CAMBRIA – A hulking, 5-foot-tall boulder engraved to honor Cambria’s veterans stands sentinel in front of a new memorial garden in Cambria Town Park created by a native son poised to become an Eagle Scout.
Ben Chatley, who just turned 17, is a senior at Starpoint High School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 8 in Cambria. He said the idea grew from a visit three years ago to the scouts’ National Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill near Washington, D.C.
“We toured Arlington National Cemetery and I was one of two fortunate enough to be chosen to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said. “I came home from that trip and said, ‘Mom, I have my Eagle project.’ ”
He discussed the idea with George J. Bush, a retired Cambria town councilman who still chairs the town’s park committee and is overseeing development of the town’s first park.
“Ben really did a fantastic job,” Bush said. “When we were planning this park, we set aside land for a memorial garden and decided it would be a good spot for this veterans memorial … When Ben first came to me two years ago with his drawings, I said, ‘This is a lot of work.’ He learned an awful lot. He’s a guy to watch in the future. He’ll make great things happen in our community.”
Bush said he has guided a number of Scouts working on their Eagle rank projects at the park, but this was the most comprehensive plan.
“You see how timid these guys are when they start out and then by the end of their projects, they’ve got their chests out when it’s completed, like ‘I did it!’ ” he said.
Chatley’s ambitious plans were approved last year through the Scouts and he set about raising money to finance his dream.
Bush said, “Ben went everywhere asking for donations – from veterans groups to two town boards [Cambria and Wheatfield].”
“I was looking for it to cost around $5,000, but when we got down to it, I collected $1,300 and all of the rest was donated,” Chatley said. “The total project cost was $3,000 and that included everything that was donated.
“I went to the Town of Wheatfield and [Supervisor] Bob Cliffe was very gracious and thought it was a great idea, and the town donated the flagpole,” he said. “I wanted a plaque, but the cost was way too high. The boulder was from town property on Route 31 and the Highway Department moved it here and Mike Darlak from Darlak Sign Co. engraved it for me for free.
“American Concrete gave me close to a 50 percent discount,” he added. “The Town of Cambria hired a finisher to finish it up and stamp the concrete.
“The bench bases were donated by Hahn’s Sales and Supply,” Chatley added. “They were from the early to mid-’90s and they had no use for them anymore. We took off the old composite board and put on some pressure-treated boards and made three benches.
“Getting these donations was important in helping me put this memorial together,” he said.
“Scouts, family and friends and the Town of Cambria really helped a lot. [Superintendent] Jon MacSwan and the Cambria Highway Department really helped a lot.
“This was a big learning experience for me,” he added. “I learned all of the different definitions [in construction], learned to work with politics, had to talk and coerce people into donating and plan for the weather and other town projects. It was a big give-and-take, because the town was doing this as extra work to help make it look as nice as it does.”
The only thing left is to remove the protective covering of straw once the new grass seed takes hold, Chatley said.
His paperwork for his Eagle Scout project has been submitted and he is waiting for it to go through the proper channels.
“It turned out better than I hoped,” said Chatley. He said he lives a couple of minutes from the park and has stopped by at night to admire the light cast by the solar lamp atop the flagpole.
“It gave me a really nice feeling to see that I actually completed this and that it looks so nice,” he said.
He was quick to credit help from Scoutmaster Todd Fisher and Joe Fournier, the troop’s Eagle Scout committee chairman, as well as MacSwan.
Chatley is the son of John and Eileen Chatley. His sister, Allison, 14, is pursuing the Girls Scouts’ highest award.
He said he has veterans on both sides of the family, including a grandfather who served in World War II and an uncle who served in Vietnam.
He is considering majoring in history in college next year, with an eye on coaching swimming – a varsity sport he has participated in for five years at Starpoint.
As he considers colleges, he’s eager to be able to officially tell them he’s an Eagle Scout.
“When I get this, I can say, ‘I’m an Eagle Scout’ and they’ll know that I’m a strong leader, I can push through and lead others and make the school – and [future] companies better,” Chatley said.
This will be the sixth Eagle Scout project completed at the park, according to Bush.
“John McIntosh put in nature trail plaques and boardwalk benches; Glen Gugino supervised the construction of 20 birdhouses for the south and west part of park; Brian Zuck did a memorial tree project, where he advertised and people could purchase metal identification markers placed on concrete bases in front of trees; Kevin Palm put in walking mileage markers and two benches; and Max Mayer did 12 picnic tables – two for the handicapped,” Bush said. “All of these Eagle Scouts contributed a lot to the park. And I have five or six more ideas for other Eagle projects there.
“This lets them take ownership in the park and we get a lot of work for free,” said Bush. “It’s neat to see how organized these kids are. You can really see their leadership skills coming along. These Eagle Scouts will be the new leaders of our community.”