Ron Ulseth (left) with American Legion Past National Commander Bob Turner. Photo by Charlie Tucker

Boys Nation alum revisits 28 years later

Ron Ulseth, a professor at Iron Range Engineering in Virginia, Minn., was in Washington, D.C., in July for business. One evening during his stay, Ulseth stepped outside and the humid, hot temperature brought back memories of a time when he experienced similar weather — Boys Nation. And not too long after having the flashback, Ulseth was walking through the same doors that changed his life 28 years ago.

"After having the flashback, I remembered it was the last week of July so I Googled ‘Boys Nation 2011’ on my phone and scanned the staff photos and saw (American Legion Past National Commander) Bob Turner, who was my section counselor in 1983 when I was a delegate. So I immediately took the metro to Marymount University."

Once Ulseth arrived at Marymount, he watched the Boys Nation delegates debate bills, reminisced with PNC Bob Turner, and shared memories as a delegate and junior counselor with Legion staff.

Q: What do you remember most as a Boys Nation delegate?

A: I remember all the group activities, people giving speeches and good camaraderie. I remember lots of good friendships, connections and good times.

And I remember a man named Owen Cason; he was in his early 70s and a legend. Owen would get up every morning during Boys Nation and walk up and down the hallways playing reveille (a military bugle call) on his trombone. Owen made the news when we were at Boys Nation because just before coming to the program he had ran his millionth step up Florida’s Capitol building. He had been running up and down the steps of the 22-story building since its completion in 1977.

Q: Did you meet any prominent politicians during Boys Nation?

A: I met President Ronald Reagan in the White House and Senator John McCain spoke to us about his days as a POW in the Vietnam War. My Boys Nation roommate, Delray Brooks, was an All-American basketball player from Indiana, and I followed him throughout his college career. I too was a Boys Nation junior counselor in 1985 and 1986. And in 1986, Beau Biden (son of Vice President Joe Biden) was a delegate and I was his counselor.

Q: Many of the tours the delegates take around Washington have changed over the years. As a delegate, what trips did you partake in?

A: We toured the J. Edgar Hoover building, which is the FBI headquarters; went to the Marine Barracks where the soldiers put on a tremendous parade; and we watched a patriotic ceremony on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial.

Q: Do you keep in contact with anyone from Boys Nation?

A: I keep in contact with a former Boys Nation senior counselor named Doc Bloom. I remember running with him one time when I was a junior counselor and there was a penny on the ground and he picked it up and put it in his pocket. He said, "You know Ron, every time I find a penny I donate a dollar to my church." So the running joke for the past 20 years is that I put 10 cents in Doc’s Christmas card and write, "If you happen to find any money, be sure to donate to your church."

Q: What or who prompted you to join the Navy?

A: Boys Nation was a tremendous experience. It was a time of patriotism, and it really was an impetus for me to join the military. My parents were not in the military, but when I came to Boys Nation I met all these Legionnaires and heard their stories.

My last year as a junior counselor was in July 1986, and I joined the Navy in February 1987. So it was truly the experience I had at Boys Nation that prompted me to join. I spent six years on active duty and continued on for 19 years in the Navy reserve and just retired this year as a commander. And in 1989 there was a conflict in Panama, which meant that I was eligible to join The American Legion. I came home on Christmas leave, and my Boys State chairman called me up and said "Ron, you can join the Legion." I’ve now been the Minnesota Boys State chairman of Post 60 in Grand Rapids since 1991.