More than seven decades after climbing through the ranks of Girl Scouts to earn the highest distinction possible, Ashland resident Barbara Haasis Bean will be recognized in a ceremony Sunday surrounded by dozens of her scouting sisters.
A recipient of the Golden Eaglet, an award that was discontinued in the late 1930s, Bean put in long hours to earn badges and meet requirements to obtain the cherished golden pin.
The Golden Eaglet was the highest award in Girl Scouts from 1918-1939. To receive the award, a girl must have been a First Class Girl Scout (a rank awarded after completing skill requirements); held a Letter of Commendation (a character recognition given to Girl Scouts who interpret the Girl Scout Law in their everyday living); been a registered member of Girl Scouts for at least three years; and held 21 merit badges. Applications for the award were presented to the National Standards Committee, which evaluated the Girl Scout on her service and character.
Starting out as a "brownie" in Carmel, Calif., in the 1920s, Bean grew up with a mother who was more strict and critical than she was supportive. Her father worked outside the home a lot, Bean said, likely to avoid her mother.
Initially shy and lacking confidence, she found refuge in Girl Scouts activities, where she learned life skills, made friends and, most importantly, developed a self-confidence and leadership ability she had never known.
"I didn't have much for myself before Girl Scouts," Bean said this week.
"It was just really a glorious thing for me when I figured out I could do things."
Now 91, Bean is only nine years younger than the organization she remembers so fondly. While her sense of humor and smile are as sharp as ever, her memories of scouting have faded only slightly, leaving images of friendship, being outdoors, learning valuable life skills — and a single unpleasant note.
"I never did get the ceremony," she tells caregivers on a regular basis.
While the cherished Golden Eaglet pin arrived in the mail as Bean arrived at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, she missed the chance to be formally pinned by fellow scouts who'd made the same "Girl Scout promise" she took at a tender age.
Celebrating its centennial this year, Girl Scouts USA's campaign for the "Year of the Girl" caught the attention of Bean's daughter, Jennifer Bean of Albuquerque, N.M.
Knowing how her mother felt about her Golden Eaglet pinning, or lack thereof, the younger Bean reached out.
"She's mentioned it quite often over the years — that she never really got the ceremony she was supposed to get with the pin," said the daughter.
After a phone call to the national headquarters in New York, the local service center rose to the occasion and will conduct the ceremony used in the 1920s and '30s for Bean on Sunday.
Willingness by the local council to reach out for a fellow alumnus, said mother and daughter, is symbolic of how scouting changes lives of girls and young women.
Rarely praised for her accomplishments, Bean remembers Girl Scouts giving her the confidence to no longer need acknowledgement or praise.
"I think, even without the awards and acknowledgement, I would have had a good feeling about myself once I got started," she said.
"A child can be in a house and not get the effects that they need to have, and that's a real sad thing. When you have a difficult start, this is something that makes them stronger and shows them they can really do things."
As an adult, Bean used many of the life and leadership skills she acquired through Girl Scouts. She served on a handful of city councils, volunteered in the communities where she lived and even helped her late husband design their home in Ashland using cutting-edge passive solar heating some 30 years ago.
Amongst her belongings are letters from various family members congratulating her on her accomplishment and a photo that was printed in the local paper announcing she had earned the pin.
On Sunday, she'll finally receive recognition as a Golden Eaglet recipient from fellow Girl Scouts united through the century-old organization.
Asked to show the Girl Scout sign, Bean doesn't hesitate to raise three fingers on her right hand. Jennifer Bean said her mother's distinction as a Girl Scout has been a defining piece of her character for most of her nine decades of life.
"She was always very socially active and civic-minded and a real leader. I have no doubt that Girl Scouts were basically the backbone of making her who she is today," said the daughter, who also spent her formative years as a Girl Scout and went on to found her own court-reporting business.
"She truly is a self-reliant, strong woman, and I know because of her I've become that same kind of person."
Karen Kelly, manager of the Girls Scouts office in Medford, said the local office is excited to recognize Bean on Sunday with the original ceremony intended for the gold pin.
Local council staff researched the ceremony used during the time Bean was a scout by utilizing handbooks from that era.
"We can hardly wait to do it for her," said Kelly.
"We value the Girl Scout traditions and ceremonies, and for us to be able to honor Barbara now to make this come true for her at this stage in her life is such a nice thing for us to do."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.