A pair of Eagles

In one Southwest neighborhood, lifelong friends earn Scouting's highest honor

Collin Lace and Alex Finseth grew up a block away from each other in Kingfield. When they were little, the boys remember a group of 20 other kids nearby who were in Cub Scouts with them.

Fewer than 10 stayed active through high school, but four recently earned the highest rank in Scouts, Eagle. In a combined ceremony held a year after they actually earned the medal, Lace and Finseth received their Eagles along with CARAG's Matt Barr and Alex Sillerud of the Field neighborhood.

Over the years, the Lace and Finseth families formed a strong partnership. Alex's father, Lorne Finseth-- himself an Eagle Scout -- volunteered to be the Assistant Troop Master for his son's troops, and Collin's mother, Sue Ann Lace, stepped in as Den Mother.

Sue Ann Lace said, "I liked doing all the different projects, I got six boys who call me Mom, I get hugs and kisses. I think we have a special relationship."

The boys grew up in each other's homes, earning merit badges together.

According to Collin Lace, "It was really fun, we got to go camping and there were fun activities like we got a demonstration on how to play games with darts. Then we spent hours playing Cricket [a darts game]."

But as Lace and Finseth got older, the troop's numbers dwindled.

"We lose half of our 11-year-olds to football," said their longtime Kingfield Scout Master, Michael Vanderford.

Lace stayed with the troop even after joining the soccer, track-and-field and rugby programs at Washburn High School. Scouting gave Finseth, an outgoing kid, another opportunity to stand out.

Said Finseth, "At school, [scouting] is something that you're supposed to be ashamed of. I'm very opposite -- I remember in elementary school, I was known as the Boy Scout. I didn't care, I'd always wear my scout shirt in high school."

He does depart a bit from the Boy Scout image; Finseth said he plans to tattoo an Eagle Scout symbol on his body.

Hard work

Attending weekly meetings and advancing in rank makes scouting a serious commitment -- for the family and the boy. Earning merit badges isn't an easy, one-step task. They are a series of assignments that culminate in the mastery of a subject or skill. They often require many parent hours.

Said Lorna Finseth, "Sue Ann did all the hard stuff; she knew the [Boy Scout] system, I didn't. She would give out the assignments and I'd check up on what the book said."

Boy Scouts generally start earning the 21 necessary merit badges for Eagle around 9th grade. Not all merit badges are outdoors-related; if they were, the boys said it would have been easy. The camping is the fun stuff.

Well-known merit badges include lifesaving, camping and first aid -- but there are also badges for time management and relationships.

Lace and Finseth had different struggles.

For Lace, his least favorites were where he was "stuck in a room with a book." However, Personal Management was probably the worst. Among other things, it required the boys to note every cent they spent for six weeks.

"I guess I did learn something. After that, I stopped spending so much money on food -- the trips for pizza, fast food," said Lace, a bit reluctantly.

Finseth remembers the Scout leader at a summer camp who had to be "rescued" to earn a badge.

"The mythic [badge] is lifesaving; everyone's scared as hell to do it. The teacher is a bear and you have to swim up to him while he tries to take you out," said Finseth.

The Eagle Scout project

So few boys become Eagle Scouts because it's a lot of work in a short, hectic time of their lives. The Scout must write a proposal for a community project and implement it with volunteers he's recruited.

The clincher is that the work must be completed and submitted by the Scout's 18th birthday -- making it a school-year deadline for most boys, including Lace and Finseth. It all happens around the same time as college applications, standardized tests and the rest of high school.

It takes determination, skill --but doesn't happen without Mom.

"Let's just say there's a lot of nagging," said Sue Ann Lace. "Even Michael called him every other week to check in."

Both boys chose projects at Hennepin County's Carver Park.

Finseth chose a mammoth buckthorn removal project.

"It was dense, nasty and horrible," he said.

Even Finseth's mother wasn't too excited about the project at first.

"It sounded kind of dumb," said Lorna Finseth.

"Then I saw how he convinced other boys to come. He got these guys going, directing the groups of volunteers. When I saw the photos of all the cleared out buckthorn, I thought 'Well, that wasn't such a dumb idea after all," she said.

Lace, whose father is a remodeler, chose a quintessential Boy Scout project -- repairing and replacing Carver Park's small wood-duck boxes.

A wood duck "kind of looks like a smaller loon," Lace said. He and his crew took down 20 to 30 broken boxes, repaired 12 and replaced four. Happy to be outside, Lace would have enjoyed the project more if it hadn't been in January.

"Some of the trees are on an island, and in marshy areas; we had to get there on the ice. It was pretty cold," said Lace.

A combined ceremony

Though the duo earned their Eagle ranks in time, they didn't get a ceremony right away.

A year later, the parents hadn't forgotten and still wanted to celebrate.

As freshmen at the University of Minnesota, Lace and Finseth live at home, and both work at the same local dry cleaners.

Traditionally, the Eagle Ceremony is held individually, but it didn't make sense to separate the achievement.

Said Lorne Finseth, "We thought it would be more meaningful, since the boys had achieved the merit badges together, they should get their Eagles together."

Together, they included an old tradition.

"Usually by the end they tell all the horrible stories from our camping trips. They told everyone about my feet on the hiking trip, they were covered with calluses, and it wasn't a pleasant smell," said Finseth, with embarrassment.