'Be prepared,' a BSA plate is in the making

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Alan J. Whittaker knows what it is like to be an Eagle Scout and to have the Eagle license plate.

Whittaker was a member of Troop 1 Conimicut when he attained the rank of Eagle on November 9, 1964. Hardly two weeks later he was at the Department of Motor Vehicles applying for a plate in recognition of his achievement.

It was good timing.

“It was just the beginning of the vanity plate,” Whittaker said Tuesday.

Evidently, he was the first to request “Eagle,” so he got it and has had it on his car ever since. Yes, he still gets asked if he is an Eagle Scout.

Now Whittaker is on a quest for all those – not just Eagles – to display their affection and pride in the Boy Scouts of America. He is spearheading the Narragansett Council BSA campaign to get the 600 pre-orders needed for the state to produce the red, white and blue plate he designed. It’s taken Whittaker nine years to get this far.

Whittaker was marching with other Eagles in a national jamboree parade in West Virginia when he learned some states have BSA plates. He wondered if Rhode Island might also offer scout plates and contacted Ralph Mollis, who was then Secretary of State. Whittaker learned he would need to get a legislator to introduce a bill and that the measure would require General Assembly approval. He started the process, which turned to take far longer than he ever imagined.

He found support for a plate. Bills were introduced. But then he also learned that bills die in committee and that they may make it through the House but, because the session draws to a close, they may never get to the Senate. Then he would start over. Johnston Rep. Stephen Ucci, who is also an Eagle, became one of his allies, introducing the measure in 2015. From there the momentum grew. Senator Dennis Algiere from Westerly introduced the bill in the Senate along with a number of co-sponsors including Warwick Senator Michael McCaffrey, who was a member of Troop 1 Conimicut when Whittaker was scoutmaster.

Whittaker has made scouting a part of his life, even as a member of the Army while stationed in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. With approval of General William Westmoreland, another Eagle, Whittaker contacted the leader for the Vietnamese Boy Scouts and worked with scout leaders in Bam-Me-Thuot and Da-Nang. He helped with staging a scout jamboree in Da-Nang in 1970. When he returned stateside he was stationed at Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he served as a liaison for the scout leader and assistant scoutmaster to the base troop.

After being discharged in 1971, Whittaker returned to Rhode Island to work for Esposito Jewelry before moving on to Paul Arpin Van Lines. Not surprisingly, he stayed involved with scouting as the scoutmaster to his former Conimicut troop. He helped with other scout troops and started a new troop in Lakewood. He has held council positions and is the recipient of numerous scouting awards including the Silver Beaver Award from the Narragansett Council, the highest scouting award an adult can receive.

Retiring from Arpin three years ago has given Whittaker the time to focus on the Narragansett Council license plate. The legislation gained approval in 2018 and he is out marketing pre-orders at $41.50 for the plate. So far, the council has 75 pre-orders towards the mandatory 600 required before the DMV puts the plate into production.

Of the $41.50, $20 will go to the Narragansett Council. Whittaker envisions the plate as becoming a revenue source for the council. What’s more, he believes the plate he designed could be introduced in other states, thereby providing revenues to those groups.

While other state BSA plates highlight the scout badge, the Rhode Island plate downplays the badge that is in the upper left corner. The plate is divided into three triangles of red, white and blue – the colors of the Eagle Badge. Whittaker said they could also represent the “sails” of the Sea Scouts, the V of the scout neckerchief, the V of Varsity and Venture Crew Scouts and, if turned on end, an E for Explorer Scouts.

Orders for the plate are as simple as going to narragansettBSA.org/plate.

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