A lifetime in scouting

Hughes looks at future and past of the Boy Scout program

For John Hughes, scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 25, the year 2010 is hugely significant: not only is he celebrating his 40th year as scoutmaster, but Bayonne is celebrating its 75th year hosting a Boy Scout Troop, and scouting itself is celebrating its 100th year in existence.
Hughes is seen by many as one of the pinnacles of scouting’s success, a man who has spent a life in scouting and become one of the pillars of the Bayonne community.
Among the numerous celebrations held around the county this year, the scouts held a national Jamboree as part of their celebrations.
The Mackin Society of Boy Scouts Troop 25 is honoring Hughes at its annual dinner dance on Oct. 15 at Mayfair Farms in West Orange.


“Scouting teaches young boys the rules of life.” – John Hughes

Hughes, interviewed in September in anticipation of the event, said scouting is strong or even stronger than it ever was, although its role in society may have changed.
“The message is still alive and well, and we’re everywhere,” he said.
Part of the idea of scouting, he said, is to get kids involved early and to help them develop strong ethical values, which they can take into life.
“Scouting teaches young boys the rules of life, and gives them a structure of discipline we hope they will keep with them when they get older,” he said. “Part of it is developing a sense of independence and self accountability.”
But it is also about being a part of a working group of peers, learning that personal actions have a larger impact.
The Boy Scout motto about “being prepared,” he said means “being prepared for life.”

A troop with history

Troop 25 had a curious early history. Founded in 1941, the troop was connected with the St. Vincent Cadet Corp in the early 1940s, and eventually set its own course a few years later.
But that’s not where Hughes started. He became a Cub Scout at age eight at the Central YMCA on 33rd Street, and remembers that his cub master was a WW I veteran and a moving force for local scouting.
“Nobody now remembers the guy, but I do,” he said.
When a new troop started at the Knights of Columbus, Hughes joined it when he turned 11, rising to the rank of Eagle Scout three years later.
He credits scouting with helping him succeed in life. A Seton Hall Law School and University of Notre Dame graduate, he served as an assistant prosecutor prior to establishing the firm of Hughes & Finnerty.
Perhaps he would have left scouting behind, except that fate seemed destined to keep him involved.
In 1970, he took the job as scoutmaster to the St. Vincent de Paul Boy Scout Troop 25 as a temporary assignment until the troop could find a permanent replacement for the scoutmaster who had left.
“My brother-in-law was becoming a scout at the time,” Hughes recalled. “The previous scoutmaster had left. I remember it was Sunday, and after the ball game, my father-in-law asked if I would take over until they found a temporary replacement.”

Scouting is an education

Forty years later, he’s still at the helm. Over those years, he learned – despite the fact that he had grown up in the scouts – that he still had a lot to learn, about himself and about scouting. He also began to understand that the program wasn’t merely recreation, but an education. Kids were learning as they were having fun.
“Kids don’t think of it as education, but it is,” he said.
Structure is one of the vital pieces scouting provides. Advancement in scouting comes after that, earning each merit badge and each new rank within the structure of scouting. The program allows kids to get outdoors and to appreciate nature and the environment. But kids also develop self-confidence as they acquire skills.
“Kids can learn and not realize they are learning,” he said.
Some of the most important lessons can be transferred later to life, such as how to lead. One lesson he learned is that these are not just a group of kids, but kids that are part of a unit working together.
“In this troop, kids run things,” he said. “They elect their own leaders and they learn to cooperate to get things done.”

The inner city needs scouting, too

Hughes is part of an effort to bring scouting into Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson, inner city areas where scouting has not had much impact in the past, but an area where its influence could be very helpful.
As an assistant prosecutor, Hughes spent significant time early in his career in juvenile court, where he saw kids struggling for direction, often lacking family support or positive role models in their lives.
For many kids, scouting provides them with positive role models, adult males who can fill in the spaces left in their lives.
He said scouting plays a different role in the lives of kids, especially with the change of family structure.
“We have a higher percent of single parent houses,” he said.
Kids are often in transition and have to deal with a host of issues his generation didn’t face growing up.
“The inner city is an underserved area,” he said.
Part of the outreach is to get schools, churches, and other organizations on board.
The largest sponsor of scouting in the country is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by veterans groups, the Mormon Church, and Parent Teacher Organizations.
“We need community support to do what we do,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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