By Riley Manning
TUPELO – More than 350 men and women gathered at the BancorpSouth Conference Center on Tuesday for the Yocona Area Council Boy Scouts’ annual Distinguished Citizen dinner.
The primary fundraiser for area Boy Scouts, this year’s dinner honored Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University.
“As a Boy Scout myself, I’ve benefited tremendously from the program,” he said. “Young people today have so many distractions, and Scouts can give them a great foundation. You can’t overstate the value of those life lessons.”
Keenum earned his doctorate degree in Agricultural Economics by the time he was 26 years old, beginning his career at MSU in the Department of Agricultural Economics. In 2006, he left for Washington, D.C., to serve as chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran for 10 years, as well as under secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture before returning to MSU in 2009.
In the five years since his return, he has led the university to an all-time high in fundraising as well as enrollment. The 2013 freshman class was not only the largest in MSU history, but also boasted the highest average ACT scores the school had ever seen.
“Keenum has been a leader all his life,” said Jack Reed Jr., event chairman. “We’re proud to add him to our tradition of distinguished citizens.”
The dinner also honored the fallen Tupelo Police Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a Boy Scout in Corinth.
“You know, Stauffer wore three uniforms in his life,” Reed said. “The Boy Scout uniform, the uniform of the United States army, and the Tupelo Police Department uniform.”
Rick Chapman, Scout executive for the Yocona Area Council, agreed, saying Scouts are a family.
“[Stauffer] took Scouting all the way to Eagle,” Chapman said. “He lived the Scout oath his whole life.”
Looking forward, Chapman said several hundred new Scouts have signed up in the Yocona Area Council’s 12 counties since the fall.
“Last year’s behind us,” he said. “We’re looking forward to welcoming everyone and having a great year.”