Crafton Boy Scout Troop 147: Tyler Dominowski, Regis Patton III, August Bernhardy, Damion Snyder (front row). Alex Englert, Christina Englert, Jessica Lapp, Eric Englert, John Franks (back).
By Elizabeth Perry
Boy Scout Troop 147 has been part of the Crafton community for 110 years, just two years shy of when scouting got its start in the United States. It’s also the oldest troop in the Laurel Highlands Council, which encompasses Pennsylvania, along with counties in Maryland and West Virginia.
“Boy Scouts started in 1910 and our troop started in 1912,” said Troop Leader Regis Patton III.
The Boy Scouts of America were founded by William D. Boyce, a newspaperman who was born in Allegheny County.
Patton III is the cheetah keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and an amateur blacksmith.
“I did a lot of my zoo work in scouts,” said Patton III, who earned his Eagle Scout badge in 2003, finishing the program with 76 badges.
His father, Regis Patton Jr., was also a scout leader, but was not, his son was quick to point out, the leader under which Patton III earned the Eagle Scout honor. The troop’s leader at the time was Richard Kramer.
“My dad wouldn’t sign off on any of my merit badges," he added.
The elder Patton has been involved in scouting for 53 years, and has been part of the organization in Crafton for nearly half of its existence.
Patton Jr. is still involved in scouting as a committee chairman.
“It’s a way of life. It was a way of life for me, and it’s a way of life for [my son],” said Patton Jr., who over the years has compiled a history of Troop 147.
He even made special wooden plaques in honor of the troop’s leaders over the years. There have been 12.
Frank Hall founded Troop 147, and Patton Jr. said that when he was a Boy Scout, the Hall family would reliably buy whatever fundraising trinket he was selling. Patton Jr. remembered the Halls placing a $200 order to help bolster the troop.
Patton III said that education is a huge aspect of participating in Boy Scouts, and what helped him select zoology as a career path. Through scouting, he explored biology, chemistry and metallurgy.
Any topic a child finds interesting could be explored further through scouts, he said. Patton III learned how to be a leader from his father, who developed an observant approach to earning a badge more focused on the activity itself than on ticking off boxes.
Patton Jr. made a habit of observing his scouts and reinforcing their strengths. He would plan activities, not when kids completed the requirements, and then discuss what they learned immediately afterward. Patton Jr. described himself as more of a friend to the kids than a taskmaster. That strategy built lasting relationships with his scouts.
“I still have one of the kids popping by,” Patton Jr. said.
Patton III said that the same scout delivered a big, black teddy bear to the house as a gift in honor of his birth.
“He was still a scout at the time,” Patton III added.
Patton Jr. not only inspired his son with his unique way of teaching, but his assistant leader, Verne Smith, wrote a paper on the unique method of instruction.
Eagle Scouts have to complete projects that improve their local community.
Fifteen students acquired the rank of Eagle Scout under Patton Jr.’s guidance. They’ve contributed projects as varied as lights installed to illuminate the flag in front of the Crafton municipal building which was later replaced with LEDs, to a bench in the Jewish cemetery located near the Sto-Rox High School.
Most of these projects are no longer standing, but the young men who built them went on to have good careers, many in fields that serve the public, Patton Jr. said.
Among his former scouts are a medical doctor, a professor of robotics, a person who repairs musical instruments and of course, his son, the zoo keeper.
Once, Patton Jr. mentored a Boy Scout who was deathly afraid of water and could not swim. Despite the boy’s hydrophobia, he still became an Eagle Scout.
“You find something else for the kid to do until he gets over his fear,” Patton Jr. said.
In recent years, the troop has had to adapt to a changing landscape.
Enrollment in scouting has declined since Patton III was a boy.
“Kids have a lot more involved with their schedules right now,” he said.
His father, Patton Jr., said that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, scouting was the only extracurricular activity for younger kids. This isn’t the case any more.
Troop 147 also lost its home, the Crafton United Methodist Church, after the church closed its doors in 2016.
“As of late, a lot of churches are closing up,” Patton III said.
Although they are trying to engage with the First United Baptist Church to host meetings, the Crafton-Ingram Rotary Club will remain their charter.
Patton III is cognizant of sexual abuse allegations tied to scouting.
Though he says there’s never been a history of abuse associated with the troop, there are still strict rules in place to keep children safe.
Troop 147 participates in the Youth Protection Program. Grown ups must pass three background checks and no single adult is ever alone with a single child.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many boys left scouting, Patton III said. He adapted by trying to lead meetings over Zoom, and even managed to guide one young man through his Eagle Scout project.
Aiden Forrest, 18, had to present his project while wearing a mask. Forrest said he built dugout shades for three different baseball fields. When he finished giving his presentation, he received a standing ovation, Patton III said.
Forrest described Boy Scouts as, “one of the most gigantic character-building experiences in my life.”
He is graduating from high school this year, and plans to continue his education.
Of Patton III, Forrest said, “He’s a very endearing man and he’s led me to success.”
Currently the troop has seven boys, including Eric Englert, 17, who is working on his Eagle Scout Badge. Englert is building bat boxes to place along the Chartiers Creek Trail in Crafton.
Troop 147 is part of the Scoutreach District, which helps boys who have difficulty affording activities.
“Tents, boots, summer camp and uniforms are all expensive. The boys, when they come to our troop, don’t need to worry about that,” Patton III said.
The troop works to mitigate the price of things through fundraising. A major fundraiser they do in collaboration with the Crafton-Ingram Rotary Club is a car show, which takes place on Aug. 27 at the Crafton Borough building parking lot. Dennis Piper, Rotary liaison with the troop, said the fundraiser has been going on for six years, in collaboration with Pittsburgh C.A.R.S. car club.