Talk Story: Ronald Blackstad

A 1963 graduate of Kauai High School, Lawai’s Ronald Blackstad has been scoutmaster of Troop 334 of the Kauai Boy Scouts of America for almost four decades.

After working with kids in Pop Warner football, Blackstad became scoutmaster when his oldest son, Kevin, wanted him to get involved.

Since 1980, Blackstad has been committed to his troop and the dozens of young men he’s influenced.

How did you end up starting?

My oldest boy (Kevin) wanted to get involved with scouting. I was deeply involved with Pop Warner at that time, but it’s my son, so I gotta listen. He was the one that got me involved, and he’s still involved with scouting today.

I came in because the present scoutmaster for this troop, his in-laws are in North Carolina had medical problems. He was planning to move back so his wife could be with them. That’s when he asked me. I didn’t know beans about scouting. He told me, “You’ll learn.” Just like a scout, I had to read the manual, learn the knots and hope you don’t forget the knots, and learn from there.

How long ago was that?

1980.

What was scouting like back that?

It was way different. Back in those days, we could haze. We could cause trouble with kids. Today, you can do none of that.

When you first started, what was the transition like for you from going to Pop Warner to Boy Scouts?

It wasn’t that bad because Pop Warner you work with kids, and I was working with the same age (11-13). Basically, it’s the same age of kids so you teach them and work with them the same way. Now I work with the ages 11-18, which is basically a little older kids. If you get them from 11, they’ll learn to respect you and will work with you until they leave the program.

What was it like for the two of you together in the scouts?

When I took over, that was his last year as a scout. He transitioned out. He got a job and he was working. I had two more boys below him and they were in scouting. It ended up where they all ended up being Eagle Scouts.

Where you originally a Boy Scout?

No. I went to two meeting in my lifetime as a boy. My scoutmaster at that time said he couldn’t take me home because he lives in Omao and I stay live in Lawai. He couldn’t drive me home. I guess it was expensive in those days. I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to walk home from Koloa to Lawai in the dark by myself.’ So I dropped out.

How many scouts are on Kauai?

We have somewhere close to 100.

How many troops are there?

About 10 troops.

What is the hierarchy of a troop?

You got scoutmaster, assistant scoutmaster (1-3 people), then I got my committee chairman, different committee under them, then you got a person that works with me and who reports to the district head of Kauai. After that is the leaders, then in the scouts you get the senior patrol leader, then the assistant senior patrol leader, then you get patrol leaders, the assistant patrol leaders. As I was telling the boys two weeks ago, the reason why we got all this leadership is if something happens to this person, this person moves up and takes over. That’s the chain of command and that’s something that happens also. You always have someone to replace you. That’s how we set things up also.

You had two other sons in the program?

My second son is two years younger than the older one. My last one is five years younger than the second one. I had them coming up. I just stuck it out. By that time, I started to enjoy the program. I got to learn the program. Our district executive at that time was Kaipo Kealalio. He passed on. I used to go and ask him questions about how you do this, how you do that. His answer was, “Read the book.” That’s the truth. You read the book. It’s all in there. That’s how I started learning.

Why did you enjoy the program?

Working with kids has always been something I enjoyed doing — whether it be football, scouting, baseball. I enjoyed it. I played sports from high school all the way up. I also played until I was in my 50s.

I felt proud being with them. I really enjoy it.

What does the scouts do for a young man?

I found that a young man coming up through the scouting ranks will show you leadership. Leaders aren’t born; they’re made. Our program, the scouting program, really shows that boys can be made into leaders. At the same time, they can also develop character in them, their personality. They become a person ready for adulthood and they can move on from there.

How many scouts have you worked with?

I really cannot say. It’s been quite a lot. I still see them. They come up to me and I say, ‘Wait a minute. I know who you are. I just met one at the veterans parade. I just met one then, and I haven’t seen him for years and years. I come across that every so often.

When you see someone from your scout, who is successful, how does that make you feel?

You feel good. At the same time, you also feel that the program you’re with is working. You just go from there.

Is it true that you might be transitioning out of the scouts?

In a way yes; in a way no. I’ve been talking to my son, who’s in charge of the pack. The pack is the younger boys. They go from seven to 10. I’ve been getting him to take over the troop because it’s hard for me to go hiking nowadays. I’m working with him to work with the troop, and I’m just going to slide to the side, let him take over, let him work with the troop, and I’ll help out when he needs me. I really not going leave the troop because I got responsibilities with the district of Kauai. I take care the Eagle Scouts board of review on the Westside. Every eagle has to go through a board of review. Besides that there, I work with the Order of the Arrow, which is a branch of scouting. I also help out with different committees when they help.

What are some of the activities the scouts participate in?

We got summer camp, which is yearly; the makahiki, another yearly event. In between that we got our troop camp. We got one in Jan. 9. We’re going to be camping in Kawakoi Stream. We’re gonna come down from Kalalau, hike down to Kawaikoi. I found out that the state is going to be working on the bridges (in Kokee) so we cannot drive in. We’ll see what comes up from that.

Do you have younger relatives in the scouts?

I have two grandsons: Kevin’s boys, his oldest and his youngest. The older one is working on his eagle project, and the younger one is 12.

It looks like in your family, the scouts is a family. Have you seen that trend with families on the island?

No. There’s other sports that they are more interested in. Scouts get persuaded in joining by friends and relatives. It’s a good program.

How many scouts in your troop?

Right now I have 25 boys. I just increased it over the last year. I used to have 14 to 15. That was when I first started. There’s junior leadership training where scouts can be sent for more training in leadership and different skills in that area.

Have you seen an increase in volunteers in scouts since you started?

It’s funny but it’s like baseball or football. They come and go. It’s going to vary. Some years it’s going to be good. Some years you’re going to be doing everything yourself and you become a babysitter.

What have been some of the most memorable moments for you?

There was a time several years back in the Mainland. Our trip was to go around the Grand Canyon. We went around the Grand Canyon. I took parents with me, too. We divided the boys up, so that it would be easier for our meals because they would eat in smaller groups. I think there was a total of 38 of us that went up. We chartered a bus and then we went with them on the tour. I took the older boys, whose parents were not going. I had about six of them. These were boys about 16-17 years old. I gave them responsibilities. I told them, “Every morning, this is your job: The six of you go on the bus, check out our coolers, make sure it’s filled with water, soda and ice.” I didn’t have to worry about that after that day. They took care of everything the whole trip. We came back to Vegas, and we were down at one end of the strip and we were walking back to the other side. They asked if they could back by themselves; the six of them. I asked how many were going back. They said the six of them and a sister of one of the boys. I asked if the girl got permission from her parents. They said, yeah. I told them, “What time is curfew?” They said, 9 o’clock. I said, “OK, you guys be back before 9.” They got back: 8:30. They were happy. The biggest thing I gained from that experience was that I trusted them, and I gave them the feeling that their young adults and they were able to handle that. After that, I had no problem with those boys. That’s the greatest achievement I got from that.

What have been some of the challenges in the scouts?

The challenges would be try to teach these kids how to cook properly and cleanliness that you need in the stove area and the table you’re working. A lot of times you’re up Kokee and everything is dirt. You get all dirty and they call them to ask you for help. They come with dirty hands. That would be one of the biggest challenges we’re faced with.

What do you say to someone who are interested in joining?

We got one of the best organizations in the world to be part of. If you’re looking long-term, there’s a lot of businesses and colleges that when they see Eagle Scout on your resume, they tend to look at you a little longer than a person that doesn’t have that. They look at your qualities and where you stand at that.

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