Gene Schnell, Philmont’s beloved Unit 41, passed away June 9, 2021, in Albuquerque, New Mexico at 84 years old.
Growing up in Scouting, Gene visited Philmont as a teenager as part of a council contingent and volunteered as a Scoutmaster for the National Junior Leader Instructor Camp. As a youth and adult, Gene participated in 11 Philmont treks. Gene was a main contributor in the creation and implementation of the Order of the Arrow Trail Crew (OATC) Trek and served many years as trek advisor. Gene’s dedicated work with the OATC Trek program earned him the Order of the Arrow’s Distinguished Service Award.
Gene spent 36 summers working across the ranch serving in a variety of critical and impactful positions including Program Director at the Philmont Training Center, outfitting services manager — giving his famous Crew Leader Speech to thousands of Scouts getting ready to go on the trail — and backcountry manager. He then took on the role of backcountry distribution and support manager. For 29 summers Gene was Unit 41. He changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of visitors and staff.
In a 2015 PhilNews article, Gene stated, “as backcountry distribution and support manager, I coordinate the movement of vehicles, staff and supplies throughout all areas of Philmont in the most efficient manner possible while maintaining the highest degree of customer service. It’s sort of like playing chess with people and vehicles and supplies. Once I get up in the morning, everything just goes. My schedule changes all the time. Like George S. Patton said, ‘Accept the challenge so that you may experience the exhilaration of victory.’”
And according to Gene, the victory came when he was able to see young people grow and develop. “I can help them realize that they have the capacity to turn dreams into reality,” he said.
Gene was a giant not just in stature but in his legendary status as Unit 41. The staff truly idolized him, and he cared for each one of them. Everybody was important to Gene in his most unique way.
Gene’s love for Philmont showed through his dedicated work ethic and inspiring interaction with staff and participants across the ranch. He stated, “I contribute to Philmont my commitment to excellence by personal example. I like to keep the bar high, so I’m a big believer in the saying ‘excellence will be tolerated but perfection is our goal. Philmont gives me the privilege of exercising servant leadership to the higher degree.”
In 2013, the Philmont Staff Association recognized Gene’s service to Philmont and the staff with its Silver Sage Award, presented to recognize “distinguished and exceptional personal service or contributions of an important and lasting nature by any individual or organization for the benefit of Philmont Scout Ranch.” He was life member of the PSA and a great supporter of the association.
Gene’s voice is loud and clear, “Unit 41, 10-8 Philmont to heaven. Unit 41, Clear.”