Cordova Chronicles: Farewell to Troop 624

Boy Scouts of America has been an important part of Cordova, and its programs have produced an amazing 21 Eagle Scouts in the past 50 years. Photo by Erin Ranney/for The Cordova Times

After 50 years of remarkable success, Cordova Boy Scout Troop 624 is no more.

At a farewell banquet Feb. 5 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (CJCLDS), current Scoutmaster Bill Howard announced the program was to be ended.

Scouting has always been a big part of the many youth activities of Cordova.

At a banquet table, alongside a pair of large cakes decorated with Scout emblems, were photos from 1950 showing Cordova Boy Scouts Bob Arvidson and David Pettijohn, dressed in uniform and totting backpacks, boarding an Alaska Steamship vessel to head “outside” for the National Scout Jamboree.

They were members of the first scout troop in Cordova, which was designated Troop 621, according to the shoulder patch on my old scout uniform from the mid-’50s.

The ultimate achievement in scouting is to become an Eagle Scout, a lofty rank I never attained. But I fondly remember some lively overnight camp-outs under the guidance of Scout leader Fred Pettingill; weeklong summer camps at Scout Lake, located in meadows above Whitshed Road; and our Cordova troop winning a swimming-canoeing-running triathlon competition between troops from all over the state gathered at Camp Gorsuch near Anchorage.

By the mid-’60s, the Boy Scout program in Cordova had gradually waned, only to be revived in the ’70s through the sponsorship of the CJCLDS and the leadership of Scoutmaster Garvin Bucaria, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service here in Cordova.

Thus, began the newly activated Troop 624.

Throughout the ensuring years, a dynamic group of scoutmasters spearheaded the program. They included Bill Howard, Richard McCalvy, Brent Songer, Jim Vanzant, Kevin Kimber, Rich Sorenson and Bill Howard (for a second time).

From left, Steve Ranney, along with scoutmasters Bill Howard, Richard McCalvy, Brent Songer and Rich Sorenson, have been key leaders in the success of Cordova Scout Troop 624. Photo by Wendy Ranney/for The Cordova Times

Howard, an Eagle Scout himself, was recently honored as the 2020 Iceworm Citizen of the Year.

To maintain a program such as Cordova’s required incredible dedication, as well as a keen sense of humor, and several scout leaders at the banquet recounted favorite anecdotes.

Brent Songer told of building the scout cabin on Mavis Island in Eyak Lake. Much of the material was donated by local enterprises, yet it was all packed in by hand over a trail to the cabin’s well-sheltered location in the center of the island, including lumber cut using Howard’s milling equipment.

Bill Howard recalled the adventures of countless overnight camp outs, including winter affairs, required to earn the camping merit badge. His favorite was one four miles out Whitshed Road, where building a snow cave and spending a night in it was part of the program. 

“Young Virgil Carroll and two others decided to camp together,” Howard said. “I checked their snow cave, and told them the floor, which sloped to the middle, needed to be flatter. They ignored me, so I figured they would eventually learn their lesson. The next morning when I went to check on them, here was Virgil, who was rather stout, at the bottom of the pile, with his two fellow scouts sleeping nice and warm right on top of him.”

Rich Sorenson mentioned he happened to be scoutmaster in a golden era, when Steve and Wendy Ranney of Orca Adventure Lodge were helping out while guiding their sons through the program. 

“Steve shared access to plane, helicopter and boat equipment that many of the others did not have,” Sorensen said, as the quiet and modest Ranney stood beside him. 

Sorenson’s favorite was a surprise trip up the Rude River Glacier near Orca Lodge via Points North Heli-Adventures helicopters for a drop-off and 20-mile hike back after overnighting. 

A Boy Scout cake and flag centerpieces were part of the farewell to Troop 624 banquet held at the Mormon Church on Feb. 5. Photo by Erin Ranney/for The Cordova Times

“We tricked the kids on that one,” Sorenson said. “They were all packed up to go out on a hike to overnight near Sheridan, and I told them that before we left, we had to go down to Orca and help Steve move some stuff. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they arrived and were told to put their gear in the helicopters.”

Just as noteworthy as moments like these, and perhaps as a result of them, was the remarkable achievements of their program.

Under their leadership, becoming Eagle Scout had become almost routine. Since 1982, Troop 624 has produced 20 Eagles.

In chronological order, they are: John Harding, Shane Songer, Skip Songer, Andy Armontrout, Wade Goodrich, Cade Goodrich, Evan Evenson, Tenor Galambush, David Phillips, Drew Lindow, Orlando Sorenson, Kris Ranney, Carl Ranney, Paul Curran, Chatham Warga, Cody Howard,  Gage Frohnapfel and Wyatt Sorenson.

And one more will soon join their ranks.

Along with several other Scouts, Kaleb Carrillo, a CHS senior, was in uniform at the banquet, and led in presenting the colors and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Steve and Wendy Ranney of Orca Adventure Lodge have been instrumental in several recent memorable Troop 624 expeditions, including a drop-off by Points North Heli-Adventures helicopters on a nearby glacier for an overnight camp-out and 20-mile hike. Photo by Erin Ranney/for The Cordova Times

Upon passing a Scout Board of Honor review he will become the final Eagle Scout of Troop 624.

Toward the end of the program, plaques of appreciation were presented to all the scoutmasters, along with unique hand-carved and engraved walking sticks which were also given to several others. Special custom-made engraved knives were presented to Rich Sorenson and Steve Ranney.

Both Howard and Songer also paid tribute to countless others who played a big role in the success of the program, including Ann Howard, Joan Songer, Cindy Frohnapfel, Janice Varga, Genan Sorenson, Wendy Ranney, Laura Hanson and Kristie Beckett.

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and all these individuals and many others were always prepared to make Troop 624 a resounding success that has had a huge impact on the youth of this community for the past 50 years.