May 1, 2006
Boy Scouts' skills put to real life test
By Liz Hellmann
A capsized canoe in the middle of a deep lake on a stormy day put three Winsted Boy Scouts from Troop 399 and their adult leader to the test last summer.
If they passed, two lives would be saved. If they failed, two people would die.
Either way, these Boy Scouts’ lives would be changed forever.
It all began when Jacob Young, Jason Koch, Eric Arlien, and Boy Scout leader Lenny Stoppelman Jr. took a trip with another Boy Scout and adult leader last July.
The crew went to the Boundary Waters to canoe and refine their skills.
As fate would have it, they spent the night on a campsite on Ima Lake, as a storm passed through the area.
The next morning, it was very windy, and a chilly 45 degrees.
As they looked out on the choppy waves of the lake, the group noticed two young men in a canoe in the middle of the lake. One of them was waving his paddle in the air.
Jacob Pehl, Koch, Arlien, and Young sliced through the choppy waves in their canoe to get to the two men.
“They didn’t look like they were very experienced,” Young said.
One of the canoers looked to be in his 20s, and one was about 13.
Neither of them was wearing life jackets. The lake was a couple hundred feet deep.
When the four Scouts reached them, it turned out they were trying to signal to campers in their campground, and were not in trouble.
Unfortunately, they didn’t stay out of trouble for long.
As the Boy Scouts headed back to their campsite, it was all they could do to keep their own canoes from tipping in the wind.
By the time they reached the campground, the canoe in the middle of the lake had capsized.
Realizing how cold it was, and that the two men were not well-equipped, Young, Koch, Arlien, and Stoppelman jumped back in their canoes, paddling furiously against the wind and waves to get to the stranded canoers before it was too late.
“It didn’t look like they knew how to swim,” Koch said.
But before they could get there, a couple in a canoe that was closer began to pull the canoe and two men the approximate 150 yards to shore.
“The other people were acting like a tug boat,” Arlien said.
While some people might have turned back after seeing that the stranded canoers had gotten help, the Scouts knew better.
They headed for the spot on the shore where the two other canoes were headed.
Once there, the Scouts began to gather birch bark for a fire, and look for a place sheltered from the wind.
Calling on their first-aid classes, the Scouts knew they had to get the two men warm and dry.
“The other people wouldn’t have had time to build a fire when they got to shore,” Young said.
Finally, the other canoe reached the shore and the Scouts wasted no time taking the clothes off their own backs and giving them to the victims.
The people who had towed them in stepped back and watched the Scouts work.
“They were shivering so much we had to help them dress,” Young said.
One of the men had lost so much feeling in his hands he could stick them in the fire.
Young and Stoppelman canoed back to the campsite the young men were from, bringing back some of their friends, extra clothes, and blankets.
By then, a US Forest Service canoe and two rangers had arrived with more blankets.
After getting their clothes back and receiving a few thank-yous, the Scouts began the three-quarter mile canoe across the stormy lake to their campsite.
“I’m just happy that we did something,” Arlien said.
All three Boy Scouts attribute their quick thinking and survival abilities to the training they have received from Boy Scouts.
Without it, they could have easily been the two young men on the lake who didn’t know how to swim, or the people who towed them ashore, but didn’t necessarily know what to do next.
For their actions, all three Boy Scouts and their leader, Stoppelman, will be receiving the Medal of Merit at an awards ceremony Sunday, May 14 at 2 p.m. at the Howard-Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium.
The public is welcome to attend the ceremony. There will be a reception following.
Medal of Merit Award ceremony
What: A National Court of Honor will take place for Eric Arlien, Jason Koch, Jacob Young, and Lenny Stoppelman Jr. to present them with the Medal of Merit.
The public is welcome to attend.
When: Sunday, May 14 at 2 p.m.
Where: Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium.