The Fire Builder

Chuck May Eagle Challenge

Joe Danka Eagle Ceremony

21 December 1996

Joe, I am greatly honored that you asked me to challenge you one more time on the occasion of your becoming an Eagle Scout. I think that one of the most important things we can do as leaders is to challenge boys, and that is what I have tried to do throughout my association with you.

Every Troop, it seems, has a fire builder. This is a person whose first thought in the morning, or on making camp, is to build a fire. He is the boy who kindles a fire almost intuitively in any weather condition. It's a skill, or an instinct, which is almost independent of rank or experience. Joe has always been one of the Troop's fire builders. I know that there are some in the Troop now, and at least one waiting to be old enough to join the Troop.

When you light a fire with flint and steel, you start with the tiniest, most delicate spark. If you don't do anything after you strike the spark, it will quickly die out. You have to blow on it, very gently at first, until it glows and the heat begins to transfer to the surrounding tinder. If you are skillful and attentive and have worked patiently on the spark, it will burst into flame. That flame can then be used to provide warmth, protection, and light, not to mention being an essential ingredient in a hot peach cobbler.

Most worthwhile human endeavors are like that - friendship, scholarship, citizenship, even marriage and parenthood. They start with a spark, but require careful and attentive nurturing before they will burst into flame and sustain themselves.

Now, Joe, have you ever noticed on a cold morning at a campout that everyone is huddled around the fire, but there are usually only one or two boys actively working to keep the fire going? Citizenship is very much like that. Everyone enjoys the benefits - the warmth and heat of the fire - even those who are not helping feed the fire. But you also know as a fire builder that if everyone stands around keeping warm, and no one leaves the fire to get more wood, the fire will die out and everyone will be cold.

My challenge to you, Joe, is to continue to be a fire builder. Nurture the sparks of character, citizenship and leadership wherever you find them. Use your leadership to ensure that we are a nation by the people, not just of and for the people. The survival of our society and our way of life requires an active citizenship, not people standing around the fire with their hands outstretched.

I hope that you will accept the challenge, and apply it in your private life as well as in Scouting. You won't find many greater satisfactions than in helping a spark of character in a young boy kindle into the bright, glowing flame of manhood.


Chuck May, 1996 -

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