Milford Scout museum dedicates library
MILFORD >> In his 69 years of Scouting, the late Eric Johnson, collected hundreds of books and pieces of memorabilia related to Boy Scouts of America, including rare international items, hoping to some day open a museum.
But before realizing that dream, Johnson an Eagle Scout, died two years ago at age 77, a week after helping to run a fishing derby.
On Sunday, he got the next best thing to opening his own museum.
The Eric Johnson Memorial Library of the Southwestern Connecticut Scouting Heritage Museum at 60 Wellington Road was dedicated and is now home to the best of his collection.
The items were donated by his four grown sons, all Eagle Scouts, who said their father had a touch of Boy Scout in every room of their three-story house growing up in Southington, even the bathroom.
“This is awesome. ... He’s smiling up there right now,” said a son, Steve Johnson. “He always wanted a museum and his collection on display.”
The library event was attended by dozens of family members, friends and Scout officials, including George Deare, a Scout leader who traveled all the way from Quebec to talk about years of his troop connecting with Johnson’s for Scouting activities.
Deare said Johnson was all about being active in the community.
Longtime friend and Scout leader Bill Urban said Johnson forged international Scout connections so deep that his Troop 32 attended two jamborees in Taiwan.
Urban said Johnson, a Navy veteran, expert fisherman, hunter, camper, did “real and permanent good in this world.”
But more than anything, those who knew Johnson said, he made a true difference in the lives of the boys he led.
“He had the ability to take the quieter ones and make them leaders,” said Rick Donovan, who worked alongside Johnson. “A lot of these kids owe their successes to him.”
Donovan said his own son benefited from Johnson’s leadership, as did Donovan himself, who said he was once a “helicopter parent,” before Johnson urged him to take a step back and let his son forge his own path to success.
It turned out to be great advice, Donovan said.
Eric Johnson’s grandson, Kevin Johnson, 22, also a Scout, said he treasures all he learned through the program, and it’s especially valuable in these times of young people being so intertwined with electronics.
“It teaches you leadership skills, about nature, wildlife, compassion for others, communication, teamwork, responsibility,” Kevin Johnson said.
Eric Johnson’s son, also named Eric Johnson, perused the books that filled shelves on more than one wall in the library just off the main museum and noted many times how familiar the books smelled.
“Keeping all the stuff together was important to us,” Eric said of his father’s collection. “There are a lot of memories here.”
He said smelling the books again is “good for the soul, good for the heart.”
Another son, Robert Johnson, said of his father, “He’d be thrilled,” to see his collection on display.
The collection includes hundreds of books on all aspects of Scouting, including international items, as Johnson traveled the world for Scouting.
His sons, including Billy Johnson, who lives out of state and couldn’t attend, all held leadership positions in Scouting. The three at the dedication said their family life and vacations revolved around Scouting.
The elder Eric Johnson even designed Boy Scout patches and made it a business with his late wife, Patricia, who also got a shout-out during the ceremony for all her work on behalf of Scouting.
The library and the museum are open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays.
The library has been visited by hundreds of people since opening two years ago, including by those doing research, said museum secretary Bob Sherman. It is focused on memorabilia from the Connecticut Yankee Council.
The museum, of the few in the country, has a unique array of historical badges, uniforms, photographs, Pinewood Derby cars, and more, some dating to 1910, when BSA was founded.
Some gems in the main museum include a Sea Scout uniform from the 1940s, a loincloth used in Native American ceremonies from the 1950s or 1960s, a Silver Buffalo award dated 1932, and a Stamford charter going back to the 1920s.
The idea for the museum came up when Sherman and other veteran leaders, many with memorabilia collections of their own, decided it would be great to preserve and share the items in one place.
A few years later, the items that had hung on home and office walls or were neatly tucked away in boxes, in some cases discovered in attics, would be ready for the world to see.
Anyone with questions or contributions can contact Sherman at Footdoc7777@gmail.com.