ENID, Okla. — The youngest of three boys, Brad Waken wanted to go everywhere his older brothers, Steve and Keith, went and followed in their footsteps when he joined the Boy Scouts of America in 1966.
Little did the then-Cub Scout know how far his dedication to the Scouts would lead him.
From his first merit badge to receiving the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award on Saturday night, Waken has spent 55 years of his life involved with the Scouts.
He said he couldn’t be more honored to be joining director Steven Spielberg, former President Gerald R. Ford, astronaut Neil Armstrong and countless other notable figures who have also earned the DESA.
“I’m doing the same thing they did — become involved,” the longtime commercial real estate broker said Saturday. “Become involved in your community, give back to the community. That’s what we do. That’s what (the Scouting Organization) taught us, is to take something and make it better — leave it in better shape than where you found it.”
By serving on the regional BSA Cimarron Council and numerous other organizations in Enid and the rest of the state, Waken has done just that.
A lifetime of involvement
As a boy, Waken, his brothers and his parents were all involved with BSA activities, with his mother being a den leader and his father, a fellow Life Scout who was in the grocery business, making sure Waken’s fellow BSA troop members were well-fed.
Waken earned his First Aid badge in 1966; his last and most challenging was the Citizenship in the World badge.
After finally receiving that badge, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1978 — a week shy of his 18th birthday cut-off.
Like his father, Waken has continued BSA through his children. His three daughters and one son, Alexandra, Carlene, Kira and John, were all involved in Scouting.
His son John later earned the rank of Eagle Scout, which his father called a “very proud moment” for him.
BSA has taken the Waken family all over the world, from West Virginia to Sweden for the National Jamboree, and he’s considering going to South Korea for the next one in 2023.
He said attending the National Jamboree is one of the greatest parts about Scouting, being able to watch 50,000 people from around the world come together around a common goal.
In order to be eligible for nomination for the DESA, a Scout has to have been an Eagle Scout for a minimum of 25 years, and this year will be Waken’s 43rd year since earning the rank, which he said “there never was a doubt” that he was going to achieve that rank.
At 17 years old, Waken had thought becoming an Eagle Scout was the end goal, but he found out he was absolutely wrong.
“That was the beginning of my journey as an Eagle Scout,” he said.
The highest honor
DESA, established in 1969 and the highest honor in the National Eagle Scout Association, acknowledges Eagle Scouts who have “received extraordinary national-level recognition, fame or demonstrated eminence within their field, and have a strong record of voluntary service to their community,” according to BSA’s website.
Waken is currently the vice president of marketing for BSA’s Area Southern Region 8. In the years since 1978, Waken has served on the Cimarron Council’s board, previously as president, and numerous committees. The council covers 19 Oklahoma counties including Garfield County.
He is on the board for the Oklahoma chapter of Certified Commercial Investment Members and is chairman of marketing for CCIM Institute. He’s involved with local community nonprofits such as Our Daily Bread and Community Development Support Association and is a Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce ambassador.
While Waken had previously received NESA’s Outstanding Eagle Scout Award, his involvement with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club of automobile preservation led to his DESA nomination.
Fellow Eagle Scout Bobby Schultz nominated Waken for the DESA. As a Scout executive for the Cimarron Council for 12 years and a BSA volunteer for 33 years, Schultz has worked with Waken a lot of that time.
He called him one of the “most engaged and active” council presidents.
“(Waken is) a very positive and upbeat guy, and he just exudes confidence and made you feel like everything would work out for the best, and it always did,” Schultz said Thursday.
After Schultz sent off Waken’s nomination last summer, committee chair Glenn Adams asked Schultz to rework the nomination to focus on Waken’s work with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club.
In the nomination, Schultz said Waken “developed the youth automobile judging program for youth interested in the history and preservation of the Indiana automobiles,” working with Indiana’s governor to put together the program. Waken has been a member of the ACD Club since 1980 and has held the titles of national registration chair, national chief judge and judging coordinator.
“He’s been recognized more for his hobby than for his profession, which is, I guess, not uncommon,” Schultz said. “Mr. Adams asked me if I knew the former Scout executive in Bartlesville who had gone on to be the head of the National Eagle Scout Association. I told him that I did, and he said, ‘Well, he’s a Distinguished Eagle, not because he works for the Boy Scouts, but because he’s one of the top five underwater cave explorers. That’s where I think Brad’s niche lies.’”
In January, after Schultz retired, Cimarron Council District Executive David Starks received a letter that said Waken was approved, which he said he wasn’t surprised about.
Waken is the first Scout to receive the DESA since 2000, so Starks said the award was not only a big deal for Waken but also for the council.
“They don’t hand them out just to everybody,” Starks said Friday. “It’s just the dedication to a career in addition to Scouting itself. A person puts in a lot of time and energy into multiple things.”
In addition to his accomplishments, Schultz said Waken’s unique character made him a perfect candidate for the DESA, saying he can work with anybody in the world, has the ability to connect to them and will “really give you the shirt off his back.”
As Waken received his award, he was joined by his “partner-in-crime” of 15 years, Carrie Higgins, and his daughter, Kira.
He said though the honor was a huge achievement, he couldn’t have done it without the community he’s both served and worked with for a long time.
“I get to receive the award, but there’s so many other people that have been involved in this achievement,” he said. “It’s a reflection of all these people that I’ve been associated with, all these organizations along the way — great people that do so much for not only the community, but nationally and even further than that.”
Waken had two words for anyone wanting to earn the DESA: “Stay involved.”
“That’s the No. 1 thing,” Waken said. “If you join an organization, join it — commit to it. You’re not going to get anything done just sitting on the sidelines … Help grow the organization, whatever it may be.”
And yes, he still can recite the Eagle Scout Oath.