Scoutmaster invites Boy Scouts back for 35-year picnic

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Mike Mara has been Scoutmaster of Prairie du Chien Boy Scout Troop 320 for 35 years. He would like to celebrate this milestone with a Boy Scout Reunion Picnic, Saturday, July 27, from 12 to 4 p.m., at the La Riviere Farm Park. All former Scouts, parent volunteers and their families are invited to attend. RSVPs are requested. (Submitted photo)

Mike Mara is pictured with some of his Boy Scouts at Camp Decorah in Holmen years ago. With him (far left) are (from left) Tony Roh, Jason Moris, Eric Lathrop, Jay Dickey, Eric Atkins, Tom Swenson and Michael Douglass.

By Correne Martin

In his 35 years as Scoutmaster, Mike Mara has ushered close to 250 Boy Scouts through Prairie du Chien Troop­ 320. He’s done so much more than just adventuring alongside them; he’s also unwaveringly prepared them for life. 

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” said the modest leader. 

Mike was subdued and understated in his expression about the three and a half decades he’s faithfully worn the tan shirt and olive pants that have become synonymous with the Boy Scouts of America organization. He grinned ever so slightly in thinking about some of the memories he and his family of Scouts, parents and volunteers have experienced during that time.

“It’s just neat to see the kids do stuff together. It’s more important now because they aren’t spending time on electronics. Scouting gives them hands-on, interactive opportunities,” he stated. 

Mike said he was raised at Scout camp, where his campmaster engrained in young minds the theory that “if it isn’t fun, it isn’t Scouting.” 

“The earliest Scouting memory I have is, for Memorial Day, we went to B.A. Kennedy, and Paul Pinard had us marching,” Mike recalled. 

In Boy Scouts, he remembers developing that solid regard for camping, canoeing, hiking, outdoor cooking and, most of all, the camaraderie that came along with it. 

As a Cub Scout, Mike took instruction from Cubmaster Richard Steiner, and his mother, Audrey Mara, was his den leader. Later, as a Boy Scout, he learned from Scoutmaster Joe Atkins. He had one brother, Jeff, in Scouts too, though Mike was the only one of five Mara boys who continued through Boy Scouts and eventually became a Scoutmaster—for 35 years and counting.

After completing Boy Scouts himself, the lifelong Prairie du Chien resident served his troop as an assistant Scoutmaster from the age of 18 to 21. He said he was easily coaxed by Tom Nelson, the Cubmaster in 1981. 

In 1984, he officially stepped into the Scoutmaster role, leading boys in grades 6-12 in a hands-on journey of achievement toward becoming well-rounded, respectful, community-minded adults. Everyone has always been welcome in his troop, regardless of income or experience, at anytime of year. Meetings are held every Tuesday night, and, monthly, they go on troop outings, such as fishing trips, bike trail rides, campouts and more.

“The kids are great,” Mike quietly remarked. “We’ve had a lot of kids who needed Scouting, but Scouting has also needed these kids.”

The Prairie du Chien Boy Scouts have kept busy over the years with projects like picking up flags at cemeteries, running the Eagles Telethon food stand, picking up cans at events, raising the flag for the Memorial Day program and Oktoberfest, marching in parades, tree planting, and helping out with or hosting fundraisers. 

Certainly, leading Scouts is not a paid position. So, Mike is grateful for all the input and volunteer work numerous parents have provided during his 35 years—from organizing and leading to taking care of the “techie stuff” and badges. Most of it has been done on a “penny budget” too, he shared.

“Some of these parents, I’m certainly glad I met. I probably wouldn’t have outside of Boy Scouts,” said Mike, who’s a carpenter by trade. 

The long hours of giving back by way of contributions to the community may be committed to his memory, yet Mike said his years have gone by fast thanks to some of the troop’s most memorable moments, like at Camp Decorah, playing Capture the Flag by moonlight and late-night Risk games. This fraternity is why Mike believes he’s got years as a Scoutmaster left in him.

Among all his Scouts, 25 have received their Eagle Award. These boys, now men, have given back to the community through projects at Wisconsin Badger Camp, Lochner Park, La Riviere Park, Wyalusing State Park, B.A. Kennedy, the Bible Baptist Church, Lynxville Community Center, Boscobel Forest and the La Riviere Horse Park, to name a few. They have done fingerprinting and videotaping to create identification files for children, created bat houses, constructed benches and outhouses, made wheelchair accessible picnic tables, conducted trail repairs, supplied playhouses and playground sets, and much more.

The Maras have kept up with some of the Scouts, proudly learning that his proteges have followed paths into the Air Force, priesthood, teaching and even Boy Scouts service, among other careers. 

To celebrate Mike’s dedication to Troop 320, he and his wife, Debbie, are hosting a Boy Scout Reunion Picnic on Saturday, July 27, from noon to 4 p.m., at the LaRiviere Farm Park (where many of the Scouts went camping for years). They’ve made the effort to contact as many former Scouts and parent leaders as possible and feel they’ve reached most. 

There will be a short program, sharing of stories and food to eat. Mike thinks he can come up with a memory about every Scout who attends. The hope is to put him to the challenge. Ingredients for peach cobbler will be on hand as well for anyone who might remember how to use the dutch ovens. There may even be some time for a game of Capture the Flag. 

Those interested in attending should let the Maras know by the end of June, so food preparations can be made. There is a Facebook event posted at Facebook.com/events/645600412539749, where men are encouraged to share any Scouting pictures they may have. Or, record a 1-2 minute video about a favorite Scouting memory and post that there as soon as possible, so your video can be included in the presentation for the picnic. 

In hopes that attendance will be great, Mike said, “We’d just like to see how everybody’s doing and what they’ve done with their lives.”

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