Article and photo by Victoria Merlino
It’s a Thursday night in September, and the Boy Scouts of Troop 5 are meeting in their typical spot—Seth Boyden Elementary in Maplewood, N.J.—at their typical time—7:15 p.m. Each scout is dressed in what is called a Class A uniform—tan shirts with identifying patches sewn on the sleeves, green-gray pants and the distinctive Troop 5 red berets. The scoutmaster, Roger Brauchli, steers a tight ship, and the over 50 boys arrive (for the most part) neat, clean and on time. Though the boys greet the other assistant scoutmasters as mister, they simply call Brauchli “Roger.”
“We call him Roger because he commands respect,” says Jordan Miller, a 17-year-old in the troop.
Though kids, parents and even assistant scoutmasters come and go, Roger, 69, has remained a constant presence in the troop since 1969, when he became the scoutmaster of Troop 5—hiking, camping and mentoring his scouts. Under his leadership, the pull of Troop 5 is unmistakable: It’s why fathers stay leaders in the troop after their sons age out and why men return to be assistant scoutmasters after spending years as one of Roger’s scouts. It’s why the troop remains one of the four left in the area, down from the 15 when Roger first started as scoutmaster.
“They always say that Troop 5 is family, and it really is,” says Tom Kincaid, an assistant scoutmaster who joined Roger’s troop as a scout in 1977. He became an Eagle Scout and later an assistant scoutmaster. Although Kincaid gave up his post as an assistant scoutmaster in 1987 when he moved away, he returned to the role in 2014, and now drives 30 to 35 miles from his home to attend the troop meetings with his youngest son. Kincaid particularly appreciates how the boys look out for each other; rarely, he says, do you see a 17-year-old and an 11-year-old interact as friends outside of Troop 5.
And Roger’s role in all of this? “He’s the glue that holds the whole thing together,” says Kincaid.
Boy Scouts can seem like an anachronism in a day and age when most boys carry a smartphone instead of a Swiss Army Knife. To the young men of the troop, however, Troop 5 family.
And no one knows that better than Roger.
“I joined Troop 5 when I was 11 years old in 1960—I’ll let you figure out the math from there,” Roger says.
Roger first became an Eagle Scout, and then an assistant scoutmaster when he was 18. By the time he was a junior in college, he was scoutmaster—six years before meeting his wife.
“My motivation at the beginning and continues to be that I had such great experiences as a young man in scouting, that I’ve always wanted to provide that for other young men.”
And the experiences Roger offers are significant. Each month of the school year, the troop goes on a weekend-long camping trip that can involve activities like hiking, skiing or rafting. The first two weeks of every August, the troop goes to summer camp for two weeks in the Adirondacks, and every four years, the scouts spend a week camping on a beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Along the way, he and the other adult leaders teach life skills from building shelters to citizenship.
One of today’s challenges with the troop is grabbing young men’s attention long enough for them to realize these opportunities are available to them.
“I think the biggest challenge for a lot of young men to get involved in scouting is that there’s a lot more pressure on them in this day and age in terms of making sure they’re good students, that they’re playing sports,” says Roger, referring to both academic pressures and the pull of sports teams.
During the last five years, national participation in scouting has decreased by about 5 percent to 834,000 in 2017 from 911,000 in 2012, according to the Boy Scouts of America’s annual reports. Roger says that it’s a harder sell for kids especially if their parents weren’t scouts.
But scouting can be particularly valuable for some kids, such as children in single-households, says Roger; mothers will sometimes urge their sons to join scouts because their father is either absent or not very involved.
Beyond scouting, Roger has been an active member of his community. He served as the director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs in the town for 30 years before retiring. He also worked as a dean of a private high school, and has coached high school softball, baseball, and soccer for over 40 years in the town.
“I’ve lived in Maplewood my whole life. So the town’s always been very special and important to me,” Roger says.
Scouting, however, has always been a top responsibility. His wife Mary Chris remembers getting upset when she and Roger were dating because he would sometimes pay more attention to running the troop than to her.
“Early on, I put pressure on him in terms of, enough is enough, you gotta pull back; how long you’re gonna do this?” she recalls with a chuckle.. “He said to me, ‘oh just six more months.’ And now, you know, 48 years later, he says, ‘well but, I never told you which six months.’”
Today, Mary Chris is also fully immersed in scouting, running some behind-the-scenes logistics for the troop, such as planning the yearly trip to summer camp. She and Roger have two children together; their son Daniel went through the troop with his father, aging out as an Eagle Scout after he turned 18.
Roger’s retirement from Troop 5 remains a big question mark. Above all, he hopes the troop continues to prosper.
“I think I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m not slowing anybody down,” he says. “I know the day will come when it’ll be time to pass the hiking stick onto somebody else.”