In 1940, Richard Preece first recited the Boy Scout oath as an 8-year-old Cub Scout in his native Pocatello, Idaho.
Seventy-eight years later, the Vista resident, who is also known as Dick, is still living by that code of loyalty to God, country and the Scout Law.
At a celebration in Vista, California, Preece, 86, was honored by the national Boy Scouts of America with the rare 75-Year Scout Veteran Award.
Preece, a retired Navy commander and dentist, said he was humbled to receive the honor, pinned to his uniform before a crowd of nearly 100 at the Vista Stake Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Scouting, Preece said, was a way he could honor his faith and country while helping to shape young minds in a positive way.
“If a Scout follows the program, it teaches them responsibility, organization, leadership and a love for the outdoors,” he said. “It’s something I’ve believed in all of my life.”
The Boy Scouts national organization doesn’t keep a record of how many people have received the 75-year veteran award, but it’s a very small number. Local scout leaders said they believe Preece is only the second recipient in the San Diego-Imperial district, which has 8,000 adult volunteers and serves 15,000 youth. Earning the pin requires records of continuous active involvement.
Most adult volunteers start out in the scouts as boys, then return as parents to lead their sons’ troops. But Preece never stopped. He moved directly from serving as a scout to leading troops, committees, councils and commissions. He ran jamborees, camps, hiking and canoe trips, and interviewed and coached Eagle Scout applicants. Today, he serves on two regional scout councils.
Scout District Commissioner Bryce Hall said Preece has been a mentor for him and other adult volunteers.
“We look at him as the ideal scout,” Hall said. “He’s always positive and optimistic and has a great deal of wisdom to share.”
Much of Preece's work with the Scouts over the years has been through the Mormon church, which partnered with the organization in 1913 to organize church-based troops. Nearly 20 percent of all Boy Scouts are Mormons.
“My calling was in working with youth and training adults to work with youth,” he said. “It allowed me to serve my church and spend more time outdoors with my family.”
Preece was too busy working multiple jobs as a teenager to earn his Eagle Scout badge, but his devotion to scouting and his passion for hiking and camping rubbed off on his family — including Nedra, his wife of 63 years; daughter Cindy, 59, of Utah; and daughter Becky, 57, who recently hiked to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal.
His three sons — Mark, 61, of Rhode Island, Rick, 58, of Grass Valley, California, and Grant, 53, of Vista — are Eagle Scouts. So are eight of his grandsons; a great-grandson will soon achieve the rank.
Local scouting officials and family members describe Preece as the poster boy for Scout Law traits, which include being kind, cheerful, brave and reverent.
“He was the quintessential Norman Rockwell scoutmaster. He was tall, thin, good-looking and strong,” said Trevor Bender, who as a boy in 1980 was in Preece’s Vista Troop 710. Today Bender is an assistant council commissioner for the local Scout council. “He made scouting fun . . . and as a volunteer he was always an inspiration to me.”
Preece’s career as a volunteer scout administrator began in 1950 as an assistant scoutmaster at the National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. His first position as a Boy Scouts-LDS church liaison was at Southern Idaho College of Education, where he met his future wife, Nedra Evans.
After marrying and attending dental school, Preece joined the Navy. The Preeces moved to Vista 40 years ago. He retired from the Navy in 1983 and ran a prosthetic dental practice for 10 years. Since then, he’s devoted most of his time to scouting and church service.
Preece, who still works out five days a week at the gym, said his favorite part of scouting was always the outdoors. To plan hikes and campouts, he often did multiple test trips with his three sons.
Youngest son Grant said the trips meant a lot because their father was away so much in the military. “Scouting was one way we could really bond as a family and communicate with him very well.”
Much has changed in scouting and America in the past 75 years. Preece said it’s a challenge to recruit boys, who are over-scheduled with school and extracurricular activities and preoccupied with electronic devices.
There are also big changes in store at the national level. At the end of 2019, the Mormon church will officially split from the Boy Scouts to start its own global youth leadership organization. The church has also opposed some of the Scouts' recent progressive policy changes.
After 2019, Preece said he still plans to volunteer because the principles of the Boy Scout oath are so important for future generations.
“People who are bound by the oath are trustworthy, loyal, kind and courteous,” he said. “They’re respectful of their fellow man and their country rather than drowning it out in the way some people are doing today.”