In the community, Schools

Harper Scout’s project raises flag, earns Eagle rank

HARPER – Harper Charter High School football players saluted a new U.S. flag at one of the squad’s final home games of the season because of the persistence of a fellow student.

Sophomore Hoss Johnson spent two years raising money, working with engineers and school and county officials to complete his Eagle Scout project.

Johnson approached the Harper School Board in late 2021 with ideas for a community project at the school, which included, among others, a swing set and a zipline system for outdoor activities. The board came back and asked if he would be interested in putting in a flagpole, given that during the National Anthem players and spectators would have to turn around and face the opposite direction to salute the flag.

Two years later, after raising nearly $11,000 and investing 300 hours into the project, Johnson completed the project and has earned the highest Eagle Scout rank.

Raising that money and marshaling an engineer, contractor and an army of volunteers to pull off the project in a community of just over 100 people was no small accomplishment.

According to Orson Frates, who recently took over as scoutmaster of Vale Troop 453, the project’s scope was what was most impressive about the endeavor.

Ron Talbot, superintendent of Harper Charter School, who assisted Johnson with the design and dimensions of the pole to take to the school board for approval, said the project then required an engineer to design the pole and a contractor to build it. Those were all details Johnson was responsible for overseeing.

With the goal of completing the project by the spring of 2022, the project ran into a few hiccups, according to Johnson. He and his crew of volunteers failed a pair of county inspections after Johnson said he miscommunicated the dimensions of the hole for the flagpole. These, he said, were mistakes that taught him how to be a “better boss” and a better leader.

After all, he said it was his group of friends, which included Colt Bentz, brothers Ace and Cope Christenson and Kade Spelman, who were volunteering their time, along with other contractors and engineers.

Brandon said Johnson went back to the plans and looked at the dimensions to figure out what they were doing right.

“There’s always some hiccups and learning curves with things,” Brandon said. “He enjoyed the challenge of the work.”

Brandon said Johnson, 16, is a “worker,” who needs little motivation to complete a task, but the challenge of the project for Johnson was staying on top of the paperwork.

“He would much rather go outside and shovel dirt,” Brandon said.

Given that the project was on school grounds, the approval process with the county and the school board took time.

Brandon said he told Johnson to complete tasks that he could while waiting for approvals or inspections and to be patient. 

Throughout the project, Johnson said he never thought about giving up.

“There were a couple times where it was really tough,” he said, “but I was so close that it wasn’t worth giving up.”  

He said it was “amazing” when he and his classmates who helped him throughout the project raised the flag for the first time.

Altogether, Johnson, a sophomore, raised money from nearly 40 donors and about 10 contractors volunteered their time to the project.

In addition to the flagpole, Johnson achieved a rare accomplishment, earning every merit badge the Boy Scouts offers.

To achieve the Eagle rank, scouts must earn 21 merit badges, complete a project, such as the flagpole and present it to the Eagle Board.

Earning merit badges, like citizenship in society, cooking, swimming, lifesaving, and personal management, take time to complete and often require the assistance and input of merit badge counselors within the Boy Scout organization, according to Frates.

Given how young Johnson was to have earned the merit badges, Frates said he was initially skeptical and “grilled” him with questions. He said that whenever he questioned him about the requirements and the badges, Johnson knew what he was talking about, and it was “obvious” that he had done the work.

Scouts going for those badges must demonstrate the knowledge and skills for each badge.

Johnson earned some badges during the pandemic lockdowns, which meant he tracked down merit badge counselors across the country online, according to Frates.

In such a small community, it’s hard to find badge counselors.

“He was able to find a way,” Frates said. “That alone is pretty exceptional.”

Johnson said he was driven to earn the Eagle Scout because his father didn’t get the chance to achieve the rank when he was a scout. Earning it for his dad was what kept him on track.

Brandon Johnson, Hoss’ father, said from the youngest age, Hoss said he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. He said less than half of 1% of all scouts earn the rank while getting all 138 merit badges.

“He did something that’s extremely rare,” Brandon said. “So that that part is really exciting that he had enough motivation and desire to do something like that.”

He said just 2% of all scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank.

“This project showed a lot of commitment to the school and community,” Talbot said. “It’s going to be something that’s there for the life of this school.”

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