Boy Scout volunteer caught by surprise

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 08, 2013 01:48 pm

Boy Scout volunteer Jan Harris speaks at the Friends of Scouting Breakfast after receiving the Eagle Within award. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Boy Scout volunteer Jan Harris speaks at the Friends of Scouting Breakfast after receiving the Eagle Within award. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

by DICK MASON / The Observer

Although 28 years in the making, the announcement still caught Jan Harris of La Grande by surprise.

The news was delivered Wednesday morning while Harris was doing what she does best —  reaching out to the community.  Harris was at Eastern Oregon University directing the annual Friends of Scouting Breakfast, the major fundraiser each year for the local Boy Scouts of America program.   

Harris had paused to contemplate who would receive the Eagle Within Award, given annually to the top Union County Boy Scout volunteer.  Harris could not believe her ears when it was announced she was the 2013 Eagle Within recipient. 

“I was totally stunned. I had no clue, I was blown away,” she said.

No gasps of surprise were probably heard in the audience, for Harris has been a Boy Scout volunteer in Union County the past 28 years. The whirlwind of a volunteer has served as a Cub Scout den mother, an Eagle Scout adviser and a member of local scouting committees. 

Harris has done all this while being active on many other portions of the community service front. Harris  serves on the local site council for the Oregon Community Foundation,  is a mentor for youths through the ASPIRE program and served for years as a director of the Drug Free Relay.

What inspires Harris to be so giving of her time? Brent Lewis of La Grande, the 2012 Eagle Within award recipient, provided the answer during his address announcing Harris as the 2013 winner.   

“It is indigenous to her character. It is who she is,” Lewis said. “She stands tall with determination to make La Grande and our country a better place to live, and Boy Scouts of America is a big part of that in her life.”

 Harris and her husband, Lynn, moved to La Grande in 1976, where they raised five children, sons Michael, Jeffrey and Peter and daughters, Melanie and Lori Jo. Their sons all became Eagle Scouts, and their daughters were in Girl Scouts, a program for which Jan Harris was an active volunteer.

Harris is inspired to continue volunteering for the Boy Scouts because she sees how it helps boys develop into the leaders of tomorrow. She said many boys today, especially those from single-parent families, do not have strong male role models they can learn from if they are not in Boy Scouts. 

She also said scouting helps children because it requires them to do service for those needing help. This goes a long way toward helping scouts develop empathy. Harris said those with empathy are unlikely to become bullies. 

Harris, who is in her second year as director of the La Grande High School Career Center, does not see a day in the future which she will not be a Boy Scout volunteer. She said that she and her husband, a retired dentist and also an active scout volunteer, plan to be active in scouting for years to come.

“I love being around scout people. They are some of  nicest people in the community,” she said.