One Barrington family, two Eagle Scouts
A family in Barrington has not one, but two members who are Eagle Scouts, a rank achieved by few in the scouting community.
Blake Garrels, a senior at Barrington High School, became an Eagle Scout during a ceremony Saturday at his family's home in Barrington. His father, John Garrels, earned the rank 31 years ago in his native Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
To become an Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts must progress through all seven ranks, earn 21 merit badges, serve six months in a position of responsibility, and plan and lead a service project, among other things. Only 8% of Scouts accomplished that last year, according to Boy Scouts of America.
Becoming an Eagle Scout like his dad has been his goal for years, said Blake, who joined Boy Scout Troop 29 in Barrington in the fifth grade.
"It was challenging. It's a lot of learning new skills," the 18-year-old said. "I think sometime you may want to say, 'Oh, I don't want to do this' or 'I should quit,' but, really, it teaches you valuable skills that you'll need and use later in life."
John Garrels said he became an Eagle Scout two months shy of his 17th birthday after joining Cub Scouts in the third grade. He encouraged his son to join Scouts so he could enjoy camping and outdoor activities, and also grow as a person.
"It's a great way to build leadership skills and build confidence in yourself," he said.
Blake's dad served as assistant scoutmaster for his son's troop for four years, which gave the two further chance to bond. Both said a highlight was a two-week camping trip to New Mexico in 2017 with other troop members. They hiked 100 miles with their own food, water and gear. "This is almost like a rite of passage for Scouts," John Garrels said.
For his service project, Blake led a group of more than 15 Scouts, parents and friends to build six wooden benches -- four child-sized and two adult-sized -- for the Early Learning Center, a preschool in Barrington Area Unit District 220. He got $600 in donations for materials and researched carpentry.
His father, whose own service project was building flower planters for a nonprofit, also was a resource, Blake said.
The six benches were installed in fall 2019 in two courtyards outside the Early Learning Center. "The kids were really happy because they said, 'Oh, these are our size,'" said Barbara Romano, Blake's service project sponsor who retired in June as principal of the school. "Kids notice that."
Romano said she's known the Garrels family for years because Blake was a student and his mother was PTO president at the preschool. "They're a great family," she said. "They are very community-minded."
As for Blake, "he's just a wonderful young man," Romano said. "I have done several Eagle Scout projects, and this was probably the easiest in terms of communications. We would chat, and he would always circle back with an email or call and say, 'Is this what you meant?' He's very respectful."
Blake also is on the varsity cross country and track teams at Barrington High and works six hours each Saturday and Sunday at Heinen's Grocery Store in Barrington.
What sets Blake apart is his dedication to helping younger kids, said Eric Johnson of Barrington, who served as Troop 29's scoutmaster in 2018-19.
"They key behind making sure you're a good leader (in Boy Scouts) is making sure you're encouraging the young kids who are coming to the troop and encourage the little ones to ensure they want to be you," Johnson said. "A lot of the older kids kind of slough off the younger kids. But Blake encourages them to participate, just like someone encouraged him."