Colts Volunteer Wins Top Scouting Award

January 25, 2005

"The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared"," said Bill Symoniak, an actively involved volunteer and parent for the Colts. Bill is also a Scoutmaster and recently saved the life of one of his Scout members during a trip in Black Hills, S.D. Because of this act, the top Scouting Award was presented to him. Bill states, "I truly appreciate all the extra effort by the leaders in the Troop to make this Court of Honor and the presentation very special to me and my family. The presentation of the National Award of Merit was a surprise. I knew that the application had been submitted to the national headquarters, but I had no idea if it had been accepted or rejected. It was extra meaningful receiving the award from Pat."

The Colts are proud that Bill is actively involved as a volunteer and parent for the Colts organization. We would like to recognize Bill for his outstanding heroic act and say thanks for all he does to impact the youth. Bill Symoniak currently serves on the Colts Corporation Board of Directors.

Pat Durham and his father Steve Durham expressed their gratitude for Scoutmaster Bill Symoniak's life-saving action in the summer of 2003. Symoniak revived Pat Durham after he collapsed and quit breathing while on a scout trip in the Black Hills, S.D. Symoniak was awarded the National Award of Merit by the Boy Scouts of America Nov. 29.

Following is the article as it appeared:

Symoniak Wins Top Scouting award by Sue Austreng, Life Editor

"On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."

With these words, Boy Scouts of America throughout generations and across the nation have pledged their desire to keep three promises: duty to God and country, duty to others, duty to self. Bill Symoniak has spent a lifetime living that pledge, and when his oldest boy was of Scouting age, he founded Troop 498 and has been its scoutmaster ever since. Nov. 29, the Boy Scouts of America acknowledged his dedication and service to God, to his country and to others with the National Award of Merit.

His dedication and service are obvious to those who share his daily life: his wife and two Boy Scout sons, the boys in Troop 498 (the troop for which Symoniak is scoutmaster), his parents, his neighbors, his colleagues. Perhaps Symoniak's pledge to "help other people at all times" is most obvious to the family of Boy Scout Pat Durham. On July 23, 2003, Symoniak saved Durham's life when Troop 498 visited Medicine Mountain Scout Camp in Custer, S.D.

Kurt Krueger and Ed Eiffler, eyewitnesses to the account described the episode. The troop had spent the day in the Black Hills, visiting some of the monuments, rock climbing and touring Keystone. As they hiked back up to Mountain Scout Camp, Durham suddenly collapsed, falling face first onto the gravel road.

"At first I thought he was playing. I think (Symoniak) thought the same thing," Eiffler said. It was quickly determined that this was no joke, and Symoniak's life-saving instincts kicked in when he determined that Durham had stopped breathing and his eyes had rolled back in his head.

Lifting Durham from the road, Symoniak performed a pelvic thrust and prepared to repeat it when Durham began breathing again. Symoniak applied pressure to Durhams chin, which had split open when he collapsed, and other Scouts raced off to alert the camps medical staff. Assistant Scoutmaster Steve Durham, the Scout's father, was several hundred yards away when his son collapsed and was unaware of what had happened.

"I saw Bill tossing this guy up in the air. I didn't know it was Pat until I got closer. If it wasn't for Bill's instincts kicking in and doing what he did, I hate to think what might have happened," Steve Durham said.

Steve took his son to the emergency room where Pat's vitals were checked, his chin was stitched and he was given fluids. "The doctor said Pat passed out due to the heat, the high elevation, some dehydration and the fact that Pat had had viral meningitis earlier that year," Steve Durham said. After giving him fluids and watching him for a while, they gave him a clean bill of health. "We returned to camp and two days later he ran in a race." After a follow-up examination, Durham was declared healthy and fit.

The National Award of Merit was presented at the Court of Honor much to Symoniak's surprise. Assistant Scoutmaster Anne LeRoy organized the presentation ceremony without Symoniak's knowledge. "I knew if we told him we were doing this, he'd say we shouldn't," LeRoy said. "That what he did was just "right time, right place." He'd say anyone else would have done the same thing." As to the surprise factor, Steve Durham joked that "this was payback."

"I sat next to Bill when he had a heart attack, then I see him throwing my son around," he said. "This is payback. He'll be embarrassed to get this attention in front of everybody."

Troop 498 staged its quarterly Court of Honor Nov. 30 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Spring Lake Park. The Court of Honor proceeded in traditional style: a potluck dinner was shared, skits were performed, trivia questions were answered, boys were honored and merit badges were awarded. But throughout the evening, Steve Durham carried the glass-framed National Award of Merit concealed in a Fleet Farm bag. And then special guests were introduced, including members of Boy Scouts of America's Viking Council, media personnel and Spring Lake Park Mayor Harley Wells. Wells presented the Mayor's Proclamation declaring Nov. 29, 2004 "Bill Symoniak Day in the city of Spring Lake Park." Mark Stensel, Viking Council representative, said, "There are thousands of Scouts in Boy Scouts of America, and this award one is really, really unusual; really, really important." And then the announcement was made that Symoniak was awarded the National Award of Merit by the Boy Scouts of America. "We always just try to do what we can do. That's all I was doing," Symoniak said as he choked back tears and accepted the award.

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