Q/A Origin of NESA
Q: What is the history of NESA?
A: Between 1911 and 1925, membership in the Boy Scouts of America swelled from approximately 61,500 Scouts to 756,857 - a twelvefold increase. It would have grown even faster if more qualified leaders had stepped forward. Unfortunately, there were few programs in place to hold the interest of older Scouts. Many Scouts earned the Eagle Scout Award and then disappeared from the program.
On the night of April 19, 1925, ten Eagle Scouts met in the office of Scout Executive Raymond O. Hanson of the San Francisco Council to organize an association that would hold the interests of Eagle Scouts, uphold the dignity of the Eagle Award, and provide a base for continuing leadership in the Scouting movement. That night it was decided to organize an association of Eagle Scouts devoted to service.
Drawing on chivalric traditions, they called their association the Knights of Dunamis (Pronounced "DOO-na-mis," the word comes from the Greek word meaning "power" or "spirit"). The name for the new association was selected carefully to reflect its dedication to service and denoted the increased power that is an Eagle Scout's, by virtue of his membership, to use for the good of the Scouting movement and his community.
The founders felt that young men seeking a meaningful purpose in life fulfilled many of the same requirements as the Knights of Old. Thus, knighthood and the greatest knight of all, Sir Galahad, became the foundation of Dunamis. The Knight's Code, which stressed honor to his country, the preparation to defend it from any enemy, and the commitment of service to his fellow man, was the obligation of a night.
The group's emblem consisted of an Eagle perched on a sword resting on a shield. The sword was the sword of Sir Galahad, one of the famed knights of the King Arthur legends. The shield's triangular shape signified the three parts of the Scout Oath - duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self.
The Knights of Dunamis was a great success in San Francisco and resulted in a high percentage of members continuing their interest in Scouting. This success didn't go unnoticed. Within a year, the neighboring San Mateo County Council organized its own chapter, followed thereafter by the Atlantic City Council in New Jersey.
On December 14, 1929, delegates from six chapters met in San Francisco to organize a national board. This national organization supplemented the local chapters by providing supplies and holding national conferences to facilitate the exchange of views.
At its peak, the Knights of Dunamis boasted 110 chapters across the country, but this number had dwindled to 37 by 1971. The strongest chapters were located in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The older members saw great mystery in the name and ritual of the Knights of Dunamis, and the strength of leadership was in the hands of the few who were caught up in the ceremonies and degrees of knighthood. The intervening decades since its founding had brought more of an inwardly focused membership caught up in ceremonies and degrees of knighthood than in service to Scouting. Youth members found some conflict between their obligation to their own Scout unit and the time spent in Knights of Dunamis ritual and activities.
However, there was still a great need to keep in contact with Eagle Scouts and to develop a manpower resource for Scouting, and therefore a change was needed. To accomplish, the support of the National Council was needed.
At an annual meeting in Fort Collins, CO in August 1970, the National Chapter of the Knights of Dunamis, Inc., empowered its officers to take action to dissolve the corporation and consummate a merger with the Boy Scouts of America.
Robert Ballou, who grew up in Knights of Dunamis, was selected as national secretary when the BSA agreed to subsidize the Knights of Dunamis for 18 months. In 1971, James J. Harris was assigned as national secretary.
In May 1971, a meeting In May 1971, a meeting was held in Atlanta to discuss the future of the Eagle program and a steering committee was formed, comprising two national Executive Board members, J. Kimball Whitney and Donald H. Flanders; the president and first vice president of Knights of Dunamis, Dr. Lester Steig and Dr. James Cochran; Ebert May; James Harris; J. H. Biggers; Ken Wells; and three Knights of Dunamis youth members. Using the research study presented by the Research and Development Division under the direction of Wells, plans were formulated for the organization of the National Eagle Scout Association.
In May 1972, the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA) was born with the first NESA committee meeting held in conjunction with the National Council meeting in Los Angeles on May 19, 1972.
Donald H. Flanders of Fort Smith, Arkansas, served as NESA's first national president. In 1973, NESA launched a vigorous membership drive at the National Order of the Arrow Conference and the national Scout jamboree.
That same year, the organization created the NESA Scoutmaster Award to recognize noteworthy promotion of, and leadership to, the Scouting advancement program in general and exemplary development of Eagles in particular. (The award was replaced by the Scoutmaster Award of Merit in 1987.)
During the 1970s, NESA encouraged the development of local chapters, which came together at biennial national conferences. The first of these was held in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1974. By the mid-1980s, however, NESA was focusing mainly on encouraging Eagle Scouts to support their local councils, not to be involved in an ancillary organization. National conferences were replaced by events at BSA annual meetings. NESA chapters gave way to council NESA committees. Today, these committees help carry out NESA's goal of identifying and involving adult Eagle Scouts. They also provide recognition to new Eagle Scouts and encourage them to enroll in NESA and stay involved in Scouting.
In 1972, NESA introduced a newsletter, called the Eagleletter, to keep in touch with Eagle Scouts around the country and keep them apprised of Scouting activity. The newsletter is now called Eagles' Call and boasts over 150,000 subscribers.
In 1978, NESA instituted its life membership program. (The first went to Zenon C.R. Hansen, who had been involved in Scouting for 55 years.) Life memberships have provided and continue to provide vital support for programs that seek to reengage adult Eagle Scouts.
Another key NESA effort, its scholarship program, began in 1984. Six years later, NESA member Larry Cooke endowed the Mabel and Lawrence S. Cooke Eagle Scout Scholarships. In 2002, the Hall/McElwain Merit Scholarships were added to NESA's scholarship portfolio.
In 2012, NESA introduced the World Explorer program and begun sending Eagle Scouts on expeditions around the globe. These young men have assisted researchers in destinations including the Galapagos Islands, Mammoth Cave, the Arctic, the Amazon rain forest, and South Africa.
Much has changed since 1925, when ten young Eagle Scouts formed the Knights of Dunamis. However, one thing remains the same: NESA's commitment to retain the interest of Eagle Scouts, uphold the dignity of the Eagle Scout Award, and provide a base for continuing leadership in the Scouting movement.
Last revised November, 2017