Pine-Richland grad, Naval Academy cadet earned 138 Boy Scout merit badges
Monday, December 2, 2019 | 12:01 AM
Ryan Farbacher was barely into his teenage years when he set the lofty goal of earning every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts before his 18th birthday.
According to the Boy Scout website there are currently more than 135 merit badges offered, and one week before Farbacher reported to the U.S. Naval Academy — he reached the cutoff age of 18 while there — he completed his 138th badge.
The pursuit turned out not only to teach him plenty about different hobbies, interests, careers and skills but also himself.
“There’s the practical knowledge and learning whatever it is Boy Scouts are trying to get you to learn, but I also set this goal when I was 13 or 14 and then looked at it over four years and said, ‘I just need to do it,’” he said. “Just getting there, getting that final badge taught me a lot about setting goals and achieving them.”
When Farbacher joined Troop 344 based out of Salem United Methodist Church in Pine Township as a fifth grader, there was a Scout who had recently fallen just two short of completing all the badges before his 18th birthday, Farbacher said. After Farbacher reached the rank of Eagle Scout at a young age, troop leader Tim Harris issued the challenge.
“This was the first challenge I ever made when I was scout master and probably one of the only challenges like that that I’ve made,” said Harris, who is still active as an adult leader with the troop. “I thought he could achieve it, and I gave him a goal.”
By that point, Farbacher, who graduated from Pine-Richland High School in 2019, already had about 50 merit badges, he said. That’s more than double the 21 required to become an Eagle Scout.
The badges cover topics from American business, animal science and archery — to welding, wilderness survival and woodwork and everything in between. Although many have to do with what are typically considered Scout-related activities, such as camping, canoeing and orienteering, there are also career-oriented badges, such as dentistry, entrepreneurship, law, digital technology, robotics and game design.
Farbacher’s favorites were rifle shooting, shotgun shooting and scuba diving. His least favorites were the ones he saved for last.
“My last one was truck transportation, so working with kind of what Fed Ex does and those concepts,” he said. “I’m not a big stamp collector, so stamp collecting was slow.”
The amount of time it takes to complete a badge varies depending on the requirements, Farbacher said. Often he’d do what he called the “desk work,” researching and learning what he needed to about each subject, then do the “field work,” or the actual activities, a few at a time, often accompanied by his mother.
“One afternoon probably last February or March we went downtown to do gardening then came back up here and did landscape architecture and then finished the day with farm mechanics,” he said. “So we did all the action items in one afternoon, but there were some that took 90 days to complete.”
The Boy Scouts organization doesn’t keep track of members who’ve earned all the badges over the years, but it’s estimated that fewer than 1% of scouts have done so. An unofficial website called meritbadgeknot.com lists the number of scouts at 442, although Farbacher’s name does not yet appear.
Whatever the exact number, Harris said, it’s small compared to the number of scouts involved in the organization.
“It’s a very small percentage,” he said. “It’s a wonderful accomplishment. The Boy Scout merit badges are used for the exploration of everything, whether it’s science, plumbing, diving, chemistry; it allows you to tap into a little bit of everything and experience it all.”
Now a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, Farbacher said it’s a worthwhile goal for any scout to take on.
“If you want to achieve something that just a very small number of people achieve and learn a lot about yourself and the world around you, it’s definitely something you should do,” he said.