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Gainesville man given prestigious Boy Scout award

POSTED: September 2, 2010 11:15 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Larry Harper has a wall full of memorabilia and awards for his many years working with the Boy Scouts of America inside his Hall County home.

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A school bus full of children sat in a snowdrift, unable to move. As the snow piled up and nervous children panicked, a lone student took charge by rigging the telegraph wires to signal for help, a skill he learned as a Boy Scout.

That's the story in the book Larry Harper read as a young boy that changed his life. From that day onward, Harper knew he wanted to be one of the heroic, quick-thinking few of the Boy Scouts of America.

So few in fact, there wasn't even a Scouting group in Hall County at the time. Lake Lanier was just filling up, and with the arrival of the U.S. Army Corps came the son of an engineer who, too, wanted to be a Scout. The two became some of the first members of Troop No. 43 in the Sardis community. The year was 1957.

Harper's list of achievements with the Scouts is longer than most people's entire resume. And he's proud to talk about why he loves Scouting.

"I love the people. If they make a commitment, they will follow through - every time," he said.

Scouting has a standard and every Scout has a code they live by: ‘To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times. ...' If everyone tried to live up to the Scout laws and oath, you couldn't help but have a better world."

That standard, he added, hasn't changed in 100 years.

Being nominated, and eventually named, for the 2010 Silver Antelope Award was something Harper never dreamed of. The award is second only to the Silver Buffalo Award, which has been given to 13 presidents. First given in 1943, the Silver Antelope is in recognition of a lifetime of dedication to youth service that exemplify the points of the Scout law.

After so many years of service and hours of volunteering, a Scout leader in Mississippi thought it was time Harper was recognized.

"When he got that phone call, well, I just wish we had a camera to capture the look on his face," said Harper's wife, Loretta.

To say she is proud of her husband is an understatement.
It's hard for her talk about his achievement without getting a tad teary-eyed.

Harper jokes it's like winning the Pulitzer Prize of Scouting.

Harper's Scouting career, however, spans more than just jamborees and merit badges. Harper credits Scouting for his military endeavors, too. He knew what it meant to wear a uniform. He flew helicopters in Vietnam for the U.S. Army and said he was ahead of the game in combat training because of the skills he acquired as a Boy Scout. He had no trouble decoding Morse Code and tying knots, just for starters.

Tying knots came in handy when he joined Georgia Power as a lineman. Harper has worked with the Southern region of the Scouts, encompassing 18 states, for many years.

After retiring from Georgia Power, Harper put his skills as a lineman to use.

Harper has been "training the leaders that train the leaders that work with the boys and administer the program." Through Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience, Harper has taught problem-solving and leadership skills from 50 feet in the air.

"The high-ropes course and rock climbing involves generating teamwork and overcoming obstacles," Harper said. "You really have to put your trust in the person at the other end of that rope."

Harper has traveled to nearly every state in the lower 48 and even Alaska to help other Scout leaders become accredited trainers. He has helped design rope courses for numerous camps throughout the country.

And Harper said he has taught so many Scouts over the last 30 years, that the number is surely in the thousands.

His wife recalled the trip in May to Texas for the awards ceremony as being surreal.

"A young man came up to us after the ceremony and introduced himself as a lawyer from New York," she said.

"He said ‘Mr. Harper, you probably don't remember me, but I took your course many years ago and it really changed my life. I just wanted to thank you.' And after he walked away, Larry turned to me and felt so terrible that he didn't remember the young man. I told him it didn't really matter if he couldn't recall his name, but just multiply that young man by the thousands of lives he's changed over the years. I think the point really hit home then."

But Silver Antelope or not, Harper said he knows he was born to serve. And serve he does - the church, the community, his family and the Boy Scouts of America.

Fundraising for Challenged Child and Friends and the Lanier Council on Child Abuse, chairman of the Hall County Blood Committee for the Red Cross, and so on; his volunteerism is astonishing.

Even though Harper claims he's getting too old to sleep on the ground under pup tents, he has no plans of slowing down.

"I don't play golf or fish much," he said. "This is what I do with my spare time."

Did he ever get the chance to save a school bus full of children?

"I never did," he said. "But I can tell you that a lot of the people I have trained have saved a lot of lives.

"And I hope the next 100 years of Scouting will have the same benefits for the next kid that comes along."

 



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