Dr. Flank honored for 65 years of scouting leadership
June 11, 2010
by Peter Applebome
Many generations of middle and high school kids in Chappaqua have learned a few things from Bill Flank.
They’ve learned the Zen of wool socks and how to do the J stroke in a canoe. Over blazing fires in the woods, they’ve taken in many chapters of Lenni Lenape Indian lore. If they needed help with calculus or chemistry, he was around to offer it. He’s taught them what to bring and what not to bring on a hike, how to cook various elemental wilderness stews, the mysteries of the square knot, bowline and clove hitch and other essentials of the Boy Scout canon. He’s impressed upon them the perils of hypothermia, the importance of the bear bag, how to handle a knife and why you shouldn’t handle an ax, and the assorted near-death experiences that can confront the unwitting or careless canoer or hiker.
Contrary to rumor, it is definitely not true that Dr. Flank – he has a doctorate in chemistry and did his dissertation on “The Geometric Factor in Ethylene Oxidation Over Gold-Silver Alloy Catalysts” – has been a part of Chappaqua’s Boy Scout Troop 1 since it was founded in 1913. But he has been a mainstay of it since he moved to town in 1971 and its scoutmaster since 1990. And at the troop’s annual end of year Court of Honor at Westorchard Elementary School Wednesday night, June 9, he was honored for 65 years in scouting. Exactly how much was scouting and how much was scout mastering will remain one of life’s mysteries, but suffice it to say no one doubted that he deserved the honor.
“What I remember most were the Indian stories around the campfire,’’ said Jordan Trezza, who became an Eagle Scout in 1999, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2004 and is now studying for medical school. “He was so vivid in his descriptions. He made you live the stories every time he spoke. He was such a great mentor to so many of us, and he fostered this love of the outdoors and of active living, which he’s still doing today.”
At the Court of Honor, he wasn’t the only one honored. Three scouts became Eagles – Russell Sparks, Gordon Seltzer and Philip Sieverding. They were the 85th, 86th and 87th Eagles in the troop’s history, 48 of whom became Eagles under Dr. Flank’s watch. Characteristically, Bill didn’t let on that he was going to be honored but it’s safe to say that he considers the success of the troop and the boys in it tribute enough. Indeed, while scouting is waning in some places, Troop 1’s membership at more than 50 boys is the highest in memory. At 78, Dr. Flank is going strong as well. The day after the Court of Honor, he took off for the Saint Lawrence River to study Indian culture, no doubt wearing wool socks and packing precisely what was needed for the trip.
Peter Applebome is an author and a journalist, well-known for his “Our Towns” column in The New York Times. He lives in Chappaqua with his wife and two children. His book “Scout’s Honor: A Father’s Unlikely Foray into the Woods” is about his experiences with his son in Scouting—and with Bill Flank—as a member of Chappaqua’s Troop 1.