By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For every 100 youths who enter Scouting, one will save someone’s life, according to Scouting officials.
On May 22, 2011, that Scout was Matt Hutchison, and that someone was Courtney Grisham, along with her infant daughter, Emma.
Grisham’s story and Hutchison’s response earned both of them a standing ovation during a luncheon Tuesday that included executives and supporters of the Ozark Trails Boy Scout Council.
The luncheon paid tribute to the role Scouting has played in the lives of community leaders and honored several residents for their support of Scouting.
Each of them pointed to Hutchison, an Eagle Scout from Troop 10 , as the epitome of what Scouting is all about: service above self, courage, leadership and compassion.
“He’s a courageous and amazing individual,” Grisham said.
On May 22, she had gone to St. John’s Regional Medical Center with her daughter and husband, Adam Grisham, because he felt ill. Later, they would learn he had a hernia.
“We were there a long time, and with no windows there was no way to tell what was brewing outside,” Courtney Grisham said. “We had no idea.”
About 5 p.m., Grisham took her daughter to the hospital cafeteria — where Hutchison was an employee — for a meal while her husband was being evaluated. Minutes later, sirens sounded and hospital workers advised everyone to seek shelter.
As the young mother headed for a hallway with her daughter in her arms, the tornado churned over, around and through St. John’s. The ceiling began peeling apart, lights went on and off, and the pressure caused her ears to pop.
“I tucked her (Emma) under my chin and ran down the hallway away from the debris,” Grisham said.
It was hard to maintain her balance and hold on to Emma, and the thought crossed her mind that they might perish. Then, as lights flashed on and off, she saw a hand reaching for her from a nook.
“I just took it, and the wind was so strong, and debris was flying, and this man — Matt — he shielded us,” she said. “He got a good hold. As small as I am, I don’t know if I could have held on to myself and her.”
Just when Grisham thought they couldn’t stand up to the storm’s power any longer, it passed. Hutchison asked for her name, then tried to calm her and Emma.
‘Heck of a program’
“I asked why he did this, why he protected us instead of protecting himself,” Grisham said. “And still to this day, I’ll never forget: He said, ‘Boy Scouts is a heck of a program.’”
She observed that Hutchison went on to help others that night, assuming a leadership role by attending those who needed help, seeking out oxygen equipment for those who had trouble breathing, and offering comfort to those who were in distress.
“I’m so honored and thankful to have met him, and thankful to Boy Scouts of America for raising leaders like Matt,” Grisham said. “Nothing can ever replace my daughter or being able to be here to raise her myself.”
Hutchison, for his part, said Tuesday that he was doing what he had “learned from Day One.” Then he stood at the podium, offered the Scout salute and recited the Scout oath.
“Those are the lines I live by,” he said.
Grisham called the hospital two weeks after the tornado in an attempt to track Hutchison down, and the two would speak later that day by phone. She wanted to buy him dinner as a thank-you, but life got in the way: The Grishams lost their car in the storm; Adam Grisham lost his job and faced additional health issues; and the family had to relocate to Greenfield.
Six months later, Courtney Grisham was able to treat Hutchison to burgers at the Joplin Eagle Drive-In. When she asked how she could repay him, Hutchison’s request was that she simply let his Scout leader know how he had made a difference.
Grisham was happy to comply, and district Chairman Ryan Stanley thought their story would make a perfect addition to a luncheon that would focus on the impact Scouting has on youths and future leaders.
“Her story adds a lot to the story of what Scouting is doing in our community,” said Bryon Haverstick, district director.
Others who testified about the impact Scouting has had on them included two past recipients of the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award: Martin Penning, an Eagle Scout, who is vice president of commercial operations for Empire District Electric Co., and Dan Stanley, a financial adviser with Edward Jones.
Gary Robinson, who last month took up the reins as president of the Ozark Trails Council, also spoke.
The luncheon at Granny Shaffer’s restaurant on North Range Line Road served as the kickoff of a campaign to raise $49,000 for the Ozark Trails Council’s operating fund. Haverstick said the money is to be used to support summer camps, scholarships, leadership training and other activities. About $6,000 was contributed at Tuesday’s event.
The Ozark Trails Council is composed of seven districts serving 8,000 Boy Scouts; 1,300 of them are in the Nih-Ka-Ga-Hah District of Jasper, Newton, Lawrence, McDonald and Barry counties.