Scouting out a spot for his latest accolade

Brian Soehner will receive the Sovereigns’ Medal for Volunteers for his many years of dedication to the Elmira Scouts. [Faisal Ali /The Observer]

It’s hard to say just how much of an impact Brian Soehner has had on the community of Elmira. A leader and mentor for more than five decades with the 1st Elmira Scout Group, the venerable Scout has had hand in raising generations of area children.

During his 54 years with the Scouts, most recently as commissioner, Soehner took hundreds under his wing, imparting his knowledge of the outdoors and nature, and his love for volunteerism to the youth of the community.

“Fifty years now I’ve been involved,” said Soehner. “And I’ve enjoyed it so very much, working with the young people that I just stuck with it. They were a real pleasure to work with.”

A Cub and Scout in his childhood, Soehner went on to become a leader with the Scouts and Venturers, eventually taking on the roll of commissioner for the local Scouting group.

For his dedication and commitment, Soehner is being recognized by the highest authority in the land with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which will be presented at a ceremony in Elmira this weekend.

“Frankly, I’d never heard of it before, so I was quite surprised,” admitted Soehner, who was nominated for the award by his fellow Scouts. “At first, I didn’t realize what it really meant. Now that I’ve had time to read up on it, it’s quite an honour.”

The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteerism is given out to Canadians in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to their communities, done without expectation of any returns. But what makes the award such a particular honour is not just what it represents, but who it represents.

The medal is given out by the Office of the Governor General, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state. It joins other such notable and prestigious distinctions awarded by the office including the Order of Canada and the decorations for bravery.

“I got a call back in December,” Soehner recalled. “The lady said ‘I’m from the Governor General’s Office,’ and I said ‘Oh.’ I didn’t know anything about it of course. She said, ‘Don’t worry you’re not in trouble.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”

The award is often handed out by Canada’s Governor General in person, but because arranging a meeting can take months or years, the group decided on a smaller ceremony instead.

For Skip Maher, a long-time friend and fellow Scout leader in Elmira, one of Soehner’s greatest accomplishments is the how he helped the support the youth under his care through their most formative years. Whether he was taking groups on cross-country road trips, or attending international Scout jamborees, Soehner gave his charges memories and experiences to last a lifetime.

“As a child growing up, you always place your parents, at different times, high on the list of influences in your life. But not all the time do you do that. You [also] have Scout leaders or hockey coaches, and teachers at the school,” said Maher, who himself was drawn into the Scouts with Soehners’ encouragement.

Soehner was one of those key influences, says Maher.

“There are a lot of different influences that help young people, and I said it before, help them find their place. Or a path to go down and see where it goes.”

Former Scout Bill Thuroo grew up knowing Soehner. Through their 47-year history, Soehner went from first being a teacher and Scout leader to eventually becoming a friend, along with several other leaders from Scouts.

“I was one of Brian’s Scouts in the early ’70s,” said Thuroo. “It’s really funny when you think about it. Because here you are as a kid, and you have this adult. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever figure that these men would be my friends that long.”

Without Soehner’s influence, the Elmira Scouts, and those impacted by the organization, would not be what it is today. “I think it would be a different organization, no doubt about it,” said Thuroo.

There’s no shortage of good leadership at the Elmira Scouts, but what makes Soehner unique is the longevity of his involvement with the organization.

While Soehner has been forced to cut back his involvement with the Scouts for health reasons, he still lends a hand whenever possible, helping to maintain the grounds and providing his decades of wisdom to successive leaders.

It is for his tireless volunteerism that Soehner will be recognized at a ceremony this Sunday at the Elmira Legion. The award will be given out at 6:30 p.m. The ceremony will be preceded by a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Scouts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at Read’s Decorating Centre in Elmira, or by contacting Philippe Bertrand at

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