Gary Reese: Scouting the Eagle Trail
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“Gary Reese: Scouting the Eagle Trail,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 46–47

Gary Reese: Scouting the Eagle Trail

“Choose the things you can be shining in and focus on them to serve.”

Gary Fuller Reese of the Lakewood Washington Stake subscribes to that philosophy. He emphasizes that it is important to be a “balanced person” as well as identify unique talents that will bless the lives of others.

Gary took stock of himself after returning from a mission and decided that his skills included genealogy and Scouting. Now, at forty-seven, he has submitted more than thirty thousand names for temple work and has assisted more than fifty young men in attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

But observers in the Church and community point out that Brother Reese has developed his abilities in other fields as well. He maintains a cupboardful of ward and stake histories and scrapbooks. He also is noted in the Tacoma-Pierce County area as a knowledgeable speaker and author on local history.

Gary was born in Logan, Utah, to Perry Leland and Edith Mary Fuller Reese on 2 August 1938, the middle child of three and a descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers. During World War II, Gary’s father, who was employed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, moved his family to Tacoma so he could take a job at McChord Army-Air Force Base.

“Father had tried to join the Army, but he had pernicious anemia. He felt this work was something he could do to help his country,” Gary recalls.

After short stays in three different houses, the family moved to a five-acre plot in South Tacoma.

“We raised everything and canned everything because the Church taught us to,” Brother Reese recalls. “We gardened, bought big tunas to can—and Mother even bottled the feet of chickens because she heard they made good soup. We picked berries and made jam. To this day I can’t look a currant in the face!”

The family soon learned the wisdom of developing provident living skills. Perry Reese died in 1953, leaving two sons and a daughter to be raised by his determined wife, Edith. Knowing she needed additional education, Sister Reese attended a university in Tacoma for two years, Brigham Young University for a year while Gary was there, and then a school in Detroit for a year. Then she returned to Tacoma to take a teaching job.

Gary’s growing-up years included a try at Scouting. “We had some Scout programs,” he said, “but there were so many changes of advisers that we never got going.” Still, he achieved Star Scout rank and earned enough merit badges for the rank of Life Scout. But he didn’t receive the advancement because he didn’t know how to complete it on his own. He also earned the Duty to God and the old Deseret Recognition awards.

At BYU Brother Reese earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, “sweeping floors to earn money to get through school.”

In 1961 he accepted a call for a 2 1/2 year mission to Finland. He served under two mission presidents and concluded his service as mission secretary and Young Men president.

Returning to Washington, he earned a second master’s degree, in librarianship, from the University of Washington. Then he took a position at the Tacoma Public Library in 1965. He has been there ever since.

“I have been assisting in developing an in-depth collection of local history,” he says. In addition to helping develop a number of significant collections, he has been busy as an author and researcher. The library’s computer index lists Gary Fuller Reese as author or editor of twenty works.

His humorous, story-filled talks on local history are favorites in the Tacoma area. He has spoken to dozens of clubs and service groups and has taught both local history and genealogy at Tacoma community colleges.

His enthusiasm for historic preservation spilled over from boards and committees into his Scout work. Brother Reese developed a historic trails award which was adopted by the Mount Rainier Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The award can be earned “in about a summer with the help of a Scoutmaster,” he says. LDS Scouts pioneered the way, trying the trails and hunting for the monuments in a five-year pilot study.

Brother Reese helped design the five-part patch the Scouts earn. When a boy completes requirements for one part of the award, he applies for the basic patch and the “point of the compass” representing that facet of history. Other segments are awarded as each section of requirements is completed.

Scouts earn the award by visiting historical museums and sites, hiking significant trails and routes including at least ten miles on the “Indian Henry hunting ground” at Mount Rainier National Park, reporting on aspects of area history, and performing some task to help preserve markers and monuments placed in historic locations.

A former Scoutmaster and now a troop committee member, Brother Reese has gone over those historic routes dozens of times, introducing small groups of boys to their local heritage and to the skills of Scouting. Some weeks he has made three trips to one of his favorite areas, the Carbon River and surrounding foothills that sprawl in the shadow of Mount Rainier.

“Every hike, every outing, every overnight trip has a focus and can fit into the merit badges I deal with,” Brother Reese says. “Outings can combine service hours for some, Eagle projects for others, and lessons on trees and shrubs for the younger boys.”

He watches for teaching moments on outings.

“It’s easy to let them slip by,” he explains, “and sometimes it is hard to create another one. My technique is to build close relationships with each boy so the things we need to do can get done. We have to follow merit badge requirements, but we can make it a learning experience, not an ordeal.”

Brother Reese has watched boys become confused by the paper shuffling involved in keeping track of awards and work in progress. “Very few kids have the ability to keep their paperwork organized to get the job done,” he comments. “Most boys just don’t know how.” But his complete journal system provides documentation for the boys who fill merit badge assignments under his supervision.

Brother Reese, who is not married, shares a home with his mother. The house sometimes overflows with boys who are working on Scout projects.

In addition to his employment and Scouting, he juggles the responsibilities of stake executive secretary, assistant stake clerk, stake historical arts correspondent, and teacher of a teenage Sunday School class. He has held most of these assignments for several years. He served as counselor in a bishopric before being called as stake executive secretary.

“No one has time to be this involved,” Brother Reese chuckles. “But we all make time to do the things we believe are important.”

Photo by Jim Bates