Pine Bluff’s Wirt Heagler knows that at the age of 83, he’s run most of his life’s race. And although illness disallowed him from being interviewed, there’s no shortage of testimony to his positive impact on an untold number of lives he’s touched and continues to influence during nearly a half-century as an adult leader of Boy Scouts Troop No. 100 at First Presbyterian Church here.
Heagler’s many accomplishments drew tribute recently when Quapaw Council Boy Scouts Executive Mario Snelling presented him the prestigious John R. Fordyce III Scoutmaster Legacy Award for 2012. The prize was in recognition of Heigler’s many years of service with the organization and his on-going inspiration to current and former scouts, including his 49-year-old son, Reid Heagler of White Hall.
“Dad was grateful, proud and happy to receive the award,” said the younger Heagler, who earned Eagle Scout status as a teenager and later assisted his father in guiding the First Presbyterian troop. “It was based on his conduct, giving kids an opportunity to do something with their lives. Scouting has been one of the most important things in his life.”
The elder Heagler is a Paragould native. He and his wife, the former Anne Ketchum of Lonoke, have resided here since 1956. He has served the Boy Scouts troop since 1966, but stepped down as scoutmaster in 2010. He was succeeded by one of his former scouts there, Jay Cromwell, now 66.
“He’s the most even-tempered man I’ve ever met,” said Cromwell, a White Hall resident. “The man has set an extremely good example for the boys he has helped through the years. He’s honest and upright, and the boys admire him. He inspired me to become a scoutmaster, and at least 30 of his former scouts are now working with youth all over the country.”
The Fordyce Award wasn’t the first honor received by Heagler. In 2010 — the Boy Scouts of America’s centennial year — he was selected to represent the entire Quapaw Council, which encompasses Southeast Arkansas, as the area’s “face of scouting” by being included in a national BSA Wall of Honor display. “He deserved it,” said Cromwell.
Heagler has earned another salute — this one for serving his country in time of war. He had attended college in Missouri and was a student at Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello) when the Korean War began. He joined the Army and served three years in Korea, experiencing some combat and working as a photographer, primarily with prisoners of war.
“He’s never talked a lot about that time in his life,” Reid Heagler said of his father, who received several Army commendations.
After leaving the Army and returning home, Heagler commenced a career as a land surveyor.
“He worked, and his other time — his off time — he spent working with Boy Scouts,” said Reid Heagler. “The boys remember him. Many of his former scouts have contacted him and still do. He gets calls, letters and visits. That always makes him feel good.”
With so many of his former scouts and assistant scoutmasters passing on the lessons and skills they acquired from Wirt Heagler, the gifts of the countless hours he devoted to the troop are still reaping dividends, and Heagler’s legacy figures to carry on well into the future.