From left, Zach Novak, Chris Ludington and Jace Barrett take the Eagle Scout pledge during a Jan. 29 Court of Honor ceremony for Boy Scout Troop 161. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The performance-based achievements are challenging and only a small percentage of candidates are able to achieve the rank with the high standards involved. Once qualified, it’s a designation that remains throughout life.

We’re talking about Eagle Scouts, the highest rank of the Scouts BSA program in the Boys Scouts of America organization.

Back on Jan. 29, Jace Barrett, Christopher Ludington and Zachary Novak participated in Boy Scout Troop 161’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor, which was held at Peace Lutheran Church. A fourth scout, Judah Wenger, also earned the Eagle Scout rank but was not able to attend.

The Eagle Scout rank carries special significance and those earning it are often seen as individuals with specialized skills who display positive character traits and are capable leaders.

“This is a great program and it teaches you a lot of different things that you may or may not need,” Novak said during a recent phone interview. “But hey, if you know them, you can use them if you do and honestly, I would encourage other people to get involved and do it.”

The path toward the Eagle Scout rank typically takes six or seven years from the time they enter BSA in the sixth grade. Before age 18, candidates must earn 21 merit badges, including 13 in specific categories, and complete a lengthy review process. One of the qualifications involves the planning and development of a service project that’s helpful to a religious institution, school or community.

“I crossed over (into Boy Scouts) with 16 other guys and two of us made it, I think,” Ludington said. “It’s definitely a miracle that I made it.”

Troop 161 Scoutmaster Tom Klipfel pins an Eagle Scout badge on Jace Barrett while his family looks on. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Scoutmaster Tom Klipfel, who has been involved with Troop 161 in Philomath since 2007, led the scouts through a reaffirmation of principles and the Eagle pledge before the award presentation with the assistance of David Novak, the troop’s committee chair. Novak had earlier performed the duty of officially convening the Eagle Court of Honor. Both Klipfel and Novak are themselves Eagle Scouts.

Tanner Dowless, assistant senior patrol leader, opened the program with the flag ceremony. Thomas Smith, senior patrol leader and chaplain’s aide, performed the invocation and later on, the benediction. Carl Dowless, committee assistant scoutmaster, talked about the significance of the Eagle insignia.

The Novak family places high importance on the benefits of scouting. Zach Novak said it was a special experience to serve while his dad volunteered. He also has a younger brother in the program who is currently in high school.

“I feel like it’s brought us closer together because we can now share something in common,” he said, a reference to his dad’s own Eagle Scout status.

Following closing remarks by Klipfel, those in attendance watched the “Trail to Eagle” slide show that the organizers had put together to illustrate challenges along with fun activities that each Eagle Scout had been involved with through the years.

“The biggest emotion I felt was happiness and a sense of accomplishment because I spent years doing this, getting to this place, and just to look back at all the fond memories that I’ve had along the way,” Novak said about the slide slow.

Ludington enjoyed reliving some of those experiences as well.

“I just remembered all of the outings and all the moments that we had during that time,” he said. “It was mostly like, ‘wow, we really did all that’ and I actually made it here.”

The Boy Scouts of America has seven ranks — Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle.

A cake congratulating the four Troop 161 scouts who earned the Eagle Scout rank — Zach Novak, Jace Barrett, Judah Wenger and Chris Ludington. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

“The general theme is basically nature, camping, first aid, physical fitness, you know, general life stuff, and they progressively get harder,” Novak said about moving up through the ranks, his involvement beginning as a Cub Scout in the first grade. “There’s a big emphasis on community service as well.”

Ludington said achieving the Eagle Scout rank was a big commitment.

“For me at least, it felt like a really big push at the end and with COVID and everything, it was just a nightmare to show up for meetings and things like that,” he said. “But it definitely took showing up to the meetings every day and going on all the outings, which wasn’t really a big problem for me, it was always super fun to do.”

The Boy Scouts experience has been with Ludington through childhood.

“I’ve been in it ever since I was in the first grade … starting out in Cub Scouts is when I went to my first summer camp,” he said. “That’s when I really got to know all the boys and it just felt basically like a home away from home.”

Novak had to think for a few moments to identify a favorite activity through his scouting experience.

“It’s hard to say because you do so many diverse things and they’re all wonderful but honestly, I feel like the community service is the best because not only is it enjoyable but you’re also giving back to other people,” he said.

Novak’s community service project was adding maps to the city’s disc golf course at Marys River Park.

“There were some requirements — like it can’t be for a for-profit organization and it can’t be related to scouting,” Novak said.

Novak led a crew of around 11 people who helped with the project.

“We mainly recruited from the troop as well as their parents but anyone could help,” Novak said.

Novak settled on the disc golf course maps as his project after simply calling up the city and finding out what work they might need done.

Carl Dowless, assistant scoutmaster, talks about the significance of the Eagle insignia during the Jan. 29 Court of Honor ceremony. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Ludington did work in 2021 to benefit Philomath Community Services, the local organization that oversees five programs — Philomath Food Bank, Philomath Community Gleaners, Holiday Cheer, June’s Kids Kloset and Lupe’s Community Garden.

“I remodeled an office … that was a lot of fun and it definitely went a lot smoother than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “Everybody was able to help out and do their part.”

Ludington’s favorite activity during his scouting days were the summer camps.

“Those were definitely my favorite just because they were a week long and you really got to know the boys and stuff,” he said.

Ludington said the troop mixed it up a bit as far as the location of each summer camp but most were trips to Camp Baker — the BSA Oregon Trail Council’s flagship camp on a peninsula on Siltcoos Lake just outside Florence.

“That’s where I felt we went the most,” he said. “It was a good Boy Scout camp but it definitely felt like it got old kinda quick. … It was definitely a lot more fun to go and explore all the other camps.”

Novak is a freshman at Oregon State University majoring in mechanical engineering. He’s not currently involved with the scouts because of his busy college schedule but that may change as he thinks about possibly helping out at the troop’s summer camp.

Ludington could see himself getting involved with the scouts at some point in the future.

“I’ve wanted to go and help the troop with going on outings and stuff like that because their outings typically fell a lot on my weekends so I’d be able to join,” he said. “But it’s the hour-long drive and just trying to coordinate makes it a tough thing to do. With my sleep schedule, it just makes it that much harder.”

Ludington works a graveyard shift at his place of employment.

“It would be really nice to get back into all of that again,” he said.

Ludington, 20, graduated with Philomath High’s Class of 2021 and now lives in Sweet Home.

“My dad (Dale Ludington) is actually an Eagle Scout … we graduated from the same troop,” Ludington said.

Ludington was included in the recent Court of Honor ceremony even though he earned his Eagle Scout status two years ago. The troop couldn’t hold the event over the past few years because of the pandemic.

“I got all of my merit badges done by my 18th birthday and got my scoutmaster conference but the only thing that took after my 18th birthday was my board of review — I think that was a couple of months afterward,” Ludington said.

Barrett, the third Eagle Scout who was recognized on Jan. 29, could not be reached for an interview.

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.