Westchester-Putnam Council, BSA Commissioner Service
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History of Commissioner Service

Written by longtime Scouter Mike Walton, Settummanque

Daniel Carter Beard, from cover illustration by Joseph Chase for Boy's Life Magazine, February 1925

In the first days of the new Boy Scouts of America, units were organized by someone who simply raised his hands or got materials from England and this person would serve as the Scoutmaster of that Troop. After a few months, several Troops would be formed in a community, each with various levels of consistency. The small National office, working from New York City, was trying to manage all of these new Troops and also working through a lot of inconsistencies in uniforming (some were using military uniforms, others were making their uniforms using illustrations from the English Boy Scout handbook and other materials, and still others were just "creating stuff which looked like something a Boy Scout could/would wear". The position of National Commissioner, first held by Daniel Carter Beard, was created to provide some consistency in uniforming, programming and field operation.

In 1914, the BSA appointed their first Field Commissioners. These men would serve as "field representatives" of the BSA, a term still used to describe various professionals working directly with local Councils and units. These Commissioners were given the authority to form new units and to remove the commissions from volunteers if need be. These Commissioners were also the BSA's representative for the issuance of special awards, like lifesaving and the new Life, Star and Eagle Scout awards. Advancement was different in the early days of Scouting.

Early ADC Patch

In 1916, the BSA looked at those Commissioners with proven "track records" and asked them if they would be willing to serve as Scout Executives. Several did accept the offer, and with this, Scouting employed its first field executives.

In 1921, the BSA separated the role of the executive from that of the Commissioner and established both jobs as the "administrators" of the Boy Scout program in America. This created the partnership between volunteer and professional which continues to this day, with two volunteers and a professional making key decisions at the Council level. (the other volunteer being the Council President).

In the middle 1940s, the BSA established the "Neighborhood" Commissioner, as the BSA grew. The first Commissioners had been Council Commissioners and as councils divided their large territories into Districts, they also appointed Commissioners to serve those Districts. Remember, a District would take in several counties and typically would only have eight to 12 Troops). The Neighborhood Commissioner would serve no more than four Troops.

Early Nieghborhood Commissioner Patch

In the late 1960s, the term "Neighborhood" was changed to "Unit" and the Commissioner title structure also changed. "Deputy District" and "Deputy Council" Commissioners became "Assistant District" and "Assistant Council" Commissioners.

In the 1970s, the BSA experimented with several District organizations. One experiment created something called a "Zone Commissioner" which did not go over well. However, some Districts had a great deal of success with "stovepiping" the Commissioner work so that Cub Scouting Pack Commissioners reported to an Assistant District Cub Scout Commissioner and then to a District Cub Scout Commissioner; and the same would go for Boy Scouting. The BSA abandoned the "stovepipe" program nationally in the early 1980s, but there were Councils who still used it and the BSA provided the emblems and materials until the first part of the 1990s.

In the first part of the 1990s, the BSA re-established the National Commissioner position and placed Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine, in that role. Earl was the second National Commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America and the first Black man to hold that position, which was previously held by Daniel Beard Carter. Unfortunately, the BSA provided little guidance about the role of the National Commissioner other than to serve as a national cheerleader for the BSA's field Commissioners. Mr. Graves resigned and the BSA went without a National Commissioner for four years until Rick Cronk volunteered and served two terms until 2004. Don Belcher is our current National Commissioner, whose role is to develop national unit service programs and Commissioner training programs.

 

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