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Waukesha man earns rare recognition as 'Distinguished Eagle Scout'

Dwight Cruikshank is one of only 2,000 so named in 45 years

May 19, 2014

It's a list that includes President Gerald Ford, Gov. Scott Walker and astronaut Neil Armstrong, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer — and now the name of Waukesha resident Dwight Cruikshank.

Cruikshank is only the third-ever recipient from the Potawatomi Area Council — which covers parts of Jefferson, Waukesha, Walworth, Washington and Dodge counties — of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. In fact, the Boy Scouts of America have added just over 2,000 names to the recipients of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in its 45-year existence.

Started in 1969 by the National Eagle Scout Association, the award is meant to recognize Eagle Scouts who have distinguished themselves on a national level and have been recognized in their chosen professional field and volunteer service in their communities.

Eagle Scouts who earned the distinction a minimum of 25 years ago are eligible to be recognized.

Cruikshank, who found out that he had been named as a Distinguished Eagle Scout award recipient during a surprise announcement at one of his own Rotary meetings in Mukwonago, said that he had never even heard of the award and had no idea how everyone involved in nominating him hid it.

"I'm just overwhelmed. I don't know whether to be proud or to be humble, but I'm kind of flabbergasted," Cruikshank said. "I went online and started reading about this award and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, here I am with President Ford and Bill Gates. Gosh, what did I do to deserve this?'"

Distinguished scout

Cruikshank grew up in Virginia and entered scouting at a young age when his mother volunteered to be a den mother. His scout leader became an inspiration to him and kept him interested in scouting all the way through to the completion of his Eagle honors.

"The troop I was in was very involved in outdoor activities — canoeing, camping — and we'd go to Canada every other summer and we'd go to scout camp, which was on a river. I think that's what kept me interested. It was just a real outdoor troop," he recalled.

These days, Eagle Scouts are associated with a major community service project as part of the process of attaining that rank, but that particular requirement wasn't in place back when Cruikshank became an Eagle Scout in 1962.

However, while the requirements weren't identical, the idea was the same: to challenge Boy Scouts to do more. To that end, Cruikshank he earned all of his merit badges, held various leadership positions, and completed community service hours.

Distinguished career

Cruikshank went on to medical school at Duke University, where he said he gravitated to becoming a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology. Then, after finishing his internship, he joined the Navy.

"In those days we had the draft and if you were a physician you were going in, period," he said. "I always thought it would be cool to be in the Navy because all my roommates in college were in ROTC and had gone on to be in the Navy. I thought I'd go to Vietnam, which was fine because that's where my buddies all were."

Cruikshank instead got assigned to duties in North Carolina, doing physicals, when he decided to instead complete a residency program. From there Cruikshank went on to work at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and served as a medical officer on the U.S.S. Ponce in 1976.

He remained in the reserves until 1982.

Cruikshank went on to serve on the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, the Medical College of Virginia and the University of Utah School of Medicine. Finally, from 1991 until his retirement in 2009, he served as chairman and Jack A. & Elaine D. Klieger professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

In that time Cruikshank taught more than 5,200 medical students and 250 OB-GYN residents and had delivered approximately 8,000 babies, including four sets of quadruplets in his 40-year career.

"One of the great things about going into obstetrics is most women never forget who delivered their babies," Cruikshank said, recalling a woman who recently sent him a card with a picture of her now-35-year-old triplets. "They will forget who took their tonsils out or who took their appendix out, but they never forget who delivered their babies."

Distinguished service

After his retirement, Cruikshank and his wife Jean were living in Mukwonago and she encouraged him to find something to get involved in in the community.

"Jean started saying to me that 'You know you've spent 21 years down at the Medical College and you don't know anybody in Mukwonago' and of course she knew everybody," Cruikshank said.

When his wife was honored as the Rotary Club of Mukwonago's Citizen of the Year, Cruikshank found his way to be involved.

This year, Cruikshank served as president of the organization and will serve a second term in 2014-2015.

Lasting impact of scouts

He said being a scout not only gave him skills to take his family on camping trips but also skills he used daily in his career.

"I think that in my chosen profession as a surgeon you have to be able to quickly make a decision and stick with it. I think scouting helped me with that," Cruikshank said.

Cruikshank has three sons who became Eagle Scouts. He worked with Troop 26, then sponsored by the Vernon-Big Bend Joint Fire Department.

"We had a lot of boys become Eagle Scouts during that time and they always asked me to say a few words at their ceremonies," Cruikshank recalled. "One of the things I always said was that being an Eagle Scout is a lifetime thing. You can say when you are 70, like I am, that you were a first class scout or you were a life scout but you can say until you're dead that I am an Eagle Scout.

"It sends a great message to anybody — whether you are going into the military or trying to go to school or get a job, somebody can see on your resumé that you are an Eagle Scout. It says to them that this guy finishes what he starts, and that, I feel, is important."

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