Eagles soar at Troop 699 reunion in Palos Park

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Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Marshall Mortenson (left), who became an Eagle Scout in 1958, and J.T. Rapacz, who earned his Eagle rank in 2015, talk at the Troop 699 reunion about their experiences.

Sixteen men who earned the highest advancement rank in scouting returned to Palos Park Saturday to take part in a reunion of their troop.

“Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle” proclaimed a four-page program distributed to attendees of the Boy Scout Troop 699 Eagle Scout Reunion held at the Village Green, 8999 W. 123rd St.

Inside the program was an honor roll of 54 names dating back to the late 1950s of then-local residents who attained the most prestigious designation within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

“Looking at the crowd of Eagles here, one thing I discovered is that I was selected to speak because I’m the only bald eagle,” quipped Marshall Mortenson from the podium about his lack of hair. Mortenson earned the Eagle rank in 1958 and is Troop 699’s first Eagle Scout.

Eagle Scouts fly in rarified air. According to the BSA, only four percent of scouts achieve the performance-based Eagle ranking. The requirements necessary to become an Eagle Scout typically take years to fulfill and include an extensive service project for the benefit of a religious organization, a school or the community. The scout is required to plan, organize, lead and manage the project. The project is usually completed before the scout turns 18 years of age.

“I’ve seen a transformation with the boys,” said Nancy Graben. “I’ve been with a lot of them since Cub Scouts when I was their den mom. You see them as little kids, you see them move on.

“As 11- to 12-year-olds coming into the troop, they’re afraid to go on campouts, they’re afraid of spiders in their tents, they don’t know how to cook anything,” she said. “By the time they get to Eagle rank, they can do anything. They know how to run an entire project from beginning to end, they know how to plan an activity. They jump up and help people.”

Graben currently serves Troop 699 as a Charter Organization Representative. She and her husband, Jim, a former Troop 699 Scoutmaster, have three sons who are Eagle Scouts: Kyle, Mark and David.

The outdoor reunion, which included food and light refreshments for a total of about 80 attendees, began with a traditional presentation of colors and the Pledge of Allegiance. All the Eagle Scouts in attendance were recognized along with current Troop 699 Scoutmaster, A.J. Miller and five past Scoutmasters: Gary Dorencz, Bill Kierny, John Sackett, Jim Graben and Angelo Assimakolpoulos.

Thanks were extended to Palos Park Presbyterian Church in the form of a plaque for “More than 60 years of commitment and contribution” to Troop 699. A time capsule containing items from 1985 and 2004 was opened. Additions will be made to the capsule and the scouts will seal it away again in the coming months.

With the scent of barbecue in the air, The Regional News sat down with Mortenson, the troop’s first Eagle, and J.T. Rapacz, who earned his Eagle rank in 2015.

Mortenson and his family moved to Palos Park when he was in seventh grade. He went on to have a 37-year teaching career and taught science for 24 years at Naperville Central High School.

“Part of acquiring the rank of Eagle, part of the charge, was responsibility,” Mortenson said. “Taking responsibility, being responsible, a way of treating others, a way of treating yourself. View people with respect, not be afraid of hard work, and be willing to work with others.

“Being able to do that teaches you humility,” he said. “That helps being a leader by example. People don’t think you’re doing something to gain some advantage over anybody. You’re doing something you think is correct and good for others, and hope that others will follow.”

Rapacz strongly agreed.

“Marshall was spot-on when he was talking about the lessons it teaches you,” he said. “Hard work, communication with others, leadership. After the scouts, all the lessons I didn’t realize I was learning at the time, you then realize how much they play into real life.

“Once you’re out of scouts, once you’re in the real world, you see how valuable these lessons are and how much they help you,” said Rapacz.

“Hopefully, throughout my life I’ve tried to set a good example, said Mortenson, now retired. “I never tried to flaunt anything because actions speak louder than words. That’s what I think we have to do in this present world. Thank goodness we still have scouts.”

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