GREENTOWN – Scouts BSA Troop 628 isn’t a stranger to making history.
Two years ago, the troop was chartered as the second female BSA troop in Howard County, after the 110-year-old organization opened up Scouting to girls for the first time in its history.
For three Greentown girls, that was an invitation to make some of their own history by achieving something no female has ever achieved before: earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
Last week, Eastern High School students Abby Thatcher, 17, Lilly Shallenberger, 16, and Jessica Shannon, 15, joined the history books as the first females in the 15-county Sagamore Council to reach the BSA’s highest rank.
They now join hundreds of females across the nation, and at least 27 girls in Indiana, in the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. Scouting officials are still tallying the final total.
“I just think it’s wonderful,” Pat Skillington, 628 Troop leader said. “I think it’s like women getting the vote. It’s just a good day for girls.”
Skillington, who’s had nine years of BSA leadership experience, was instrumental in founding the all-girl troop in Greentown in February 2019. The decision came after her granddaughter, Lilly Shallenberger, said she wanted the same BSA experience as her brother, after watching him go hiking and camping and earn merit badges.
“Honestly, I had wanted to join the Boy Scout troop ever since I was in elementary school,” Shallenberger said. “I even started practicing the knots. But then they said that girls were going to open up their own troop and I got really excited because I wanted to do all those fun things the boys were doing, like shooting guns.”
So she and her grandmother started recruiting other girls to join the troop. It didn’t take long for Shannon and Thatcher to jump on board.
But the two had very different ideas of what they thought Scouting would be like. Shannon envisioned lots of flag ceremonies and thought it would be boring. Thatcher’s only understanding of Scouts came from the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
“I feel bad for thinking that now,” Shannon said. “I think it’s really cool. I feel like we do a lot more fun stuff than I thought we would.”
Not long after the three joined, they found out about the opportunity to join the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. They also found out it wouldn’t be easy.
The girls would have to complete an extensive list of requirements, including earning 21 merit badges, progressing through ranks, serving six months in a position of responsibility, planning and executing an Eagle Scout project and successfully passing their board of review.
And they would have just under two years to complete all of it.
Sagamore BSA Scout Executive Ben Blumenberg said completing all of those requirements in such a short time is almost unheard of. Just 8% of all Scouts earned the Eagle Scout rank in 2019, and it takes most of them around four years to do it, he said.
“Number one, it’s a big workload, but number two, in order to do it in that time frame, they had to be diligent about meeting deadlines along the way,” Blumenberg said. “They had a plan and they had to stick to it like glue to make sure they stayed on target.”
But that didn’t deter the three girls from Troop 628. They discussed it, and decided to go for it.
“Honestly, I just wanted to be like Spider-Man so people think of me and they’re like, ‘That’s one person that will help me no matter what,’” Thatcher said.
First, they set a goal to earn as many merit badges as they could during their first year at summer camp. From there, they learned to put up tents, make a campsite, start a fire and then cook over it.
They got involved in community service projects, volunteered with the Kokomo Humane Society and learned how local government worked in Greentown.
They planned and organized their Eagle Scout projects. Thatcher was instrumental in helping with the butterfly garden at Kokomo-Howard County Public Library. Shannon designed and built a concession stand for Eastern High School’s soccer fields. Shallenberger did some major revamping to a dilapidated garden shed at Jerome Christian Church.
And after two years, their diligence and hard work paid off when they joined 52 other Eagle Scouts from Greentown who have achieved the rank since 1966.
“I am just bowled away by how these girls have pushed so hard for these two years to make their dream happen,” Skillington said. “I have done everything in my power to make sure that they are able to achieve that.”
Blumenberg said he was incredibly proud of their work and dedication, and it’s a testament to the fact that allowing girls into Scouting was the right move.
“It’s really exciting to see girls thrive given the opportunity to do what boys have always had the opportunity to do,” he said. “Girls have been waiting for this opportunity and they’re jumping in and going gangbusters.”
Looking back, the girls said it’s hard to believe they entered the history books as the first female Eagle Scouts in the Sagamore Council.
“I never really thought I would be an Eagle Scout,” Shannon said. “Until I found out about the inaugural class, I didn’t really plan on hustling through anything. I never really thought I would accomplish something that big. I feel like there’s not a lot of big things you can accomplish in Kokomo and Greentown, but it would be nice to be known in history.”
Now, the three girls are bonded together by their historic achievement and the shared experiences they’ve had getting there. They’ve encouraged each other and helped each other throughout the entire process. That’s made them practically family, Skillington said.
“Scouting is a way to make friends who are going to be with you for life,” Shannon said. “If you ever need something, you can call them up and they’re gonna be there.”
The experience has also pushed the girls outside their comfort zones. Whether it was purposely capsizing a kayak and swimming it to the shore for a merit badge, or having to step up and take on a leadership role, the sometimes uncomfortable experiences taught them they could do anything.
The girls said the leadership and other skills that come with becoming an Eagle Scout will serve them well in their future plans.
Shannon wants to go to veterinarian school and eventually open up her own veterinary clinic. Shallenberger’s aspiration is to become a nurse. Thatcher wants to someday become a college professor.
Blumenberg said he knows being an Eagle Scout will serve the girls well. After all, he’s one, too, and it changed his life.
“The skills that these young ladies developed along the way – the planning, the leadership, the teamwork – along with the outdoor and life skills they learned, that’s what’s going to really impact their lives,” he said. “It’s always important for me, and has served me well throughout my life and career to be an Eagle Scout.”
Now, the girls said they all look forward to being role models for the next class of girls coming through the Scouts BSA program, and encouraging them to go for their dreams, just like they all did.
“Every time I see a girl Cub Scout I make sure to hype her up and let her know she’s doing great,” Thatcher said. “I say, ‘Hey, we’re excited for you, we’re rooting for you.’”