OREM, Utah – The manner in which the 86-year-old answered the phone spoke volumes.
"And a beautiful sun-shiny good morning to you," the silver-haired man said with sincere charm.
My jaw dropped. What did he just say?
Seconds later, when I was confident it wasn't a recording, I asked how he was doing. His reply ignited laughter.
"If I was any better I would have to pay luxury tax," he said with a chuckle.
Who is this guy?
Meet Bill Burch, lifetime Scouting advocate, master wood carver and now service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This humble, good-humored man is widely known for his expert wood carving skills. Over a span of 50 years, Burch has nearly carved and painted 48,500 bolo ties — little sculpted characters — and shared them with thousands of Scouts around the world.
"My wife thinks I am absolutely insane, that I spend as many hours as I do here whittling," Burch said. "But for the creative juices that flow in my system, it's very satisfying. To make something like that and to present it to a boy and have his eyes fill with tears, it's very satisfying."
Burch started whittling as a young boy. In the 1960s when he became involved in the Scouting leadership, he began making neckerchief slides and bolo ties for Scouts who advanced to a new rank or earned their Eagle.
"It has boomed ever since," Burch said. "It's a way of doing a good turn daily."
As he awards these hand-made treasures, Burch makes each scout pledge to live the principles of scouting, serve an LDS mission and serve others every day.
The message has hit its target in many cases. Burch said he was attending a meeting when a recently called stake president came to the pulpit and spoke directly to him. The new church leader recalled how Burch had given him a bolo tie as a 12-year-old.
"I am here to report I earned my Eagle, I served a mission and now I am a stake president. I want you to know that it was your interview that meant more to me than anything else," Burch said, recounting the words spoken.
"It just tears at the heart strings," the creative carver said.
Burch's bolo ties have been worn in public by prophets and general authorities, as well as U.S. presidents and first ladies, which thrilled the self-described "old punk, worn-out scouter." But sharing bolo ties with underprivileged scouts in Russia and Japan has meant a little more.
"They have absolutely nothing. To see a tear run down their face … We're told the choicest of the spirit have been held back for these latter-days, I want to testify that is so true."
Burch was recently called to be a service missionary for the LDS Church. He is assigned to help the Young Men general presidency and be at their beckon call, he said, which means attending world jamborees and other fun scouting events. That's alright with the whittling wizard. And when he goes, he will be sure to have plenty of bolo ties to motivate Scouting achievement.
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