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Eagle Scout earns wings in family tradition

Ashland High School junior Josh Harris, 15, the youngest person in his class, received his Eagle Scout certificate from the Boy Scouts of America this past week.

Reaching the highest pinnacle of scouthood is obviously a remarkable achievement.

But, to paraphrase the late Paul Harvey, there is more to the story, one that offers a bright ray of hope in our world that sorely needs it.

The pleasant young man, son of Dan and Susan Harris of Ashland, joins a few other family members in achieving Eagle Scout status.

That includes brothers Alex, 17; John 21; and Jay, 27. Turns out his father, a Jackson County Circuit Court Judge, is also an Eagle Scout.

What's more, Josh's paternal uncles Brad, Ron and Bill Harris are Eagle Scouts, along with cousins Aaron, Nathan, Ben and Danny.

That's right, Josh is the 12th person in his extended family to become an Eagle Scout. He is a member of the BSA's Crater Lake Council.

"It's a huge tradition in my family," Josh acknowledges. "It's something I've always wanted to do. I've been in scouting since I was 8. This has always been my goal. I've always loved scouting."

"Being Josh, he wanted to do everything bigger and better," his father says. "He's gotten more merit badges than all his brothers."

Josh earned 31 merit badges as a scout. You need 21 to achieve the eagle rank. Only about five percent of all scouts soar to the highest level.

Like his three brothers, Josh did his Eagle Scout community service project on improving the trails in and around Ashland.

Completed last month, his project included building a 1,500-foot-long trail around Ashland Pond, located where Ashland Creek flows into Bear Creek. The project for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department involved more than 75 hours with the help of 20 volunteers.

Following Harris family tradition marking the achievement with an outdoor excursion, his father took him on a float trip down the wild and scenic stretch of the Rogue River. When they made Eagle Scout, his brothers had joined their father on a 90-mile hike at the high-altitude Philmont Scout Ranch in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico.

"Josh had a congenital heart defect when he was born," his father explains, noting the float trip seemed more appropriate, given his medical history.

"His pulmonary arteries were too small — he has had eight heart operations," he adds. "He has been through a lot. He's kind of our miracle kid."

And not only when it comes to his health.

Consider this: Josh, who skipped the second grade, is a longtime member of the National Honor Society, has received the outstanding French student award, plays saxophone with the high school jazz band, lettered for the last two years on the tennis team and is the high school table tennis champ.

What's more, standing at nearly six feet and weighing some 200 pounds, he went out for Grizzly football this fall.

"I've been told from an early age that it was out of the question," Josh says. "But I really wanted to try it this year. My doctor cleared me. And my coach said I could come out."

He has made the junior varsity team. Given his drive, you just know he will be on the varsity next year.

"We're very nervous about him playing but he wants to be in there, running with the herd," his father says. "It's the first time he has been able to do any kind of real strenuous sport. But he's having a great experience."

Dan figures Josh's can-do attitude was in part instilled by his scouting experience. Self reliance is encouraged in scouting, along with the willingness to tackle tough tasks, he observes.

"We also try to put good role models in front of them to teach them how to become a man," he adds. "In this day and age, that's something that's lacking more and more in homes."

Josh, who is already thinking about becoming a French language teacher, says becoming an Eagle Scout doesn't end his scouting experience.

"When I look back, I see it as one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had," he says. "I'd like to mentor younger scouts or maybe become a scout master to repay what the program has given me."

Meanwhile, Dan and Susan are expecting their first grandchild from their oldest son and his wife in about five months.

"I think the family scouting tradition will continue," says the mighty proud soon-to-be grandfather.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Eagle Scout earns wings in family tradition