Last summer, Tyrone Boy Scout Cody Eckels, 15, set out to find an Eagle Scout Project. What followed was the transformation of Soldiers Park in a few short months as Cody's "Eagle For Freedom" project came to life through hard work, determination and the help of friends, family and the community.
"I love talking to veterans," Cody said last week as the final touches were put on the project. As far as Eagle Scout projects go, it's as big as they get.
The original plan called for six flag poles around an existing boulder with plaques representing the names of Tyrone servicemen who lost their lives, but that would have left out the adjacent doughboy statue and wouldn't have looked symmetrical, Cody said.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Cody Eckels sits in Tyrone’s Soldiers Park with his Eagle Scout project. He created the memorial plaza by selling 620 bricks honoring veterans for a fundraiser to pay items in the space.
From there, the wall was added, as another flagpole along with walkways.
"It started with the flag pole and lights it was around $12,000." said Cody's father, Joe Eckels. "You know how hard it is to raise $12,000? It's a lot of spaghetti, popcorn and Sheetz coupons."
The idea to sell engraved bricks so families could honor local veterans to raise money came from a family friend, Cody said.
In all, $74,094.71 in cash was raised for the project, most coming from the sale of about 620 engraved bricks.
"It just grew," Cody, a freshman at Tyrone Area High School, said, adding another $11,285 came from nonmonetary contributions. "Tons and tons of in-kind donations people gave us."
Since the ground-breaking Oct. 6, 2012, Cody has been working virtually nonstop to not only raise the money needed while organizing and leading the work parties. In all, Cody, the Scouts and professional tradesmen needed to put in more than 2,300 hours.
It took two days for masons with Steinbugl and Haigh Masonry to lay the 4,000 brick pavers, Cody said. Stelco Electric, as well as Penelec, were among area businesses such as Bennetti's Tree Service, Kimmen Plumbing and Heating and Quality First Carpentry that pitched in to bring Cody's vision to life.
His least favorite tool used during the project, Cody said without hesitation, was the digging bar. Raising the money was also not Cody's favorite task. Instead, he said he preferred working with his hands.
"Just talking to the veterans, that was my favorite thing," Cody added.
"It brings tears to your eyes when they go in and start reading their names on the bricks, their dad's names, their uncle's names," said Cody's mom, Candy Eckels.
Cary Simpson, owner Tyrone's WTRN AM 1340, has broadcast Memorial Day services from the park since he started the radio station in 1955. Simpson said he spent time with Cody on Sunday going to area cemeteries as veteran honor guards held graveside ceremonies, and said Cody is a sincere and likeable young man who managed to add to Tyrone's already historic Soldier's Park without taking away from the peacefulness of the spot where families and veterans come to solemnly remember those who gave everything.
"I think it's very nice the original things have been preserved - nothing's been removed except for one or two trees - and the bricks are a very wonderful tribute by different people," said Simpson, 86, a Navy veteran of World War II. "There's a brick for a brigadier general and a brick for the privates that lost their lives."
The soil from 14 local cemeteries where Tyrone service members are buried was spread around the boulder where the doughboy statue rests when the statue was moved from the site of the Railroad Park to Soldier's Park after World War II, and that dirt has been preserved and returned to the park, Cody said.
"There's a couple other surprises that will be there for Memorial Day," Cody said, in reference to some secret additions that include a veiled statue that will be revealed at today's 11 a.m. ceremony.
"To raise enough money you had to hit the street hard and you had to hit it running," Joe Eckels said, noting that over a seventh month period Cody was out several nights a week giving presentations to various groups and organizations.
Troop 300 Scoutmaster Kim Patterson said he knew the timeline for the project would be a challenge, but he said Cody is a Scout who isn't afraid to take on a challenge and do what it takes to see it through.
"Cody's been a great leader in the project," Patterson said, adding the young man organized and lead the work parties and fundraising required to get the job done on time.
Former Troop 300 Eagle Scouts turned out for one of the many work parties, giving the more than 20 who attended a chance to reunite as well work on the project, Cody said.
"The community helped out a lot," Cody said, adding mostly it was from individuals and veterans. "It was huge."
Tyrone Mayor Bill Fink said seeing such a project from a young person is very encouraging.
"As we honor our Veterans on Memorial Day by dedicating to them a magnificent memorial, I am very encouraged about America's future," Fink said. "We are passing freedom's torch to young men and woman like (Life Scout Cody Eckels) and it must be noted the next generation will have some big challenges facing them and it will be our youth carving America's future."
Fink said as a Life Scout, Cody is expected to be a role model for other Scouts, and the project demonstrates his ability to lead and excel.
"It is obvious to me this young man has not only met but exceeded those expectations," Fink, a Vietnam veteran, said. "Life Scout Cody Eckels, I thank you on behalf of our Veterans and our community for a project well done."
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.