by Meghan Wayland
Barton Boy Scout Troop #862 has been making American flags out of salvaged wood, pine, and balsam fir to fund a summer trip to the Florida Keys.
Despite COVID-19, the troop is driving to Monroe County, Florida, on June 13 in a motorhome donated by Leroux Brothers Auto in Barton. When they reach southern Florida, the boys will paddle to a remote island in Key West — a place where Rick Blanchard, one of the troop’s leaders, said they’ll “live with limited amenities for five or six days.”
Senior Patrol Leader, Life Scout, and Lake Region junior Grant LaClair, 16, said he’s looking forward to snorkeling and deep sea fishing.
“It’s an opportunity to do things I’ve never done before, activities that not everybody gets to do,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
Troop #862 has been saving flag donation money to travel to Florida for two years.
Mr. Blanchard spent Monday morning figuring out whether or not the trip could still go on as planned given the pandemic. It can.
“We’re the first crew to get to go to the island this year,” he said Monday.
The “crew” is Grant LaClair; Rick Blanchard’s grandson, Aiden Blanchard; Simon Leroux; and Garrett Perron.
The troop’s handmade flags haven’t only been a fund-raiser for the trip.
Grant and two of his fellow Boy Scouts — along with American Legion members from both Barton and Orleans — presented his great-grandfather, Earl LaClair, 93, with a wooden flag on Memorial Day to thank him for his service in World War II.
Mr. LaClair wasn’t expecting the honor, Grant said.
“It felt like he really, really deserved that, especially after going to World War II, and it felt special that I had the chance to give a flag I helped make to my great-grandfather,” Grant said.
Richard LaClair, Grant’s father, organized the surprise. Earl LaClair was not feeling well on Memorial Day.
“Dad called and asked everyone if they would like to go,” Grant said. “Since he was not feeling well, Dad figured he’d just bring the service to him. Everybody thanked and congratulated him.”
Mr. Blanchard, who is a veteran, member of Oregon’s American Legion Post #23, and charter organization representative for the American Legion Post #76 in Barton — the organization that sponsors Boy Scout Troop #862 — helps lead the troop under Scout Master and Eagle Scout Dale Leroux and alongside parents Richard LaClair and Dan Perron. Committee Chair Amy Leroux also “does all kinds of things to help the troop out,” Mr. Blanchard said.
The four boys and four adults are traveling to Florida in a little over a week.
“Quite obviously, that’s expensive,” Mr. Blanchard said. “It’s taken the boys major planning for financing. We’ve stacked wood for people, we’ve cleaned up brush — plus numerous other jobs that people gave us contributions for.”
Mr. Blanchard said the troop continued to volunteer in the community as well, and not every job done was to make money for the trip.
That’s where the flags came in.
Mr. Blanchard said he and his grandson Aiden came up with the idea for the flags together. Originally, they sold them at craft fairs.
“It really went wild for us,” Mr. Blanchard said.
So far, the troop has sold around 30 flags, with an average donation of $100 per flag. He said the boys put the flags together themselves. With a little help.
“I’ve converted my garage for the master workshop for the kids,” Mr. Blanchard said. He cuts the wood on a table saw and the scouts complete the rest. The boys assemble, sand, stain, and finish the flags with spar varnish so they can be displayed outdoors.
“The boys are largely responsible for their own marketing,” Mr. Blanchard said, adding that the majority of sales have been through word of mouth. There’s a flag hanging at Leroux Brothers Auto, and E.M. Brown’s in Barton has offered to put one on display.
“We have a very generous community,” Mr. Blanchard said.
He brought his two sons up in the Boy Scouts. Both became Eagle Scouts. Aiden is working on his last requirements to become an Eagle Scout as well.