San Soga has his first real brush with the outdoors growing up in Japan during World War II. “We had to evacuate the city and go to the backcountry,” Soga recalled. “We didn’t have running water…[or] any electricity.” After the ware, that experience led him to join the Boy Scouts of Japan, where he rose to the highest rank of Fuji Scout. At a World Scout Jamboree, Soga me a Japanese-American scout who later invited him to this country.
Soga moved to Santa Barbara in 1963, married his sweetheart, Donna, and worked as a mechanical engineer. In 1976, he read that a lcoal troop was looking for a scoutmaster. Boy Scout Troop 26 turned out to be a small group of boys without much discipline. “I hate to say it, but it didn’t really look like a Boy Scout troop. …It was a bunch of hoodlums running around,” said Soga. During his tenure as scoutmaster, Soga transformed the troop and, in the process, hundreds of young lives.
Troop 26 became and remains one of the region’s top units. Its outdoor activities have included weeklong treks in the Sierras, multi-day bike rides, and white-water rafting on Kern River. And Soga, now 82, is still going strong as an assistant scoutmaster. This January, he joined a backpacking trip to Mammoth, where scouts made their own snowshoes to trek through six-foot-deep snow. Soga has also always instilled in his scouts the importance of serving their community. By his calculations, his unit has performed 805 hours of community service so far this year. But that doesn’t include the scouts at this year’s Rescue Mission’s Thanksgiving Feast, serving pumpkin pies they baked themselves. “It’s not always pretty,” Soga admitted, since some of the pies are often a little bit burned, “but they don’t care,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for I don’t know how many years. … You add it up together, and it’s worth a lot to the community.”