Mohn has acted as mentor, or counselor, for more than 275 Scouts who have earned this badge. He’s acted as counselor for more than 150 merit badges in electronics. In fact, he has been the adult behind more than 700 merit badges including hiking, small boat sailing, personal fitness, communications, orienteering, and more. In 2010, he helped more than 300 boys earn their Centennial badges for Signaling, the old art of communicating by semaphore flags and Morse Code. Fifty-seven of them earned the badge in one weekend. “You help them get there. That’s what you do,” he says. “You get to have a significant impact on kids. That’s why I do it.”
I ask Mohn about his most memorable badge. “I was sitting on an Eagle board, the panel of Scout leaders who review the applications of young men who want the rank of Eagle Scout — the highest rank we have,” he says, “and, as always, we asked the boy about his career aspirations. He said he wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I couldn’t see the Aviation badge. It was way down on the sash — one of the more recent ones in this boy’s Scout history. I asked him about it and he showed it to us, and then reminded me that I was the mentor for his project. He said he had thought he was going into civil engineering. But his experience with the aviation badge really lit a fire and changed his mind.” Mohn pauses and says, “That was exciting!”
Mohn has had significant career influence in a great many Scouts. “When the lightbulb goes on, you can almost see it happen,” he says. “That’s a wonderful moment.” Another project he recalls happily was another Eagle project. The Scout built a display table with a laminated sectional map on top and a CDI built into the wood. You could manipulate the CDI and set up all sorts of approaches. The Scout put about 170 hours into it; Mohn about 25 hours. “Eagle Scout projects are big at the Fargo Air Museum,” he says.
Perhaps his greatest thrill, however, was at Camp Wilderness, a Boy Scout camp in the Minnesota northwoods. “I saw a boy who was not participating at all,” Mohn says. “He just sat there, a bit off by himself. I sent one or two of the older boys over that way to see what was wrong, then I went over myself. He said he really wanted to be working on a different merit badge — not aviation — but the other class had a cap on the number of Scouts and it was full by the time he tried to register. That’s fine, I said, I certainly understand that. But I told the kid he should at least get the Aviation badge for all the time he had to spend sitting there. The Scout agreed and in fact came up to me at the end of camp and said that badge was the most fun he had in his entire Scouting career. As a matter of fact, at the end of that camp, every student said thank you.”
Mohn and I tell stories of other Scouts and other projects until he has to get back to work. Every story is special. Every Scout seems remembered. Before he turns back to work he grins one more time. “It’s just so much fun,” he says.
W. Scott Olsen is an English professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, where he also edits the literary magazine Ascent. He holds a Private Pilot certificate and is the author of 10 nonfiction travel/adventure books; the last three have been about aviation.