Illinois State freshman Celeste Saul doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer—unless it’s in reference to a particularly challenging hike in the woods.
Saul, who is set to become the first female Eagle Scout in Central Illinois, was actively involved in Girl Scouts from first through eighth grade, until her troop disbanded just before she started Dunlap High School. Saul, an avid lover of the outdoors, missed the wooded adventures of scout life.
Around the same time her brother transitioned from being a Cub Scout to a Boy Scout, she came across an article that Boy Scouts—which would later change its name to Scouts BSA—would soon allow females to join. She knew she could fill the void of her disbanded troop.
After a search to find troops within her council that allowed females, she joined Scouts BSA Troop 1627 in East Peoria in March 2019.
She doesn’t consider herself in the minority, even though she is one of just 91 females in the Central Illinois’ W.D. Boyce Council, which accounts for 19,000 members in a 14-county region. She finds herself in the majority as a scout who loves the outdoors.
“I just really like being outside a lot a lot,” said Saul, who chose Illinois State because of its strong geology program. “Along with my brother, I had a few friends who were also in Boy Scouts, so I had seen different camping trips and it just looked like a fun hiking and camping. I really liked that idea.”
The challenge, then, was turning that idea into reality. Working out the logistics was the first uphill climb. She had to find a troop within her council that allowed females, which ultimately led her to Troop 1627. She needed to start fast, though. Normally, an Eagle Scout rank must be achieved by age 18. But Scouts BSA allowed an extension for the first females to complete the advancement program and earn the prestigious rank.
She was ahead of the game all the way and started as soon as possible, giving her a unique position as one of the older members of the troop.
Saul stands out, alright. But it’s because other scouts—regardless of gender—look at her as a leader. She takes command of projects and passes her love of nature and recreation to youth members.
“She’s always willing to serve her fellow scouts, not only by leading, but also supporting them and doing more than her share of the work,” said Troop 1627 Scoutmaster Korey Atterberry.
In the 16 months she’s been a member, she has participated in 10 service projects and has also completed her “50-miler” award, which requires taking a non-motorized trip of 50 miles over a period of five or more days, as well as completing 10 hours of conservation-related service.
In leading by example, Saul took full charge of her Eagle Scout project, a requirement to earn the organization’s highest ranking. Her project was near and dear to her as she chose to improve a local park—Singing Woods Nature Preserve—in Chillicothe. Working with local park rangers and municipal officials, Saul led a team on a restoration project at the park on Oct. 10. On the park’s trails, she and her crew placed a pair of benches, some steps, fixed a hand-railing, and did general maintenance.
Thanks to her leadership, fellow outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy an improved trail to walk or hike.
“It was great to watch her do this,” said Aaron Albright, who was Saul’s Eagle Scout project coach. “She is goal-driven, knew what she wanted to do, had the steps to do it, followed the plan, and carried it out. She was always full of questions and went over different little details to make sure she got right. That was very encouraging.”
Saul is almost at the end of her Eagle Scout journey. She must complete a few more merit badges and go through a board review meeting with several adult leaders. Once all of that is complete, she will earn the highest distinction at a court of honor ceremony, which should take place next spring.
The work doesn’t stop there. Saul plans to be involved with scouts the rest of her life as she pursues a career protecting the environment and creating ways to enjoy it. And advice for any female who might be on the fence about going down this path?
“Definitely do it,” Saul said. “It’s really given me a lot of life skills. I grew a lot with being able to communicate better with people, and it helped open me up.
“And it’s just really fun to be outside.”
Apply now for fall 2021.