Neighborhood Boy Scout troop leader is nearing retirement

Bryan Stalder
Contributor


“You know what they call polite people at a buffet? Hungry.” Anyone who has been to a Boy Scout meeting with Troop 80 at Holy Cross has probably heard Scoutmaster Sam Valenti say this. That’s just one of the many sayings that Valenti tells his scouts, and if you talk to any of the scouts who have known Valenti over the years, they can recite more than a few of these, and they all have their favorites.


“Amongst the boy scouts who spent time with him… we all remember his witty and perfectly timed sayings and sense of humor,” said Thomas Henggeler, owner of the Liberty Tax franchise on Independence Avenue, who was a member of Troop 80.


Sam Valenti, Troop 80’s Scoutmaster for over three decades, proclaims a banner hanging at Holy Cross, 5201 St. John Ave., in the scout room reads “Boy Scout Troop 80. 1939 Scout Jamboree.” The National Scout jamboree is a gathering of thousands of members of the Boy Scouts of America, organized by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The first national jamboree was held in Washington, D.C., for 10 days in July 1937, attended by 25,000 Scouts, most of whom arrived by train.


Boy Scout Troop 80’s official charter dates back to 1929, making it one of the oldest Boy Scout troops in Kansas City, but photos and documents available at the Kansas City Public Library’s website PendergastKC.org, may date the troop back as far as 1920.

Troop 80. Photograph of Reverend J. P. Prendergast, Pastor of Holy Cross Parish, 5106 St John Ave, with the Boy Scouts of Troop 80 who participated in the Corpus Christi Procession that day on May 30, 1929. This photograph was taken at the Holy Cross Catholic Church looking north towards the leftmost entrance facing St John Avenue. Available at Pendergastkc.org.
x Catholic Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph.


Jim Lawless, owner of Northeast Realty at St. John Avenue and Hardesty, was a member of Boy Scout Troop 80 in the 1950s.


“At that time, the scout room was in the gym,” Lawless recalled. “I had a friend who was in scouts with me and his dad had also been a scout in Troop 80. I think I remember he told me that he had gone to a Jamboree in the 30s.”


This January will be Sam Valenti’s 32nd year as the Scoutmaster for Holy Cross’s Troop 80. Over the past three decades, he’s seen nearly one hundred young men earn their Eagle Scout rank, and he’s seen many more boys come and go through the scouting program.


Sam Valenti’s son, Anthony, joined Cub Scout Pack 4080 at Holy Cross in 1989. At that time, Jim Montlione was the Scout Master at Holy Cross Troop 80. After Montlione stepped down, the next scout master moved the meetings to Saturdays, and attendance really began to suffer. Valenti’s son crossed over from the Cub Scout Pack to the Boy Scouts, so Sam was convinced by Doug Bishop, another scout leader, to become the Scoutmaster for Troop 80.


“One of the first things I did was I moved the meetings back to Monday evenings,” Valenti said. “We began to see the attendance increase again.”
But there was still a need for other adults to help him lead. His first year as the leader of Troop 80, Valenti took 26 boys to scout camp on an old school bus by himself.


“They wouldn’t let you do that today!” Valenti chuckled innocently. Father Joe Powers, who was a priest at Holy Cross at the time, came down to Camp Bartle for seven days to help out.


With Holy Cross Boy Scout Troop 80 growing quickly, Joe Labella, who had been a scout leader with Troop 70 at Holy Rosary in Columbus Park, agreed to join Valenti to lead Troop 80. Troop 70 had closed in the late 70s and Labella had been out of scouting for a while, but was eager to help Valenti at Holy Cross.


Boy Scout troops at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, NorthEastminster Presbyterian Church and UNICO, all began to fold in the early to mid-1990s for various reasons, and scouts from troops at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church were frequently attending Troop 80 meetings. Eventually, many of the scouts and troop leaders from these defunct troops joined Troop 80. By 1996 or 1997, Troop 80 had grown to over 75 boys, and they required two buses to take all of the scouts to Camp Bartle.


“We were one of the largest troops at Bartle that year,” Valenti boasts.
“Father Joe Powers had moved to a parish in St. Joseph, MO, but he was always asking me to bring Troop 80 to Camp Geiger,” Valenti recalls.
Finally, Valenti decided to take the scouts on an overnight trip to Camp Geiger in St. Joseph, Mo., “The next day, I brought the entire Troop to the 11 o’clock Mass and they all smelled like campfire,” Valenti said. “Father Powers was surprised to see us!”


“You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” quoted Frank Sarro, an Eagle Scout with Troop 80, recalling another saying that Valenti often tells the scouts.


Another one of Sarro’s favorites is: “Don’t buy a pumpkin patch. With your luck, they’ll cancel Halloween!”


Raising funds has always been a challenge for Troop 80, because so many of the boys come from families that don’t have a lot of money. Many business owners, organizations and individuals in the neighborhood would sponsor kids to go to camp every year, and pay most or all of the fees to ensure that everyone in the troop who wanted to go to scout camp was able to.


Families and individuals make donations when they can, but the American Sons of Columbus, Passantino Bros. Funeral Home, and UNICO have all been major sources of sustaining support for Troop 80 over the years as well.


The troop has also tried many different fundraisers, including pancake breakfasts, Mexican dinners and raffles, but selling trash bags and hosting an annual Chili Dinner have been the most successful fundraisers.
The chili recipe is actually Sam Valenti’s father’s secret recipe.


“He won first place in a Chili Cook-Off in Liberty with something like 117 applicants,” Valenti said with a grin. “And that is the ‘secret recipe’ that Boy Scout Troop 80 still uses when they make the chili for the annual fundraiser.”


Sam’s father Anthony Valenti passed away in 2019, but he was always proud to know that his chili recipe was a hit. Good cooking is something that Valenti takes seriously, as he’d often tell scouts, “[This food is so bad,] if my grandmother were here, she’d slap the cook!” or “Ravioli in a can? Chef Boyardee set Italian Americans back 200 years!”


“I’ve remained committed to the Boy Scouts for all of these years because the program can make a huge difference in a kid’s life,” Valenti told the Northeast News.


Ryan Bly, a wealth adviser who was part of Troop 80 in the 90s, said he is the man he is today, in part, because of his time in Troop 80 with Mr. Valenti.


“He showed us how to give back to our community through several service projects, to learn useful skills by earning merit badges, and giving back by leading the younger scouts as we moved up in rank,” Bly said.


David Lobaugh, a partner in 10-42 BBQ in Gravois Mills, Mo., and part owner of Lake Public Safety, a private security company headquartered at Lake of the Ozarks, spoke highly of Sam Valenti and his leadership team at Troop 80.


“Without my time in scouting with the great leadership of troops 165/80, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Lobaugh said.


Valenti tells a story about a time that someone knocked on the scout room door late one cold, dark evening. It was a parent whose boys had been members of Troop 80 years ago. He was grateful for everything that Troop 80 had done for his boys, and he had a little bit of extra money, so he wanted to make a small donation to the troop.


“We’ve touched a lot of families over the years, and you remember that when people brave the cold to bring you $20,” Valenti said.


One year, Troop 80 had an overnight camp in December, Valenti recalled. The day started out warm, but temperatures dropped below freezing overnight.


“I saw one of the boys shivering without a coat,” Valenti said. “I asked him, ‘Where the heck is your coat?’ and he told me, ‘My brother and I share the same coat and it’s his week to have it.’”


Valenti gave the boy his coat, and he grabbed an old coat out of his truck, which he always kept in there in case of a roadside emergency. A boy scout is always prepared.


“It really opened my eyes about some of the things these kids go without,” Valenti admitted.


Bly recalls the time he packed his teddy bear slippers to his first overnight camp with Troop 80.


“I was scared and not sure what to pack,” he said. “We had a winter trip to a huge cabin with 40 boys and 10 to 15 leaders. Mr. Valenti told me, ‘You probably won’t need to bring those [teddy bear slippers] on the next overnight.’”


Valenti said proudly, “The manager at Cosentino’s Price Chopper used to call me up whenever he needed to hire new employees and he’d tell me, ‘Anyone from Troop 80 who wants a job is hired on the spot,’ because that’s the kind of reputation our scouts have.”


He added, “Many of the boys get their BSA lifeguard certification while they’re down at camp, so while their friends were working for minimum wage, one summer, we had like four members of Troop 80 that were all earning [quite a bit more] working as lifeguards at Oceans of Fun.”


Some scouts have gone on to work for the Kansas City Fire Department, and Valenti says they received recognition for their advanced knowledge of knot tying, an important skill that firefighters are required to learn.
Valenti also remembers a young boy from Troop 80 who would go to camp every year, but he preferred reading books rather than hiking or participating in other scouting activities.


“Some of the boys would call him a nerd, but I ran into him a few years ago and he was proud to tell me that he’s a doctor with KU Medical Center now,” Valenti said.


“My favorite quote from Mr. Valenti was after the guys finally settled down from being loud or ridiculous, he’d say, ‘Now I know why lions eat their young!’” Bly shared.


Valenti is frequently recognized by former scouts and their parents wherever he goes in the city. When they run into him in public, they’re always eager to catch up with him, and update him on their careers and their families. Occasionally, they will even make donations to Troop 80.


“There was another boy from Troop 80 who began working for QuikTrip after high school,” Valenti reminisced. “He always knew college wasn’t for him. I was gassing up my car one night and I heard on the speaker, ‘The pump is on, Mr. Valenti!’ and I found out that this boy manages a QuikTrip in the Northland now. That’s a good company to work for!”


Sam’s advice to the boys is to always include your Eagle Scout rank on your resume.


“There’s a large network of Eagle Scouts, and that status will make you stand out among other applicants,” Valenti advised.


“That’s just my opinion! That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks!” said Troop 80 Eagle Scout, Geoffrey Henggeler, quoting Sam Valenti. Henggeler’s two sons are now members of Troop 80 themselves.


Valenti often tells boys in Troop 80 that the Eagle Scout rank provides numerous benefits if you pursue a career in the US Military. One such Eagle Scout from Troop 80 started at a higher pay grade when he joined the US Navy.


The children of the owners of The Quaff, a longtime establishment located at 10th & Broadway downtown, are former members of Troop 80, so the troop continues to hold at least one committee meeting at The Quaff every year.


Tom Rebecchi, the Scoutmaster with Troop 165 at Budd Park Christian Church, just a few blocks west of Holy Cross, points out that in 2009, as their attendance began to dwindle, they made the decision to merge with Troop 80.


“Our scouts had gone camping and trapshooting with Troop 80 a few times,” Rebecchi said.


Rebecchi attended Camp Bartle for many years, but he retired this year after attending Camp Bartle one final time, and Valenti is preparing to do the same.


As Valenti entered his 30th year as Scoutmaster, he began looking for another leader to take over Troop 80 so he could retire. Frank Ferro, Valenti’s nephew, was a scout leader whose boys are both members of Troop 80, and Valenti was working with him to transition leadership over, and ensure that Troop 80 could continue for another 90 years.


However, last July, while Valenti was preparing to head to Camp Bartle to join Troop 80 for the week, he received a troubling phone call. Frank Ferro had collapsed while he was delivering mail on his route with the US Postal Service. He passed away at age 53, which was a tragedy for his family and the local scouting community. Then, Joe Labella, who was instrumental in helping Valenti rebuild Troop 80, passed away October 2022. Losing Ferro and Labella meant the future of the Holy Cross troop was uncertain.


After camp, Troop 80 leaders held an emergency meeting. One of the leaders reminded Valenti that the leader of Troop 96 at St. Patrick’s grew up down the street from Holy Cross, and his father-in-law and brother-in-law had been members of Troop 80. St. Patrick’s is located in the Northland near St. Pius X, so Valenti reached out to see if Troop 80 could partner with Troop 96 until a permanent solution to preserve the Troop 80 charter could be determined. The leaders within Troop 96 unanimously agreed.


Next summer, Troop 96 and Troop 80 will attend Camp Bartle together, but there’s still not a permanent solution for the future of Troop 80. If you’d like more information about boy scouts, want to make a donation or volunteer, or if your children would like to join Troop 80, reach out to Sam Valenti directly by calling (816) 719-4080.

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