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Lifetime service is badge of honor for troop masters

Don Hourigan joined Boy Scout Troop 104, based out of St. John the Baptist Church in the Town of Tonawanda, at the end of 1949, when he was 11.

And he never left.

Now a trim 74, energetic enough to play basketball and lead biking trips with preteen and teenage Scouts, Hourigan is in his 37th year as troop Scoutmaster.

Children and their parents call him "Don."

Hourigan is joined on many of the troop's camp-outs by Bill Boy, a Boy Scout volunteer who pulls double-duty as Cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 504, the group for elementary-age boys also based at St. John's.

Now 69, Boy has served as Cubmaster for 35 years, and both men have no plans to stop.

"No," Hourigan said, when asked if he'd thought about stepping down as Scoutmaster. "Why would I want to do that?"

Local scouting leaders say it's unusual for Scoutmasters or Cubmasters to serve for so long, and more unusual still for the leaders of affiliated organizations to serve side by side for such an extended period.

Hourigan and Boy have held their positions for so long they have worked with Scouts who later sent their own sons through 504 and 104.

"I think it's wonderful," said Peter Stuhlmiller, a Pack 504 alumnus who made Eagle Scout in Troop 104. His son, Brian, achieved the same accomplishment this year.

"I think it's unusual to find adults who find a lifelong dedication to an organization that isn't their career, or their church," Stuhlmiller added.

As they demonstrate for the thousandth time to a greenhorn Scout how to properly start a campfire, or how to pitch a tent, they're passing along lessons they hope will last a lifetime.

"We're hoping they can have a better future," Boy said.

Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Scouting was a popular pastime for boys, and Hourigan and Boy followed their friends into the local Cub Scout pack. Both went on to Boy Scouts, Hourigan with 104 and Boy with Troop 228, relishing camping and other experiences.

"I was going on every outing the troop did," Hourigan said.

Yet even though both men have helped many teenagers achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts, neither made it to Eagle Scout himself. In both cases, Hourigan and Boy said instability in their troops prevented them from making Eagle.

Their paths diverged after they aged out of Boy Scouts.

Hourigan stayed on with 104 through college, at Canisius College, and through the start of a teaching career primarily in the Buffalo and Sweet Home school districts.

He had served as assistant Scoutmaster for many years before Troop 104, known as the Supertroop, began looking for a replacement Scoutmaster and he volunteered for the post.

"By '75," Hourigan said, "my roots were down, pretty deep, so I knew I was going to be around for a while."

Boy left Scouting for some years, married and started a family, and only came back to Pack 504 when his son, Stephen, joined the organization.

Boy became assistant Cubmaster of Pack 504 and then, in 1977, Cubmaster.

Hourigan, Boy and other adults are trying to give their Scouts new experiences, responsibilities and lessons they otherwise wouldn't have or receive.

These can take the form of a boy's first trip to New York City or his first chance to sleep out under the stars at a camp. Or they can be mundane tasks such as standing on a step-stool to stir a giant pot of spaghetti or cleaning up after a meal.

"Teaching them knots is not the end in itself," Hourigan said.

Just last weekend, when Troop 104 was camping out in Zoar Valley, Hourigan came across a group of young Scouts who were having trouble getting a fire going and only had produced a large pile of wood and some burnt matches.

Hourigan took the boys to find the proper materials to use as tinder, and showed them how to construct a teepee-type fire to make sure the wood caught.

"The next morning, they do the whole thing themselves, on their own," Hourigan said.

Generations of Scouts remember Hourigan's aphorisms, which apply to civilian life.

"Go when you can, not when you have to," reminds boys to take advantage of bathroom breaks when they present themselves.

"Leave a campsite better than you found it" often prompts a diligent scouring of a campground to look for litter.

Both men have seen the popularity of Scouting ebb, as children are distracted by technology or tied up with sports that now fill most of the year.

"From where I see it, it becomes even more necessary," Hourigan said. "We take them out where they have to feed themselves and clothe themselves and warm themselves. Your iPod will not make you warm."

Membership in Pack 504 has fallen since the 1980s but is holding steady at 26, Boy said. Troop 104, with 50 boys, is down from the 100 or so it had in the '80s but has rebounded from a low of 25 boys at the turn of the century, Hourigan said.

Through all of the changes over the past 35 years, the constants are Hourigan and Boy, providing a stability they didn't have with their Boy Scout troops.

"He is Mr. 104," A.J. Block said of Hourigan. "Bill, absolutely is the main cog between Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting.

"It's a good partnership," added Block, a former Troop 104 Scout who now serves as Council Commissioner for the Boy Scouts' Greater Niagara Frontier Council, which represents Scouts in Erie and western Niagara counties.

The men are close, but possess contrasting personalities.

Boy is more laid back, while Hourigan is more concerned about having things done in a particular way. However, there is a deep mutual respect.

The men are devoted to Scouting and have few hobbies, though Boy and his wife, Rose, also an active Cub Scout volunteer, own a home on Rushford Lake and Boy still works at Hertel Hardware and Plumbing.

"We really don't do a lot of other stuff," Boy said. "We enjoy [Scouting]. We never even talked about quitting."

Hourigan, who stopped teaching in 2011, never married and doesn't have any children.

"I ended up with lots of kids," Hourigan said.

But he never tried to replace their parents and prefers to think of himself as another teacher for the boys.

Hourigan and Boy say their best reward is to see, or hear about, the effect they've had on a young man. The men also can take pride in the 81 Eagle Scouts Troop 104 has produced, with all but 12 coming since Hourigan took over as Scoutmaster.

How much do former Scouts think of Hourigan and Boy?

Seven of the 50 members of Troop 104 are sons of former Scouts in the troop, Hourigan said, and many other former Scouts continue to volunteer.

Their longevity in these positions isn't typical.

Block pointed to Bob Berger, who retired a couple of years ago after 50 years of serving as Scoutmaster of Troop 138 in West Seneca, but that length of service is decidedly rare.

Boy and Hourigan have more gray hair than they once did, and they perhaps have slowed down a step, but they still can keep up with their Scouts.

Hourigan, in fact, took his Scouts on a 25-mile bike ride Saturday morning, and he plays basketball with them during the winter months.

As always, on Monday you'll see Hourigan and Boy in the Ken-Ton Memorial Day parade.

Hourigan will walk smartly in the replica uniform of an American colonel from the War of 1812. Scouts in Troop 104 will march in their own War of 1812 garb or their Scout uniforms.

Boy will dress as an Indian chief this year, while the Cub Scouts in Pack 504 will be outfitted as cowboys or Indians.

The crowd lining Delaware Avenue may clap a little louder, or stand and cheer, as 104 and 504 walk past, to show their gratitude to Hourigan and Boy and the other volunteers.

And, as a grateful former member of Pack 504 and Troop 104, this reporter begs your indulgence to do the same.

Don and Mr. Boy:

Thank you.

email: swatson@buffnews.com