In his 64 years in Boy Scouts of America, Mays Landing resident Bill Schmitz has taken part in countless Courts of Honor. On Sept. 23, Troop 389 held one more just for him.

The former scoutmaster, who retired as head of the troop in June, was honored with a surprise celebration at the Atlantic Christian School.

Schmitz was led into the darkened cafeteria by Troop Committee Chair Pete Karabashian. When he arrived, a scout flipped a light switch, and he was greeted with shouts of "Surprise!"

"It was a tremendous feeling to see everybody there," Schmitz said.

Schmitz, 73, joined Boy Scouts in 1949. He joined at first because, in the absence of all the electronic distractions we enjoy today, he had little else to do. He quickly fell in love with the organization, and in 1956 became an Eagle Scout.

Following his graduation from college in the early 1960s, Schmitz joined the Air Force. He spent 22 years traveling around the world, and all the while remained active in scouting. He retired in 1984 and took an administrative position in with Boy Scouts in South Jersey.

Schmitz retired from his paid position with Boy Scouts in 1997, but remained with the local organization as a volunteer. In 2006, he was asked by Karabashian to be the first scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop 389, and he obliged.

Karabashian said Schmitz provided a fine example for the scouts during his seven-year tenure.

"He's a very firm, but kind and caring individual, with a level of discipline," Karabashian said. "He was just a good leader, a good role model."

Dave Newman has been scoutmaster since Schmitz vacated the position in June. He always admired Schmitz for his leadership, he said, and now that he's taken the reins for himself, he has a newfound appreciation for the former leader's handling of fundraisers and clerical work.

"I'm delegating a lot more than he did," Newman said, laughing.

At the ceremony, two scouts of Troop 389 took turns reading appreciation letters written for Schmitz by current and former scouts. After the letters were read, Schmitz was presented with a plaque and shared a few words of thanks with the group.

Schmitz's biggest accomplishment as scoutmaster was in the number of scouts he guided to Eagle.

Under his watch, eight earned the rank, with another set to undergo his Board of Review soon. This is an impressive accomplishment, considering just 2 percent of boys who have entered the organization since its founding in in 1910 have earned Eagle.

Schmitz plans to stay on with Troop 389, but will be much less active. He will continue to advise current troop leadership and will attend ceremonies if he can.

While Schmitz didn't devote 64 years of his life to scouting for thanks, he was touched by Troop 389's gesture nonetheless.

"It's a tremendous honor," Schmitz said. "These are things you don't go out looking to achieve, you just kind of do it, and somebody says thanks, and this time they did it in a big way."

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