By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – Each year the Knox Trail Council Boy Scouts of America chooses someone as its “Good Scout Honoree for Westborough.” This year's nominee, Lester Hensley, certainly fulfills the tenets of who the council seeks to honor – someone who has “demonstrated integrity and genuine concern for others in both their professional and personal lives.” As CEO and president of EMSEAL Joint Systems Ltd., he is a second generation head of the Westborough-based business. Hensley has devoted countless hours to his community as a volunteer with youth sports, school organizations, and other community groups. He currently chairs the Westborough Planning Board and the town's Economic Development Committee.
The father of two boys, he also volunteered for a time with the Boy Scouts. But as honored as he was, he said, to be chosen as the “Good Scout” nominee; the decision to accept the award came only after great reflection.
“I wrestled with the decision because I was so vexed by the Boy Scouts of America's policy of discrimination against gays,” he said.
Scouting played a significant role in his own life, but while serving as a volunteer for his oldest son's involvement more than a decade ago this stance became instrumental, he said, in his decision to suspend volunteering with the scouts. He did not see, he noted, how he could explain to his boys and their gay family and friends why his family was involved in an organization that practiced discrimination. ?At the same time, because the lessons of scouting are so important, Hensley completely understands others personal decisions to remain involved.
Hensley felt so strong about the national organization's policy that he actually wrote a letter to the Knox Council explaining his unease and said he would understand if they decided to choose someone else. But he was reassured, he said, by the council's leaders and that the Knox Trail Council has always “operated under an enlightened policy of inclusion.”
Hensley's passionate feelings root back to another issue of discrimination ?apartheid – which he witnessed growing up in South Africa. Although he had a “privileged white upbringing,” his parents, he noted, had always “gently and carefully” stressed the lessons of tolerance in a climate where doing so could bring on strong government retribution.
At age 14 his family moved to Westborough where he and his father, Peter, eventually located their business, EMSEAL. But it was not until Hensley was a University of Massachusetts student where he “fully interacted with black South Africans as peers.”
It was then, he said, that he saw on a very personal level just how deeply the roots of that policy of discrimination, solely based on genes, had impacted his fellow students in such a hurtful and negative way. ?He will share more about these experiences at the award ceremony.
Scouting has many valuable lessons to teach, he noted, and as such, should be made available to all children and adults, regardless of sexual orientation.
“And the opportunity must come without the lesson that morality can be parsed with a rationale that has no more place in today's society than does the policy of South Africa's thankfully defunct, “apartheid,”” he added.
Hensley is not the only one in his family dedicated to community service. His wife, Jody, whom he met in college, serves on the School Committee. After working in several positions using her background in political science, she put her career on hold when their son Benedict was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Benedict, who is a sophomore at Westborough High School, is now doing well managing his condition, Hensley said, and has even spoken at local events to share his story. Jody is also an active volunteer with various school groups and local and national organizations dealing with substance abuse and mental health treatment.
The Hensleys” older son, Jordan, a 2011 graduate of Westborough High School, is now a junior at Oberlin College, in Oberlin, OH.
Past Westborough recipients of the Good Scout Award include John Hero, Henry Danis, Charlotte Bramley, James E. Tashjian, Robert A. Klugman, M.D., Lydia Goldblatt, James A. Harvey, Kristina Nilson Allen, Nelson P. Ball, Herbert S. Alexander, Jack M. Wilson, Ph.D., Rod Jané and Ryan Maloney.
“I am extremely honored particularly given my peers in service who have been honored before me,” Hensley said. “I am also grateful that they have embraced my message.”
Hensley will be honored at this year's Good Scout dinner Wednesday, Nov. 6 at the Doubletree Hotel, Westborough. All are invited to sponsor or attend the event. For more information visit http://www.ktc-bsa.org/goodscout.htm.