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Profiles In Badassery: Stephen Bechtel, Jr.

As some of you know, I am an Eagle Scout. I earned Boy Scouting's highest award 15 years ago this month, and to this day I continue to have an interest in scouting by being a member of the National Eagle Scout Association. One of the highlights of my scouting career was being able to attend not one, but two National Scout Jamobrees. They were held at Ft. A.P. Hill in Virginia in August of both 1993 and 1997, and in 1997 I even got to meet President Bill Clinton in person and shake his hand.

The next Scout Jamboree is next summer. The 2013 Jamboree with be the first since the 1970's that won't be held at Ft. A.P. Hill. Because of a clash in the belief structures between BSA and the U.S. government, the Army base can no longer be the permanent host it had been since the 1981 Jamboree. That is where today's Boilermaker Badass stepped in.

Stephen Bechtel, Jr.

Bechtel was born May 10, 1925 as the son of Stephen Becthel, Sr. and grandson of Warren Bechtel. Warren was the founder of the creatively named Bechtel Corporation. Founded in 1898, Bechtel is now the largest construction and engineering company in the United States and the fifth-largest privately owned company in the U.S. In 2010 the company had over $30 billion in revenue and has participated in projects such as the building of the Hoover Dam, The "Chunnel" between Great Britain and France, The Bay Bridge in San Francisco, and the first commercial nuclear power plant in the U.S.

Naturally, the company had a need for engineers, so why not look to one of the preeminent engineering school in the world? While Stephen Bechtel, Sr. attended Cal-Berkeley, it was his son that came to Purdue for his education. After becoming an Eagle Scout on the eve of World War II in 1940 the junior Bechtel attended Purdue, where he earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1946. He would later earn his MBA from Stanford in 1948, but his roots were at Purdue.

Captain of Industry

The younger Bechtel has been a mover and shaker in American politics since the 60's. He was appointed to Lyndon Johnson's President's Committee on Urban Housing and Richard Nixon's National Industrial Pollution Control Council, the National Commission on Productivity, the Labor Management Advisory Committee, and the National Commission for Industrial Peace. Gerald Ford, a fellow Eagle Scout, appointed him to serve on the President's Labor-Management Committee.

The younger Bechtel took over as President of Bechtel Corporation in 1960, with his father serving as chairman until 1969. Under Bechtel, Jr. the company has been known to value its privacy, something that has drawn the critical eye of journalists. Still, it is one of the country's largest owners and operators of power plants, oil refineries, water systems, and airports. They are not without criticism, as they are partially responsible for the boondoggle that was Boston's "Big Dig".

The younger Bechtel and his son, Riley, are currently the owners of the country and are among the wealthiest people in the world. In 1998 both Stephen Jr. and Riley were presented with the Honor Award from the National Building Museum for Bechtel's contributions to the built environment. The Stephen Bechtel Fund has also been established to support several non-profit groups in the U.S.

The Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve

With the Jamboree looking for a new home the Bechtel family stepped forward. Stephen Jr. donated $50 million of his own money to establish a new high adventure base and permanent home for the Jamboree near Beckley, West Virginia.

The property, called The Summit, is over 10,000 acres of land that is being developed into the premier Scouting facility in the world. Here are its proposed features:

The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve will become a National Center for Scouting Excellence, which will have four divisions of activity: the National Scout Jamboree, a High Adventure Base, a National Scout Summer Camp, and a Center for Leadership and Excellence. There are also plans for five regional subcamps, and staff and centralized services area, an Order of the Arrow area, a large outdoor arena, mountain bike and cross country mountain bike areas, and a challenge course. Construction and operation of The Summit is in firm line with the BSA's Leave No Trace program

The Summit property was once the site of extensive coal mining, an industry for which the state of West Virginia is known. The remnants of long abandoned surface mines within the property have created wide flat areas that tier the terrain into a series of benches, effectively pre-grading and excavating the property, and allowing for many of the roads and infrastructure sites on the property to begin construction without extensive earth moving.

Sections of the property contain large flat areas engineered to accommodate regional camp headquarters and sub-camps. The sub-camp farthest from The Summit's core area will be 1.3 miles (2.1 km), with an elevation gain of no more than 300 feet (91 m). Pedestrian pathways reduce walking times from regional camps to the core activity center to 12-15 minutes.

A permanent arena on the far side of the valley will seat 6000 to 8000 people, which will be built as a natural extension to the property's lower bowl amphitheatre section, for a total arena area large enough for 80,000 people during the national Scout jamboree.

A lake at the center of the site's infrastructure will separate regional camps from the arena, action areas, transportation depot, and other traditional core areas.

A valley on the Summit property will be crossed by a triple-walkway pedestrian suspension bridge sponsored by CONSOL Energy. The bridge will be just shy of 800 feet in length, and was made possible by the $15 million donation of CONSOL. The bridge will connect the western and eastern portions of the core areas of the property.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of the Bechtel family. I've been involved in Scouting since I was about seven years old, so that is 25 years that it has affected my life. I believe very strong in the core values of the Scout Law: trustworthiness, loyalty, friendliness, courtesy, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, bravery, cleanliness, and reverence. I am honored to be associated with someone in that Scouting family that is also a part of the Purdue family.

Stephen Jr. has been awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as well as the Silver Buffalo award for his service to Scouting. Thanks to his badassery, a generation of Scout will be able to continue learning Scouting's core values in a top notch environment for years to come.