By JEN CARDINES
Eric Johnson traveled the world as an ambassador for the Boys Scouts of America (BSA). For 70 years, he was a fixture in town, ushering local youth toward the rank of Eagle Scout.
He sponsored foreign exchange programs, taught wilderness survival skills, and his former scouts continue to serve in all sectors of the community. Along the way, Johnson picked up a lot of “stuff.”
That’s why it was no surprise when his son, Steven Johnson received a call from the Southwestern Connecticut Scouting Heritage Museum. This month, his father’s collection will become a permanent display at the museum. The Eric Johnson Memorial Library holds a history of Connecticut scouting as seen from the Southington leader.
“That’s what my dad would want,” Steven said. “He collected everything and always dreamed of opening his own museum, but he passed away before that could happen.”
Johnson served as a local Scout Master for many years in Southington’s Troop 32, and he always stayed active in local scouting. Johnson was still actively leading the Venture Crew 32 upon his passing in April 2014, when Johnson’s four sons—all of whom became Eagle Scouts—were left with their father’s personal library.
It included a lifelong collection of scouting books and memorabilia, which Steven donated to the scouting museum.
Founded in 2012 by veteran scout members who were interested in preserving the history and legacy for future scouts, the museum holds many artifacts that are pertinent to the BSA. It includes many displays of rare and historic patches, neckerchiefs, uniforms, pinewood derby cars, documents, flags, and books related to scouting within the footprint of Connecticut Yankee Council. The doors officially opened in January 2015.
Museum secretary Bob Sherman announced that the Eric Johnson Memorial Library will be dedicated on Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. Johnson’s book collection was added as a permanent exhibit in the library.
“It’s a tremendous amount of books,” Sherman said about the historical literature that was donated. The very first Boy Scout Handbook from 1910 (the year BSA began) is a key item in the collection.
The Library will serve as a valuable resource for researchers and historians as well as providing educational resources to young scouts who want to learn scouting history. Further, Johnson’s patches, uniforms, photographs, and awards will be featured in museum display cases. Sherman said that the donation was “several carloads of material.”
“Eric’s entire collection was monumental for us,” Sherman said. Johnson’s son said that at least four rooms in the house were completely filled with items. His father was able to obtain scouting material in all forms and functions in his 70 year run with the organization.
Johnson was very active in the international “camporees” where scouts from other countries would come and stay with host families.
“He knew scouts from around the world,” said Sherman. “He was instrumental in that event.”
Steven said that his father formed relationships with Boy Scouts and leaders from Canada, Iceland, Australia, and the Republic of China.
The museum is located in the Connecticut Yankee Council Service Center, 60 Wellington Road, Milford, and opens every Saturday, barring holidays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is run solely by volunteers and opens by appointment for group tour purposes.
Admission is free although donations are appreciated.
The public is invited to attend the library dedication ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 29, where light refreshments will be served. In case of inclement weather, the dedication will take place a week later (Feb. 5) at the same time.
For additional information, check the Museum’s Facebook page or contact Museum secretary Bob Sherman at (203) 556-4097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.