In his youth, Manuel B. Ortiz never participated in Boy Scouting. In fact, he remained unacquainted with it until February 1999, nine months before his retirement from the accounting and auditing section of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Only then, in order to help provide a father figure for two young sons of a woman friend, did he become involved in Scouting. Yet by now, just seven years later, he has been given the Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor that the Boy Scouts of America can bestow.
Along the way, Manny (as he prefers to be called by everyone, including the boys with whom he works), has led more than 40 of his young charges to the highest level of attainment that the Scout program has for its members: the rank of Eagle Scout. To earn this distinction, a Boy Scout must earn 21 merit badges in different career and hobby areas that prepare him for adulthood and aid the community as well. “Eagle Scouts do more for their communities by age 18 than most people do in their whole lives,” says a fellow local Scout leader. Statistically, not one Scout in 100 achieves this mark--making Manny's accomplishment all the more remarkable.
“Every one of them is like a son to me,” Manny has said, and his wise, loving leadership has not only inspired his boys to excellence but has steered them away from drugs, crime, dropout, rebellion and a host of other pitfalls waiting to ensnare the young. “Manny has led these Scouts to the realization that true self-worth can be earned only by the hard work of achieving a worthwhile goal,” says one of many letters of support. “They are tomorrow's leaders.”
Beyond his dedication as a Scoutmaster and higher-level leader in the program, Manny has made many more contributions in other activities. He volunteers to mentor students at Tesuque Pueblo and E.J. Martinez Elementary School. He is part of the Kiwanis Club team that builds Zozobra each year. He is very active in his church.
“I could never become an Eagle Scout,” he says modestly, “but each time one of these boys does, it's as if it were me.” His many supporters, however, are emphatic in their praise. “Manny Ortiz is more than a man,” says one typical letter. “He's a phenomenon!”