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Scoutmaster stepping down after 20 years as Tonawanda troop's leader

Boy Scout Troop 286 Scoutmaster Mark Oetinger obtained the highest rank in scouting 40 years ago as a member of the troop he now leads.

He's one of 62 Scouts in the troop that have become Eagle Scouts in the 63 years since the troop was chartered in 1954 at Brighton Community Church in the Town of Tonawanda.

On Wednesday night, six Town of Tonawanda high school seniors – Joseph Kuschke, John Kuschke and Matthew McGinniss of Kenmore East High School; Matthew Sternin of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute; and James Dahlke and Joshua Korman of Kenmore West High School – will become the last Eagle Scouts honored at Brighton Community Church, which is transitioning to a new congregation and has elected not to continue to host the troop, said Oetinger.

The six will also become the final Eagle Scouts to have Oetinger as their scoutmaster. He has decided to step down after taking a generation of Troop 286 Scouts on camping trips, helping them earn hundreds of merit badges, guiding them as they participated in community service projects and accompanying them on adventures at Scout facilities as far as New Mexico, West Virginia and Florida.

Six Troop 286 Boy Scouts will become Eagle Scouts on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at Brighton Community Church in the Town of Tonawanda. From left are Scouts Joe Kuschke, John Kuschke, and Matt Sternin, Scoutmaster Mark Oetinger, and Scouts Jimmy Dahlke, Josh Korman and Matt McGinniss. (Photo by Ken Kuschke)

Oetinger said the troop's move July 1 to Blessed Sacrament Church in the Town of Tonawanda seemed a fitting time to make a change in leadership. Dan Dahlke will succeed him as scoutmaster. Blessed Sacrament, on Claremont Avenue, will become the new meeting place for Troop 286's Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venture Crew, which is for both boys and girls ages 14 to 20.

But Oetinger, who was the troop's Cub Scout leader for 10 years and Boy Scout scoutmaster for 10, said he won't be leaving Troop 286 altogether. He plans to remain active in the troop as an assistant leader.

"We are a decent-sized troop with 35 members. We have a good program and if you don't have a good program kids won't stay involved. We do a lot of things," said Oetinger.

He said most of the six young men who will become Eagle Scouts on Wednesday started out together as Cub Scouts. A few have been friends since kindergarten – or since birth if you consider twins, Joseph and John Kuschke. The 17- and 18-year-olds must earn 22 merit badges and complete a service project in the community to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. Their projects ranged from church garden renovations and landscaping to projects for nonprofits.

"This teaches them organization skills and leadership that they will use throughout life," said Oetinger.

Oetinger has been a Scout since age 11 and he earned his Eagle status in 1974. He admits he never thought he would stay in scouting as long as he did, but he said once he joined in 1969 he never left. Both his sons, Nicholas, 25, and Austin, 19, were also Eagle Scouts.

"I loved it so much I stayed with it until I had kids. Now (my kids) are out of the troop and I'm still with it," said Oetinger. "I see these young men and what they do and take away from scouting. So many of them come back and say, 'I learned how to succeed through scouting. I've taken all those skills and applied them to my life.'"

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