It was all smiles on Saturday morning when young and old members of the local Boy Scouts of America council gathered with Garden City officials and Law Enforcement Explorers to cut the ribbon on an especially generous gift given by the West family.

The Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America, along with the 19 counties it serves, officially opened their new headquarters at 402 E. Fulton St., something that was made possible by a $275,000 donation from Duane and Orvileta West — the largest monetary gift in the organization’s history.

The facility marks a new era for the Santa Fe Trail Council: the first time in 71 years it will have a building of its own.

The building will offer a larger scout shop where members can purchase uniforms, books and patches. It also will provide additional space for staff meetings with volunteers, a training room for yearlong leadership exercises, council meeting spaces and the opportunity to enhance the organization’s marketing presence.

During West’s address to the assembled audience, he thanked several people in attendance before reading the scout oath, something he has been familiarized with since taking the oath for the first time in March 1944:

“On my honor I will do my best: To do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

West said he didn’t know at the age of 12 that Boy Scouts would be, for him, a lifetime commitment. The Wests have remained active in the program for 60 years, serving as scout leaders at First United Methodist Church of Garden City. Duane also served on the executive board as council president and council commissioner. He was a member of Troop 144 throughout high school and has since passed on the scouting tradition to his adult son, Nathan.

“Orvileta and I have benefited and received more from our participation in scouting than we can repay,” Duane West said. “We know that this service center will add to and enhance the development of our council as it seeks to bring a bigger and better program to all of our scout units and the youth of our 19-county area.”

An added incentive for the gifted building, West said, was the enshrinement in perpetuity of a small art gallery space exclusively intended for collected works of the late Dodge City artist Jessie Montes, who West greatly admired for his ability to craft sculptures and portraits from variously assembled pieces of thin, corrugated cardboard.

Montes created different textures in the cardboard through a time-consuming manual process that gave more depth to his complex creations.

The pieces on display, donated to the council, are part of a larger collection accumulated by the Wests that includes in its entirety 43 of Montes’ works. West discovered Montes’ art in 1998, and in the same year purchased 25 of his pieces at once.

The Wests decided to represent Montes as his agents after learning that he had a breathing problem that prevented him from promoting his art. Duane West said that from 1998 until Montes’ death in 2013, they sold more than 300 of his pieces, large and small, and organized 50 exhibits. They are still trying to sell “quite a bit” of his art on behalf of his estate.

A portrait of President Barack Obama, a portrait of the Trade Towers in New York City that were demolished on 9/11, a portrait of a Native American and a sculpture of an Aztec temple are among the intricately detailed pieces currently available for free public viewing.

Michael Stewart, the council’s scout executive, said he hopes Montes’ art will serve as a marketing incentive to draw Hispanic families into the building and ultimately the scouting program.

According to Stewart, this isn’t the first regional scout headquarters with a museum space. Art also hangs in gallery spaces at the Boy Scouts offices in New York City, Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Las Angeles, Seattle, “and then there’s Garden City, Kansas,” he said.

“We have rented for 71 years, and I wouldn’t have thought four and a half years ago that we would be standing in a building like this,” Stewart said. “The council offices are really the gateway of how families become involved in scouting, so when they come through the door, they’re really going to start adventures that truly last a lifetime.”

Focus on family

Family is becoming a point of emphasis for the national Boy Scouts organization as it reconsiders the parameters of the program. At the Boy Scouts national annual meeting in May, program leaders discussed the possibility of integrating girls into the Boy Scouts to attract entire families with a one-stop-shop character development program.

After Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, members of the local council reviewed findings by the Boy Scouts headquarters in a classroom at St. Catherine Hospital. The meeting was open to the public.

The Boy Scouts has determined that 68 percent of families active in the program would like their daughters to participate, as well, while 90 percent of polled parents said they would consider the program if it was open to girls. In the presentation, it was also noted that national Boy Scouts enrollment is not increasing but has generally stabilized with a slight net decline.

Options include a fully integrated program with boys and girls, a program that divides boys and girls into separate dens, and keeping the program restricted to boys as it currently is.

At the public meeting on Saturday, concerns included the elimination of the Girl Scouts program through force of competition.

Council President Mark Goudy emphasized that the new program would not replace Girl Scouts, but rather give the current Boy Scouts program more accessibility with a focus on the entire family unit while providing outdoor education opportunities to all.

The general consensus, with some exceptions, was that a program keeping girls and boys mostly separated in their own dens with the same essential program requirements and rewards was a feasible endgame to what might be a tricky adjustment, depending on girls’ initial enrollment rates.

Others, such as Vanessa Tiede, a committee member of Troop 59, said an integrated program would result in the elimination of the Girl Scouts. She added that she feels there should be some program differences, and that girls should not be eligible for the Eagle Scout designation.

There has been no final decision on the prospective move, and participants in the meeting will submit their notes and suggestions to Boy Scouts headquarters as the organization moves forward with its decision.

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com