WHITMAN — Samantha Kenn always liked to tag along with her brother Daniel, so when he became interested in joining the Boy Scouts of America, so did she.
At the time, however, only Girl Scouting was an option for girls. Scoutmaster Dr. Michael Warner says she tagged along anyway and in 2008 began earning unofficial merit badges.
By the time Boy Scouts of America (BSA) policy had changed and Samantha — or Mantha, as her brother calls her — officially joined Whitman’s Troop 22 on Feb. 1, 2019, it took her only three years to achieve the historic position as Whitman’s first female Eagle Scout on May 30, 2022. Her Court of Honor was held Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Cardinal Spellman Center.
She had planned to have her project completed by Christmas 2020, and again by Christmas 2021 after COVID-imposed pause.
Winter said she is only the second in the 60-town Cranberry Harvest District Council of Eastern Massachusetts. There have been only 2,000 female Eagle Scouts nationwide so far.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my life, it’s a person is a person,” said Scout leader Rob Preskins, noting that when Samantha joined the Troop, he felt they should merge. “Different people can do different things and makes no matter who you are or where you come from, the color of your skin or your gender. And I’m so glad that Troop 22 took on Troop G, because they came in, they saw and they conquered — and it was awesome to watch. We had front-row seats.”
He said Samantha led that charge.
In presenting his gift to his Troop’s newest Eagle — a talking stick he made that he joked she didn’t need — Winter said she was everything.
“I always thought there’s no reason for us to be separate and I’m glad that we’ve shifted as an organization,” he said. “But I don’t think that that would have mattered to you. You’d have done it all, even if you couldn’t have earned the badges, you would have still done it anyway — just to show up your brother.”
He said Samantha reminded him of his daughter Emily, who wanted to be a Boy Scout, which was not permitted at the time.
Her parents Jim and Tracey also spoke about their inspiring daughter.
“When they first introduced the idea of letting girls into Scouts, I said, ‘I don’t like the idea,’” Jim Kenn Jr., said, noting he felt girls would change the social dynamic, but at the same time his daughter was doing the work and earning Weblos pins while hanging out with her brother. “I didn’t want it to happen. I was against it. … All along, she was doing it and I realized how much of a hypocrite I was. This was wrong.”
He realized it was less about the boys than it was about limiting the opportunities for girls.
“There wasn’t anything about Boy Scouts that she didn’t like, other than she wasn’t allowed to be part of it,” Tracey Kenn said, noting she was wearing her “mom clothes” in recognition of her dual roles as Samantha’s mother and scoutmaster.
Before the BSA allowed female members, Whitman Pack 22 had created a program permitting younger siblings of any gender to join in activites.
She said Samantha has excelled at school, as well, becoming a member of the French Honor Society, Pre-med Society, Yearbook Committee, Students Against Destructive Decisions and Dollars for Scholars, and has been accepted into 10 colleges — including nine nursing programs, three honors programs and two psychology minor programs.
“She is very driven,” Tracey Kenn said. “What isn’t written in that program is her desire to always be better than she was yesterday. … What also isn’t written is the struggle of being a strong female in an organization that is primarily men and boys and balancing as to not appear too bossy, but also not submissive.”
Samantha will attend Regis College, majoring in nursing this fall.
“I’m very proud of you,” Eagle Court Committee Chairman Geoff told Samantha in declaring the ceremonies opened, referring to the challenge presented by her project — a built a 12-by-20-foot, raised pavilion at Hobart’s Pond in Whitman. “That was a lot of work and there was a lot of frustrations involved, and you kept plowing through it.”
Winter said the huge project was very much in keeping with Samantha’s big thinking.
He credited her for bringing in actual experts for the architectural plans and building, joking that if it had been left to some of the Scoutmasters it’s possible the structure might still be standing, but he couldn’t guarantee that.
Samantha raised more than $13,000 for supplies and materials and led more than 90 Scouts, friends and family members in doing the 1,224 hours of work for the town of Whitman.
“You’ve been a driving force in my Scouting experience and everyone else’s Scouting experience,” said her friend Acadia Manley, who joined a couple months after Kenn. “I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done.”
Samantha’s friend and fellow Eagle Scout Zekar-Yah Henry directed Scouts in the ceremony opening and closing and lit the ceremonial candles representing the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
Other Scouts from Troop 22 described the various requirements and accomplishments of rank advancements in Samantha’s Trail of the Eagle and her brother presented the Eagle Charge — the rights and responsibilities of this ultimate rank before she received her Eagle badge from her mother Tracey Kenn.
In turn Samantha awarded a Mentor Pin and a new tool belt to John Bergeron and each of her parents.
In another break with Scouting tradition, she awarded her mother’s pin to her father James R. Kenn Jr.
“Throughout my journey, I have given my Mother’s Pin to my dad, because my mom got all Danny’s pins and I like to show my appreciation of my dad,” she said.
“Wow!” said a voice from the audience.
“You go, Jim!” shouted another.
“You are a mother,” joked another.
She also presented pins to her grandparents, James R. Kenn Sr., and Gail Gorson, in honor of the hours in which they passed along their wisdom to her.
“You’ve been so much to me in the last 18 years, my friend … and my rock” Daniel Kenn said. Pledging to always be her best friend, even though her room would make a really nice 3-D printer room, he joked.
Selectman Justin Evans presented a proclamation from the Select Board declaring Aug. 6 as Samantha Kenn Day in Whitman. Ed Miller, a legislative aide of state Sen. Mike Brady presented her with a citation from the state Senate in honor of her Eagle Scout achievement.
American Legion Commander Richard Cameron presented her with a Good Citizenship Citation and a check for $100. VFW Commander Roger Hendricks presented her with a congratulatory letter and a check as well.
“Today’s Scouts are tomorrow’s leaders,” Hendricks said, adding that by breaking the glass ceiling she left a path for other young women to follow. “You have established yourself as a leader. … You are an Eagle. We will watch you soar.”
Henricks then asked all the Scouts to join him in saluting Samantha.
A representative of former state Rep. Geoff Diehl — who also attained the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth — also presented his congratulations and a gift.