Hunter Odom, a freshman at Springfield’s Glendale High School, sets challenging goals for himself.
He doubled up on honors math classes this year, taking Algebra II and geometry, with the goal of reaching Calculus II his senior year.
A longtime club swimmer and the grandson of a Missouri Hall of Fame swim coach from Springfield, Hunter joined the high school swim team this fall. He practices eight times a week in hopes he’ll someday swim fast enough to qualify for state.
He joined the Boy Scouts of America in second grade, amassing more than 30 badges to become an Eagle Scout this summer — at age 14.
Hunter said scouting has been a big part of his life so far. “It’s a lot about being kind and volunteering.”
More:Future of the Ozarks: Springfield’s Captain Sibley spending senior year on tour with Tony Orlando
Filling free time with goals
Hunter grew up in Springfield, going to Hickory Hills for elementary and middle school. Along the way, he developed a close group of friends. They push each other, applying positive peer pressure.
His mother, Angie Odom, teaches math at Kickapoo High School. His father, Jim, is vice president of operations for a local company and wrote the children’s book “I’m a Brat” about growing up in a military family.
Hunter is the grandson of Sharon and Jim Whytlaw, a math teacher who recently retired after more than three decades as a swimming and diving coach.
He originally joined Boy Scouts because his friends signed up. “It was a fun experience, making s’mores and family campouts.”
Jim Odom recalled the first time he realized his son was hooked on scouting. It was at a Court of Honor, where the scouts are recognized for what they’ve accomplished. He said some scouts reached two or three goals.
“He had, like, 27 things. He walked up there and they were still reading (the list) when he sat back down,” Jim Odom said. “He had this huge smile on his face.”
When the pandemic hit and students were learning virtually at home, Angela Odom told Hunter and his younger sister that they had to complete all school work and spend time on extracurricular interests before they were given free time.
“I told (Hunter) ‘You are not going to be on Xbox for 14 hours a day so you need to pick some merit badges and start doing a couple a week,'” she recalled. “That is how he got his merit badges so quickly.”
Hunter said there were badges, like cooking and first aid, that came easily and others, like composite materials, that were a slog. It required him to memorize a lot of terms and make a brick from scratch.
Serving veterans with Eagle Scout project
Earlier this year, the teenager was ready to tackle becoming an Eagle Scout, for which he had to develop and execute a service project.
“I wanted to do something for the military,” he said.
He considered raising money to send care packages to soldiers, but the shipping cost was prohibitive.
After learning about the Honor Flight of the Ozarks program, which takes veterans to Washington DC to see their memorials, Hunter asked if he could raise money to put together care packages with treats and word games for the trips.
He worked through the Hickory Hills principal to ask elementary students to write letters of thanks to the veterans. He raised more than $1,200.
“I got so many donations, I was able to do two flights worth instead of one, which was my goal,” he said.
The first flight was May 10 and the second was Aug. 23, during the first week of school. He organized an assembly line of scouts to put the packages together and then passed them out to the military veterans.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt,” he said.
At the first one, Hunter spoke to veterans — including those from World War II — and the family members accompanying them on the flights.
“I talked to some of them. Some of them had been in Boy Scouts before and told me stories,” he said.
Hunter said scouting, and the project, taught him a lot about survival and leadership skills.
“I can lead people. Before, I wasn’t someone to step up and guide people but I am a lot more comfortable doing that now,” he said. “And I like being nice to people. It makes me feel good, not about only myself but other people.”
More:Future of the Ozarks: Springfield teen, unable to find a job, launches his own business
Hunter’s parents said they were proud of the way he stepped up and for achieving the Eagle Scout rank at an earlier age than most.
“We were really excited for him,” said Angie Odom. “It’s one of those goals that when they’re younger, you’re not sure they’re going to reach it.”
She said Hunter is good at staying focused and retains information easily.
“He stayed motivated and we encouraged him,” she said. “We knew it was something he could keep with him his entire life and be really proud of.”
His parents said they’ve seen a change in Hunter since he started high school.
In addition to the swim team, the freshman joined the student council, scholar bowl, archery, track and field, and is taking a full slate of honors courses.
“I’ve seen him start to blossom,” said Angie Odom, noting he joined more activities than she expected. “He never wanted to do student council and then came home and said ‘I am going to do student council.'”
Despite swimming all this life, Hunter said he is not the best on the team, at all. But he is inspired by upperclassmen who work hard and hope to gain speed and strength. “I like the teamwork.”
“In the long run, for swimming, I want to get in that fast lane,” he said.
Hunter still has years to decide but he hopes to study computer science in college and pursue a career in coding.
About the series
The Future of the Ozarks series features extraordinary students in the Ozarks published on Mondays.
The series spotlights students with an incredible talent, accomplishment, or passion for helping others. To nominate an individual, email Claudette Riley with details and contact information at [email protected]
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to [email protected]