New Rowan district exec says values, memories from Boy Scouts guided his career
At 32, John Barden isn't technically a Boy Scout, but he still wears the uniform.
He's the new district executive for Rowan, the liaison between the county's Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs and the seven-county Central N.C. Council.
In his new office off West Council Street, on the grounds of St. John's Lutheran Church, Barden is surrounded by memories of Scouting.
“One thing that drew me to the position, the idea of working in Scouting professionally, is the impact that Scouting has on our communities,” Barden said.
Scouting's values include personal responsibility, “a reverence to God in whatever form that one chooses (and) a maturity and respect toward other people,” Barden said.
“And also, promoting a sense of duty to ones community and nation,” he added.
Along with those values are the memories Barden has of his years in Scouting.
Some of them are tangible ... news clippings, patches and photos.
Some of them have stories behind them ... such as the teddy bear.
Barden holds up the small stuffed black bear, around whose neck is a plastic tag that reads “RADAR.”
During Barden's first summer camp, he explains, he was clerk and bugler for then-camp director Jack Kepley.
That job reminded some of the folks of Radar O'Reilly, the company clerk and bugler on the TV show M*A*S*H ... a boyish Army corporal who, from time to time, carried a teddy bear.
They gave Barden the bear as a gift.
When his previous career ended, Barden said, an opportunity to work in Scouting presented itself.
He credits Scouting not only with helping him find a new direction, but with providing stability to thousands of other young people.
“I believe that, without Scouting, a lot of what we'd call at-risk youth would fall into activities that would harm themselves and others, or not benefit society at large,” Barden said.
Like father, like son
Boy Scouting provides father figures and role models, Barden said.
Barden's own father, Fred, was a coach and a Boy Scout leader in Troy.
“As a youth, trying to find something that I enjoyed, (Scouting) was something that my father and I could do together,” Barden said.
After working his way through Cub Scouts, John Barden joined Boy Scout Troop 81 in his hometown of Troy.
A couple of years later, Fred Barden took over leadership of that troop.
Reached by phone at the family's home in Troy, Fred said his son's new position “feels very natural, actually.”
“My brother was an Eagle Scout, I'm an Eagle Scout and, of course, John is,” he said.
John made Eagle in 1996 – “a day before my 16th birthday,” he said – and went on to become a junior assistant Scoutmaster.
When his career as a Boy Scout ended at age 18, he became an assistant Scoutmaster.
Even after John went to Wake Forest University, he said he continued to volunteer with Scouting as he was able.
Kepley, in a phone interview, praised both Bardens for their leadership and their determination.
“John will make a good district executive,” said Kepley, “because he lives the Scout Law.”
Fred Barden said that John's work with Kepley, too, had helped him be a better Scout leader.
The dual experience of having been a Boy Scout and helped lead a troop, he said, have equipped him for this new role he's taken on.
As for John, he credits Scouting with having built a closer bond to his father that allowed him to learn those lessons.
As a Scout, the elder Barden had traveled to two Boy Scout Jamborees – Colorado Springs in 1960 and Valley Forge in 1964.
In 1997, the two traveled to Fort A.P. Hill, in Virginia, to attend that year's Jamboree.
“John was on the staff that year. It was nice to see him interact with the other boys,” Fred said.
And John said it was great to be able to share quality time with his father.
“Just being there, going through the same things he would have gone through many years before, really brought us closer together as a family,” John said.
Role of a leader
John said his leadership experience started while he was still a Scout.
“My Eagle project was to restore the ticket booth and sign at our football field at West Montgomery High School,” he said.
He organized the donation of materials, supervised the renovation of the outbuilding itself, and restored the sign.
After earning a B.A. in Communication, he returned to the classroom to become a certified paralegal.
Throughout his education and working life, John said he's continued to be reminded of lessons he learned in Troop 81.
“One thing I learned ... was have some levity – to be serious when needed, but don't shy away from being lighthearted,” John said.
Leading others, especially boys and teenagers, is “a delicate balancing act.”
“You don't want to be a jerk, but you don't necessarily want to be buddy-buddy with them,” he said.
Other qualities he said Scouting helps to teach are empathy – understanding for others – and kindness, “especially to the older generation.”
Last but not least, he said, there's strength of character.
As a young Scout leader, John said, “I had a responsibility, even when I wasn't at a meeting, to be conscious of what I was doing.”
“... When you're in a position where people expect certain things from you, you have to stick to those principles and live them in your daily life,” he went on.
“Otherwise, people start to question whether you're sincere or not.”
He said Scouting is still important because it's an organization that people know well, and which can continue to teach those important lessons and character traits.
John said that, in his new role as district executive, he'll be “a mini CEO.”
“You're the behind-the-scenes guy,” he said. “You're providing the administrative support for the volunteer leaders.”
His main responsibilities include administrative functions and record-keeping, fundraising and public relations.
He'll also be a liaison between thousands of Scouts in about 81 Rowan County units – Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Venture and Varsity crews.
For all those units, Barden said, he will be the council liaison, the media and public relations representative, and the man working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.
It's a job that he says Scouting prepared him to do.
Always a Scout
And, besides that Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” Barden quoted the saying, “Once a Scout, always a Scout.”
That saying is proving true as he starts his new job, and makes ready to move from Troy to Rowan County in the near future.
After his previous job ended, Barden said, a chance meeting at a council gathering of Eagle Scout award recipients led to his learning about the district executive position.
Knowing how to communicate and network with others is another lesson Barden said he learned from Scouting.
“And another benefit of Scouting,” he added, “is that connection you have with other Scouters which can be an important bond.”
Communication, particularly the ability to tell Scouting's story, is a skill he said will help him in his new role.
He also hopes to be visible at local Scouting functions, as time allows – to continue to be a role model for young men.
“That's a very important duty that the leaders and the other volunteers have,” Barden said. “... This is my chance to give back.”
And, while he's doing so, to continue adding to a lifetime of memories shaped by Scouting.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor's desk at 704-797-4244.