Dr. Jay Graves, a retired Omaha optometrist, has been living by the Boy Scout code for a long time — 75 years, in fact. He is believed to be the Mid-America Council's first recipient of the 75-Year Veteran Award.
Graves joined the Scouts when he was 11, in his hometown of Madison, Neb. There weren't Cub Scouts in those days, he said. Boys had to wait until the month they turned 12 to sign up for Boy Scouts. “So on Nov. 1, I joined.”
The only break he took from Scouting in the next 75 years was during World War II when he served in the Navy, but those years count because serving one's country is considered being a good Scout.
Graves has witnessed many changes — good and bad — to Scouting over the years. Two he thinks are worth noting: First was the admission of female Scoutmasters in 1988 (they previously had been restricted to serving as Cub Scout den mothers, which were called den leaders after 1967).
A second change he has seen isn't specifically related to Scouting although it has affected it. The rise in popularity of camping and outdoor sports have made equipment for those pursuits readily available, he said. Not so when he was a youngster.
“Times were hard in the 'dirty Thirties,'” he said, laughing. “I was lucky to get a blanket.”
He earned Eagle Scout when he was 14, becoming the youngest Eagle in his council.
“You didn't have to do a service project back then,” he said. “I didn't appreciate it like I do now. I think I was too young.”
Graves has stuck with Scouting because “I passionately believe in the tenets of Scouting. I believe in the philosophy of 'on my honor, I will do my best.'”
He passed that attitude on to his sons as they grew up. All three became Eagle Scouts; so did two of his grandsons. His late wife, Jackie, was a Girl Scout leader and his daughter earned a Gold Award, the highest rank in Girl Scouts, he added.
Graves served as a Scoutmaster for many years, and 38 of his Scouts earned Eagle.
He also taught at Camp Cedars northwest of Omaha for seven years, has trained new Scout leaders and has sat on the board of review for Eagle Scouts.
Two books he wrote — “Campfires, Canoes and Hiking Shoes” and “A Leader's Guide to the Flora and Fauna of Camp Cedars” — are available at the Mid-America Council office.
One of his hobbies is painting with acrylics. Many of his works are images of eagles — birds, not Scouts. He has been known to hand out some of his small paintings to new Eagle Scouts.
During his more than 30 years as an optometrist, Graves made seven missionary trips to treat people in Central and South America, Mexico and Haiti.
Although he doesn't go on missionary trips any longer, he has traveled with a grandson to Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. A trip to New Zealand was eventful, he said, because he broke an ankle.
In his capacity on the Eagle Scout board of review, Graves said he asks potential Eagle Scouts questions to find out how well the Scout philosophy has rubbed off on them.
He has been known to ask a candidate, “What does thrifty mean?” or, “Why is honor important?”
“I want to know what they think. That's what has kept me in Scouting all these years, believing in those things.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1067, email@example.com
Dr. Jay Graves
Family: Late wife Jackie; three sons and one daughter; 14 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren
Education: Doane College; earned a doctor of optometry in Chicago
Career: Retired optometrist
Boy Scouts: Signed up when he was 11, made Eagle Scout at 14
Scouting awards: Silver Beaver, Distinguished Eagle, four Scouter's Key Awards, 75-Year Veteran Award