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. 

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I had the honor of scouting with Dr Flank from about 1991 - 1998.  Everything in this article is an understatement to the man’s devotion and commitment to enriching young scouts lives.  It’s great to see that he’s still as active as ever in the scouting community.

By Vin Turk on 06/11/2010 at 10:17 am

Bill Flank is an inspiration and quite honestly one of my favorite people ever. I was active in Troop 1 from 1983 until the early 90’s (some of us never “age out”) and have done what I can to maintain contact with him and the troop over the decades. Taking my own son canoeing down the Delaware with the troop a few years ago was very rewarding. As an “adult” and assistant scoutmaster in my own, venerable, Troop 99 Goffstown, I think of Bill and my days in the troop with him often. I hope the current crop of kids under Bill appreciate him as much as we grew to.

By John Rescigno on 06/11/2010 at 4:31 pm

I also had the honor of being part of Troop 1 with Flank.  The lessons he taught and the passion he brought to scouting is something that I can only hope to return to others in the future.  Given how busy my life has become with the responsibilities of work and family, it is amazing to think about the commitment that Bill Flank and the other adult scout leaders made to helping the scouts of Troop 1 grow.

By Geoff Goodman on 06/12/2010 at 12:47 am

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