Philmont Scout Ranch is one of the largest investments owned by the Boy Scouts: over 219 square miles of property, more than 1,100 staff members every summer, and 23,000 participants each year. And it all began with the generosity of one man: Waite Phillips.
Mr. Phillips had spent his youth adventuring and working in the western United States with his twin brother, Wiate. In later years, Mr. Phillips placed quite an emphasis on this time, which he credited as the formation of the foundation of his character. Following the premature death of his brother due to appendicitis, Waite returned home and entered the oil business. He became quite the successful businessman, but retained his love for the outdoors, leading to the purchase of 300,000 acres of ranch land in northern New Mexico.
Phillips developed his land into a very successful ranching and breeding business and spent much of his leisure time hunting, fishing, and camping on his ranch’s property in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He built cabins for his family and guests and joined his cowboys to work in the fields. Yet in the midst of all this enjoyment, Mr. Phillips always remembered to share his wealth and good fortune with others. Impressed by the still-young Scouting organization and its ability to impact young men in the same positive ways that he had been in his own youth, Mr. Phillips donated 35,857 acres of his UU Ranch to the Boy Scouts of America to serve as a wilderness camping area. He was so enthused by the positive response of the organization, and of the eager Scouts who ventured to his land in that first season of 1938, he chose to donate another 91,000 acres, including his own favorite camping land, so that, “many, rather than few” could experience that life-changing adventure. Mr. Phillips told a Tulsa newspaper in an interview that “[this] ranch represents an ideal of my youth … and has meant a lot to my son and his pals. Now I want to make it available to other boys…. I’d be selfish to hold it for my individual use.”
As a result of his gift, more than 1,000,000 participants have had the opportunity to face up to some of the greatest challenges available to this nation’s young people as they scale 12,000 foot mountains and live off of only what they can carry on their backs for 12 days. And as someone who has experienced it, I can speak for all of us when I say that ever after, no matter what great challenges we may face, be it serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writing a graduate thesis, mentoring a rebellious teen, or even facing a difficult disability, we will remember just how strong we are, and just what amazing things we can do when we believe in ourselves and trust our “patrols”—our families and communities—and, of course, remember to look around for those of our peers who may need a hand up. I can say with complete certainty that, were it not for Philmont, the generosity of Waite Phillips, and the generosity of the regular citizens who donate, on a smaller scale, to the Boy Scouts every year, I would not be the strong, fearless, innovative, and intrepid citizen I currently am. I am proud of the person I am, and I am that person because of Scouting and Philmont; because of Waite Phillips and the Friends of Scouting. And I am just one person.
Imagine the lives that have been impacted by that one selfless gift on the part of Waite Phillips. Not only the 1,000,000 participants who have triumphantly passed through Philmont’s “You Made It!” gate, but also their families, their coworkers, and the troops they will serve as future adult volunteers. The influence of those participants grows exponentially, and that donation of one man has exponentially grown to impact tens of millions of people in less than 100 years. That is the lifeblood of Scouting: selfless service, paid forward, that echoes through the generations.
It is Friends of Scouting season, my friends. Just imagine what kind of good, what kind of individual lives and generations your single donation may impact. If one man can influence tens of millions, can you imagine what your impact will be one, or 100 years from now? Let’s all give what we can, and find out.
Author: Lee Ferrin | BYU Student, BSA Volunteer, Camp Director at Philmont Scout Ranch