Boy Scout merit badge conference hosted on campus

Marian Lacey

If someone had come to the Washburn University campus on Saturday, Feb. 3, they would not have seen college students. They would have seen hundreds of Boy Scouts going from building to building in hopes of acquiring a merit badge or two.

Approximately 350 Boy Scouts from across Kansas, extending as far as Wichita, arrived on campus that morning. Registration began at 8 a.m., requiring some boys to get an early start.

Thirteen-year-old Tim Weaver was one of those boys. Weaver, who is from Emporia, got on the bus at 6 a.m. in order to arrive in Topeka on time. He has been in Boy Scouts since the first grade and he earned his merit badge on Saturday by taking the all-day chemistry class. Those who chose the chemistry class got to work in the lab and made gold and silver pennies, as well as mixed solutions.

“It’s just something I’ve never tried before; something entertaining. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds,” said Weaver.

Along with chemistry, swimming was also an all-day class. Scouts learned survival skills such as how to make a floatation device out of their jeans if they ever happened to be ship wrecked or in a situation where they could drown. Boys who attended one of these two all-day classes received one merit badge. Many other classes were offered in the morning and afternoon which allowed some boys to earn two merit badges out of the 24 offered.

Some other classes offered included: law, medicine, music, aviation, dog care and crime prevention.

Around 40 of Washburn University’s professors helped the boys earn these badges. Included in the list of volunteers were Stephen Angel, Bruce Mactavish, John Christensen, President Jerry Farley and several people from the Topeka community. Officers from the Topeka Police Department came in to help with the law and crime prevention classes.

Among the 120 parents and scout leaders, assistant scout master Gary Elsbernd of Troop 175 from Topeka, attended the conference with 12 of the 40 Scouts from his troop. His Boy Scouts attended classes about safety, citizenship in the community, astronomy and engineering.

“This gives them a great opportunity to interact with other groups,” said Elsbernd. “We really appreciate the staff of Washburn University lending their talents.”

This conference not only allowed the boys to earn merit badges, but also allowed them to move up in rank.

“It gives them exposure that could lead to a career or hobby and broadens their knowledge,” said Jeff Moe, regional leader and director of the Jayhawk Council.

Tom Ellis, special assistant to the university president, worked to help organize this conference.

“The thing that’s fascinating about this program is that these boys would give up a Saturday to sit on a college campus and take classes. They are getting a taste of what it’s like to be a college student,” said Ellis. He was excited to have Boy Scouts from as far as 150 miles attend the conference.

“You’ve got to be a scholar at heart to want to do these things,” said Ellis.