By ELENA GRIMM – email@example.com
At the age of 22 and a college student, Cliff Golden became one of the youngest Scoutmasters for the Boy Scouts of America. He took on that job back in November 1976 to fill in until a permanent replacement could be found.
Thirty-three years later, Golden is still Scoutmaster of Troop 33, out of First Lutheran Church of DeKalb. It's the same troop he grew up with and has gone on hundreds - if not thousands - of adventure trips with.
From encounters with rattlesnakes, bears and mountain lions while backpacking to canoeing hundreds of miles along the Mississippi River, Golden nonchalantly described just a sliver of the many high-adventure trips he has taken troops on over the years.
Some, he said, carry lasting memories in strange ways. Like the 1977 bakcpacking trip, Golden's first trip as Scoutmaster, in the Great Smokey Mountains on the day that Elvis Presley died. It rained about 8 inches that night, and the radio station paid tribute to The King of Rock and Roll all night.
"We said, boy he's popular down here. And then we later found out that he had passed away," Golden said. "They still remember that trip. Of course it's the trip that Elvis died."
Over the years, he has thought of retiring a few times. A 40-day trip to Europe in 1985 was going to be "the big finale", he said. Call it a second act.
Last November, the troop honored Golden for 33 years of service for Troop 33. They presented him with a special edition of "Boy Scouts of America: A Centennial History", which was compiled for the organization's 100th anniversary.
A page of that historyincludes two photos and a description of Troop 33's relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
"Cliff is always about that," said Lynn Cook, Troop 33's treasurer and the mother of two former Scouts, about the service projects. "Anytime something happens, you can just see the gears going in his head."
Most recently, Golden has had to take a break from Scouting to have a brain tumor, believed to be non-cancerous, removed.
Golden almost cancelled a trip to Kentucky the troop took in March to revamp an old high school into a disaster relief center. He wasn't feeling well, and saw a doctor afterward who discovered the tumor.
A few weeks after this discovery, Golden presented an Eagle Award to a Scout, and told his troop about his health situation and that he may be gone briefly while he recovers from the surgery.
Perhaps a few dozen encounters with wild animals and unpleasant weather conditions can shape that attitude.
"If it's pouring down rain, you can stand there and get soaked, you can find a place to get out of the rain, you can be under an umbrella, you can put on a poncho," Golden said.
Or, "you can think of an activity that's fun to do in the rain."
This is the same philosophy that Golden has had since he was a Scout himself. He joined Cub Scouts in second grade because his older borther was a Scout. His family didn't take many vacations because his father had to run a business, so Scouting was Golden's opportunity to find adventure, he said.
Once he crossed form Cub scouts to Boy scouts the adventures began. He remembers his first camping trip in Troop 33 - Camp Rotary MacQueen, now MacQueen Forest Preserve, in Kirkland.
At the time, it seemed so big and so far away from home. Little did golden know that years later, he would have made those first-of-many camping trips possible for so many kids.
"This is their experience, their trip, and I'm just there to help them make it happen," he said.
Cook said it was these adventures that had such an impact on her two sons, now in their 20s, growing up.
"Through him, my kids have had a chance to go on many, many trips and experiences that I think I never would have taken them on," Cook said. "He has provided that opportunity for so many kids in different places in the world."
Surpisingly, though Golden moved through Troop 33 and became Scoutmaster at a young age, he never attained the Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scout program. This was because the requirements changed as he was going through the process, and timing for getting certain merit badges did not work in his favor.
This doesn't bother him, just as a few rattlesnakes on the trail won't ruin the day.
"I love the awards, I love the friends I had and I loved the things we did," he said. "(Becoming an Eagle Scout) was part of it, but it wasn't necessarily the biggest part for me."
So what is the biggest part? What is the Troop 33 Scoutmaster's favorite adventure of all time?
"The next big one," he said.