A Cub Scout long ago, Rick Burr now leads the pack.
BY LYNN COOK
RICHARD J. “RICK” BURR SAW himself as a coach or athletic director somewhere in Middle America. It was a natural assumption for the four-year letterman in soccer, earning his master’s degree in sports administration at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. The farthest thing from his mind was the possibility that he would become the Scout Executive of the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts of America, on the island of O’ahu in the state of Hawai’i.
On May 1, 2010, Burr took the reins of the Boy Scouts in Hawaii. He had a list of daunting tasks stacked on his desk. It was a giant leap, Oklahoma to Hawai’i, but he immediately points to the list of board members and says that his team was there to back up every play.
Growing up in St. Louis, Burr was a Cub Scout. The love for soccer took him away, all the way to a soccer scholarship at college in Oklahoma. He says soccer also brought him back to scouting. “I needed a job and some of my team mates were working with Boy Scouts. I thought it would be a great work.” His instinct proved to be correct. He began his scouting career at the Indian Nation Council in Tulsa as district executive, where he started a sailing club for scouts. “Oklahoma has large lakes,” he says. From there he became a team leader for five metro area districts with 2,750 scouting youth members. He conducted a $7.3 million campaign for construction of a new Scout Resource Center, and a $2.4 million capital campaign for the scout camp. In 2007, he moved on to be the executive leader at Crater Lake Council in Central Point, Ore. He sailed catamarans and took up fly-fishing. Then came the invitation to be considered for Hawai’i.
“My wife, Frances, and I came to Hawai’i for the ‘big’ interview. The first thing we saw was the beauty, then we realized the real beauty was the people.” He says they were amazed at the community support, the dedication of business leaders to the growth of scouting and the reality of aloha-a word they understood quickly as they were welcomed to the Islands. “Meeting the board and the scout leaders helped us understand how aloha works. It became clear that the island way was very special and not the same as middle America or Southern Oregon,” Burr says. Of the three candidates, selected from leaders nationwide, Burr got the job offer. He says with a smile, “my wife may have been the one who won the interview.”
Frances Burr has a master’s degree in social work. She is working with local hospice organizations, serving Hawaiian, Samoan, Korean, Japanese and Chinese families. Both the Burrs, along with their 4-year-old son, had quick and total immersion in the multi-ethnic culture of the Islands. Getting settled included school for their son and joining a team to play masters soccer at Waipio sports center for Burr.
The new Boy Scouts headquarters building, nestled into the green of Nu’uanu Valley, has the look of vintage Hawai’i. The room of presidents has the photo of the leader of nearly every major Hawai’i company, going back 100 years. Burr points to photos, Sanford Dole, Walter F. Dillingham, William W. Paty, C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. and John Henry Felix. He says many of the leaders over the 100 years earned the rank of Eagle Scout. “We graduate about 250 new Eagle Scouts a year. That’s a large number for a small island,” Burr says with pride. He notes that earning the rank of Eagle Scout is often found on the first line of a boy’s college resume.
He talks of the challenge in the Islands. “We are reaching out to O’ahu’s diverse communities. Burr explains that the Aloha Council encompasses many Pacific Basin destinations including Cheuk, Palau, Marshall Islands, American Samoa and Saipan. He says, “One of our most important initiatives is reaching those populations here in Hawai’i. Many Pacific Islanders relocate to O’ahu or the Big Island with very young families. They may miss the introduction to scouting.”
New leaders are always being recruited for Hawai’i’s extensive list of programs. “Scouting works in Hawai’i,” Burr says, “because we do it island-style.” Men who have been scouts or friends and family who have watched boys go from Cubs to Eagle Scouts, can see the value of the programs. Scouting is a “boy-led” program. Leader training is necessary, and dads with a young boy in the program are excellent candidates for leaders. Burr says even if they didn’t have the opportunity to be a scout as a youth, they can “grow up” in scouting with their own boys.
He thinks that in life “sometimes we take ourselves too darned seriously,” and then mentions that the camping at Pupukea, Waimea and on Kaua’i is very different than mainland scout camps. “The menu includes a lot more rice and the weather is much better.”
In two years’ time, the mainland malahini Burr has become very much the local boy. In addition to soccer, he loves to stand-up paddleboard. On calm days his son sits on the board. There was a learning curve, Burr admits. His first reading assignment was unique to the Aloha Council: “Hawaiiana book, dedicated to the perpetuation of the skills, crafts and legends of old Hawai’i.” In his first meeting to discuss leader recruitment, the team talked about a “puka” here and there on the map. Translation: “Puka” was a place where a scout leader was needed.
Burr joined the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America in its centennial year. With a stellar board, troop leaders, a thousand boys and his family behind him, he looks toward a strong future for scouting in Hawai’i and the Pacific.