A sense of adventure has served Michael Vetter well as Scoutmaster for Minot's Boy Scout Troop 433.
Vetter has joined his Scouts in sailing and scuba diving in the Bahamas, white-water rafting and hanging from a cliff by a rope. However, for Vetter, the highlight of about 15 years in scouting has been watching character and leadership develop in troop members, whom he calls "Scouts" or "young men," but never "kids."
"It's fun to watch their faces when they come out of the tent at 20 below zero," Vetter said, recalling winter camping experiences. "That part for me is probably the most fun just watching them gain confidence and just learn about themselves, which you can really do in the outdoors. It tests their skills. It tests their ability to adapt. Of course, the adults are there to guide them, but we don't tell them how to do it. They have to figure it out for themselves and when they do, you can just see their confidence soar."
Jill Schramm/MDN • Scoutmaster Mike Vetter goes over Eagle rank guidelines with senior patrol leader James Drawz at a troop meeting May 14 in Bethany Lutheran Church in Minot.
Vetter, a photographer for Lifetouch, became involved with Boy Scouts in 1997 when his oldest son, who is deaf, came home with a flier and asked if he could join. The Vetters were involved only a matter of months before the scoutmaster resigned, leaving a troop of only about seven Scouts. Parents debated whether to continue.
"They started looking at me," said Vetter, who reluctantly agreed to take on the leadership to see if they could revive the troop.
Today, with 67 boys, Troop 433 is the largest troop in Minot. The troop outgrew its bus and recently purchased a larger one. Flooded out of its home in Christ Lutheran Church last summer, the troop now meets in Bethany Lutheran Church.
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Vetter has seen more than 200 Scouts, ages 11 to 18, come through the troop since 1997. Of those, 49 boys, or about 25 percent, achieved Eagle Scout, the highest rank. About 5 percent of Scouts nationally earn Eagle awards.
Vetter has two sons who achieved Eagle rank. His youngest son, 13, is a current member of Troop 433.
Kevin Mehrer, Tomahawk District executive, Minot, said Troop 433 is one of the most active troops in Minot.
"That attracts new Scouts to our program. Those Scouts that are in the program, they want to be there. They want to participate because Mike has set up such a great program," he said. "What he has done is really set up a kind of system where the boys are leading the troop, but he, obviously, is there to guide them."
Although Vetter doesn't consider his leadership to be special, he does know boys, having grown up with 11 siblings - eight of them brothers.
"They have to get up pretty early to do something that I haven't seen before," he said of his Scouts.
James Drawz, troop member and senior patrol leader, said Vetter is a stickler about details like proper uniform, but it's because he wants Scouts to be their best.
"He's always trying to help us," Drawz said.
Vetter believes a good leader can make a difference, and good leaders together can make an even bigger difference. To that end, he's surrounded himself with a team of about 60 parents who are active volunteers.
When the troop gets new recruits, Vetter makes an intentional effort to meet the parents and find out their work and their interests. Then he puts them in roles where they can use their expertise and share their passions.
Mike Nilson, a parent and troop volunteer, said Vetter has an uncanny ability to detect a sedentary parent in a room full of activity. Vetter wastes no time in engaging that person in a task. The long-term result is another volunteer hooked on Scouting, Nilson said.
Dave Aas, whose son aged out of Scouts, remains as a volunteer, which he said isn't unusual in Troop 433.
"I credit a lot of the adult volunteers and success, really, of the troop to Mike's leadership. He inspires other people to do the best they can. That kind of leadership is pretty rare," he said.
"He's the glue that binds this troop together," parent and volunteer Steve Pederson said. "He lives the Scout oath and sets an example."
Pederson added that Vetter has great ideas and is always up for an adventure when it comes to a Boy Scout outing.
Each year, the troop visits a different camp. They have been to Wisconsin, Montana, Colorado and Minnesota, as well as annual trips to the Northern Lights Council's Camp Wilderness in Minnesota. This year, the troop is scheduled for a trip through South Dakota and Wyoming.
"We try to keep it kind of exciting for the boys," Vetter said of the variety of trips. "I am not much different than a kid. That's why we change it up. I get bored really easily."
Although Vetter doesn't go on every outing since he has a reliable group of adult assistants, he has experienced his share of wet, wind and cold on camping trips alongside young Scouts as they've learned to conquer the elements.
"We are doing the same things the boys do. I think that's huge. In the evening, we don't go into a warm house someplace. We crawl into our tents just the same way they do," he said.
A recent Troop 433 winter camp-out was featured in Boys Life Magazine in February. The outdoors can make boys aware of how small they are and how much they rely on God and each other, Vetter said.
"Another thing I really enjoy, that I think is important in Scouting and for young boys in general, even though we are not a religious organization, we do pray and we can talk about God and bring a holistic approach," he said.
The Boy Scouts is an organization where youth can find male role models, structure and help in navigating a society that can be confusing, Vetter said. It's a place where parents and their sons can build relationships.
"That's a really special time to get to know your son, and there are so many stories that leaders here have told me about how special it has been," he said.
As part of a larger community, the troop also has been a leader in collecting thousands of dollars from within the troop for support of its Northern Lights Council. Jeff Ottosen, director of field service for the council, said it's a tribute to Vetter and his volunteers that they are delivering a quality program that parents want to support, both for their own sons and for other boys.
Troop 433 also has hosted food drives, shoveled snow and cleaned yards for people needing assistance and rung bells for the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas.
"We don't want pats on the back. It's just what you do, helping make your community better," Vetter said. "I always tell my own boys, and the Scouts, if they want to be truly happy, you have to help other people, which is part of our Scout oath.
"Scouting isn't like other things, where you graduate and move on," he added. "It's a way of life. Scouting is a way to live. Take care of the earth. Take care of each other. Take care of yourself. You never retire from it."