Suquamish man was the face of Scouting

SUQUAMISH — One of the most recognizable Boy Scouts in the organization’s 100-year history was never a Scout.

Fifty years ago, North Kitsap resident Thornton Percival’s face and lanky body were made famous in prints by Norman Rockwell, who used him as a model for a series of Boy Scouts illustrations. Percival, in full Scout uniform, appeared on handbook covers, calendars and even a U.S. postage stamp painted by the legendary illustrator.

His image became a model for a generation of Scouts, but Percival was just that — a model. The boy from Stockbridge, Mass., never joined the Boy Scouts.

It’s a lingering regret for Percival, now a Suquamish lawyer, who has gained respect for Boy Scouts of America from five decades of signing autographs and speaking to Boy Scout troops. Percival was a guest at the Kitsap Friends of Scouting Leadership Breakfast in Bremerton Wednesday, an annual fundraiser made special this year with the celebration of the group’s 100th anniversary.

“I feel like a Scout now,” Percival said. “It’s a great organization.”

Percival wasn’t a Scout but he fit the part well.

In 1957 Rockwell plucked 12-year-old Percival and a few other children from the local elementary school to use as models for magazine illustrations.

“At that point I looked like the all-American kid,” Percival said.

Being picked for a Rockwell painting wasn’t an unusual honor in Stockbridge, where the illustrator lived and painted. The west Massachusetts town was popular with summer vacationers, but its population dwindled to less than 5,000 in the winter.

From his studio Rockwell would scan the passing crowd for promising faces and dash down to hire models from the street. He filled his folksy magazine scenes with Stockbridge characters. Cops, doctors and mischievous kids were all familiar.“Every time you picked up a Saturday Evening Post, you’d see a friend on the cover,” Percival said.

Percival made his own magazine debut in an advertisement for Crest toothpaste. In a two-page spread in Ladies’ Home Journal, Percival is baring his gums and white teeth with a gawky grin, above a logo that reads “Look mom — no cavities!”

Later, Percival starred in the series of illustrations Rockwell made in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Boy Scouts of America. A painting for the sixth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook shows him mid-stride on a wilderness trek, with a camping scene in the background. Rockwell tucked books under Percival’s feet to hold him in the right position. Boy Scouts of America printed 3.9 million copies of the guide over five years.

The most widely published of the Rockwell series was a picture used on a United States Postal Service four-cent commemorative stamp. In the more than 120 million reproductions of the tiny illustration, a 14-year-old Percival is staring purposefully ahead while holding up the three-finger Boy Scout salute with his right hand.

By the time Percival appeared on the 50th anniversary Boy Scouts calendar, Rockwell decided the young model was becoming too recognizable and moved on to new faces.

The stamp and prints made Percival a celebrity among Boy Scouts and stamp collectors. Requests for autographs flooded the town’s post office.

It was the handbook cover that made the biggest impression on Doug Hallock of Kingston, who became an Eagle Scout in 1968.

Hallock said the goal-oriented handbook, and the Boy Scouts organization, taught him lessons that have stuck with him for life.

For a generation, the striding, smiling figure of Percival was a doorway into Scouting.

“It made a great impact on a lot of kids,” Hallock said. “It was the outdoor adventure that sparked kids to open up the cover.”

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