time. I had to make decisions to work on this and not hang out with friends. So coming to my dad’s got me away from the distraction.”

So how often does a Boy Scout earn all the merit badges?

“About once a year in the country,” said Marte Green, program director for the Boy Scouts of America’s Trapper Trails Council. “It is pretty rare.”

Troop Committee Chairman Kent Toone conducted the boards of review for many of John’s awards.

“It was sure fun as a Scout leader to see John’s consistent enthusiasm,” he said. “He’s a fantastic example of how scouting creates men out of boys because I witnessed him develop his confidence, integrity and physical skills as he progressed and earned those merit badges.”

Now 19, John is preparing to serve an LDS mission.

“All the things I’ve learned in scouting — achieving goals, breaking them down into pieces — I can now put forth into my mission,” he said.

An Eagle’s path

John Bills didn’t stop his scouting career after reaching his Eagle Scout rank. Instead, here’s a look at his accomplishments, by the numbers:

235 • Hours devoted to his Eagle project

200 • Miles hiked

129 • Merit badges earned

60 • Campouts

50 • Miles biked

20 • Eagle palms earned

8 • Weeks of father/son summer camps

2 • Cross-country flights

1 • Train trip

An Eagle’s path

John Bills didn’t stop his scouting career after reaching his Eagle Scout rank. Instead, here’s a look at his accomplishments, by the numbers:

235 • Hours devoted to his Eagle project.

200 • Miles hiked.

129 • Merit badges earned.

60 • Campouts.

50 • Miles biked.

20 • Eagle palms earned.

8 • Weeks of father/son summer camps.

2 • Cross-country flights.

1 • Train trip.

© 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
Eagle Scout earns all 129 merit badges, saves grandpa
By Carol Lindsay

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