TUPELO - When Northeast Mississippi's top Scout was considering a move to Tupelo 13 years ago, the region got a "super" endorsement.
Yocona Area Council executive Brian Steger met Archie Manning, who played football for the University of Mississippi and the New Orleans Saints, at a Scout banquet in Knoxville honoring son Peyton Manning, while the Super Bowl quarterback was still at the University of Tennessee.
As the senior Manning was waiting for a ride after the banquet, he and Steger, who was working for the Knoxville council, struck up a conversation about Steger's interview with the Tupelo-based Boy Scout council.
"It's a wonderful environment to raise a family," Steger remembers Manning telling him.
The best endorsement came from the people they talked to when Steger and his wife Sue visited Tupelo.
"The people here are wonderful ambassadors," he said.
The Stegers originally expected they would be in Tupelo only a handful of years, but now they plan to retire here.
"It's usually a five-year commitment and you move to another council," said Steger, whose son Blaine and daughter Kerri both graduated from Tupelo High School. "This is a great place to be."
Tupelo has been lucky to have the Stegers, said David Brevard, who was on the search committee that hired Steger and is now a friend.
"I think he's a wonderful person," Brevard said.
Steger has thrown himself into causes for the Boy Scouts, Tupelo Public School District and First United Methodist Church.
For a church festival a few years ago, Steger volunteered to dress up as the Saturday Night Live "Church Lady" and had everyone in stitches, Brevard said.
"He was so convincing in his portrayal," Brevard said. "We thought Dana Carvey better watch out."
An unexpected career
Steger, who has been a Scouting professional for 26 years, never expected to make a career out of helping boys grow into confident, independent young men.
When he took his first position with the Boy Scouts after graduating from the University of Georgia, his aim was to earn professional experience.
"My goal was to work for Ted Turner," Steger remembers.
His future father-in-law, who was a Boy Scout executive, suggested Steger consider a position with the Scouts as a way to gain work and leadership experience. Steger loved the work.
"The most fun I ever had was being a district executive in northeast Georgia," Steger said.
A few years later, he took another Scouting job in Knoxville.
"When I made that career move, it hit me that I could do this for a long time," Steger said. "Even if I won the lottery I'd probably keep working."
Steger's current job as Yocona Area Council executive involves more paperwork than whitewater rafting. He manages policy decisions and risk management so that Scouts can have fun safely. It's the people who want to be involved with Scouting who make the job so rewarding.
"Scouting attracts some of the finest human beings," Steger said. They come from all walks of life, "but this is common ground."
The Boy Scouts are more than camping, Pinewood Derby, knots and badges.
"It's incredible leadership development," Steger said. "We want to help them maximize their own potential. We're long on personal accountability and personal discipline."
Lessons from Scouting
Steger was involved in Scouting as a boy, and even though he never earned an Eagle - Scouting's highest rank - the lessons he learned have served him well.
"I learned that knife and fire are tools, not toys," Steger said. "I always carry a handkerchief."
It's a misconception that achieving an Eagle is a prerequisite for becoming a Boy Scout professional. All those people who didn't get their Eagle are the perfect people to be Scout executives and packmasters, Steger said.
"They know how important it is," Steger said, and can encourage youngsters not to let the opportunity pass them by.
Steger said he had a great time working with his son Blaine as he earned his Eagle.
"I went and did all the fun stuff - whitewater rafting and camping," Steger said. "Mom was the one asking, 'What do we need to do?'"
Steger admits his son did occasionally need a nudge to earn his Eagle.
"I told him, 'When you're 28, you'll thank me for pushing you to get your Eagle,'" Steger said.
The thank you came when his son was 23, after earning a pay raise in the first six months with a Memphis company. His bosses had been impressed by his Eagle and his record at Ole Miss and kept a close eye on him.
"I'm five years ahead of schedule," Steger said his son told him as he thanked him. "They wouldn't have paid any attention to me otherwise."