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Derrick Stogner is only 14 years old.
But when it comes to Fraser firs, he already knows more than I ever will.
Derrick, a member of Boy Scout Troop 180 and a freshman at Buford High School, knew exactly what Ronny Faile and I were looking for when we stopped by the troop’s Christmas tree lot Tuesday evening.
That live tree is now decked and visible from the window of Lakewood Christian Church on Kershaw Camden Highway.
If there was a merit badge to earn for pleasing a group of church women, Derrick would be on the verge of adding it to the 22 merit badges already on his sash.
Instead Derrick, a Life Scout, is earning money at the troop’s Christmas tree lot. Now in its 17th year, the lot is beside the Scout hut in the Elgin community, between Elgin Volunteer Fire Department and St. Luke United Methodist Church, on U.S. 521 South.
The firs are available in heights from 6 feet on up and range in price from $40 to $80, depending on the height. The Scouts’ Christmas tree lot is open weeknights from 5 to 8 p.m. through mid-December and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The money that Derrick is earning will be used to defray the cost of a 21-day high adventure trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico next year.
That has to be good news for Derrick’s parents, Keta and Carlton Stogner. The trip costs $2,000.
There’s more to being a good Christmas tree salesman than most realize.
While most of us were enjoying turkey, stuffing and football on Thanksgiving Day, the Scouts in Troop 180 were at Honeycutt’s Tree Farm in West Jefferson, N.C., to pick up the fresh-cut Fraser firs.
Derrick said all the effort is worth it.
“The things you learn in Boy Scouts you don’t find in a lot of books,” Derrick said. “It gives you an opportunity to do some new things and learn some new things.”
The Scouts get 100 percent of the commission for pre-selling trees and 50 percent for lot sales. The money is deposited into each Scout’s account. With four years between each trip, the Scouts have enough time to raise the money on their own. Despite a sluggish economy, Derrick has managed to build his own customer base.
“I did pretty good,” he said, of this year’s pre-selling. “Some of them were on-the-spot sales. A lot of it was wreaths.”
And Derrick is no slouch.
“I’ve already put about a $1,500 dent in the cost” of the trip, Derrick said.
Now, it’s a given that the Fraser firs at the Troop 180 lot cost a little more than at other lots, but it’s important to see where the money is going.
To be honest, in a year when every church budget is tight, we could’ve probably found a cheaper tree somewhere else.
But it’s important to make investments in the lives of young people like Derrick. This isn’t just an investment in Derrick, it’s an investment in our future.
How? The answer is simple.
Right now, Derrick is working on the final four required merit badges to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. Then he must organize and complete an approved in-depth service project that has a long-lasting benefit for his community, school or church.
“I try to get most of the work done in the summer so it doesn’t affect my grades,” he said. “I’d like to have everything done by the time I’m old enough to drive.”
That means he is a leader in the making. It might not mean much to Derrick right now.
After all, he’s only 14 years old, but it will.
If Derrick doesn’t think so, all he has to do is ask S.C. Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Mike Oliver, Andrew Jackson Middle School Principal Butch Dutton, local business owner Chad Catledge or Lancaster Sheriffs Office Lt. Kevan Waiters.
All four of them are Eagle Scouts. So am I.
You know, the tree Derrick helped us pick out for Lakewood Christian Church on Tuesday is looking more and more like a bargain every day.
– Greg Summers is features editor of The Lancaster News.