By Kaylee Lindenmuth
ALTAMONT - Surrounded by family, friends, local officials, and fellow scouts around a campfire, a Shenandoah scout became the 18th in the borough's history to earn scouting's highest honor.
The Court of Honor ceremony, held Thursday evening at the Whippoorwill Dam near Frackville, recognized Yang Heppe's achievement of the Eagle Scout rank.
"Eagle Scout is the highest advancement rank in Boy Scouting," read the program distributed at the ceremony. "Since 1912, more than two million Boy Scouts have earned the Eagle Scout rank. In the words of the Eagle Scout Promise, Eagles do their best each day to make their training an example, their rank and their influence count strongly for better Scouting, and for better citizenship in their troop, in their community, and in their contacts with other people."
The ceremony began with an invocation, led by Pastor Mindy Heppe, Yang's mother, followed by an introduction by Lesley Davis and John Mickey, troop leaders, and a word from troop sponsor, Cub Scout Master, and American Legion member Gordon Slater, who revealed a plaque recognizing Shenandoah's Eagle Scouts.
"Back in 2016, Devin Davis made his Eagle Scout, and I had the honor to help with that, and also I had the honor to help Yang for his, so it was a great honor," said Slater. "But the Davis's got this nice plaque that has all of the Eagle Scouts on it throughout the years. As you can see, the last name there is Yang's name. Every time someone from Shenandoah makes Eagle Scout, we'll get their name and the year that they made Eagle Scout engraved on the plaque."
Slater continued to say that the plaque will be mounted at the A.P. Damato American Legion, the meeting place for Shenandoah's Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
"When the parents and the other scouts come in for the meetings, they can look at the accomplishments that these gentlemen made early in their lives," said Slater. "The Legion is very proud to be the sponsor of both the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. On behalf of the American Legion, Yang, we'd like to say congratulations. Making Eagle Scouts is a big honor."
In the absence of borough Mayor Andrew J. Szczyglak, Slater then spoke as a representative of the borough, as borough councilman.
"I know the mayor would be proud of Yang, he's proud of what these young boys do. It's really good for Shenandoah, good image, because, as we all know, the kids get a bad image all the time in the newspaper and whatever, and I'd like to thank (Kaylee) for coming here, (she) does a lot, (she) puts a lot of stuff on The Shenandoah Sentinel on Facebook so these young men could get some recognition," said Slater. "On behalf of the Mayor, and the Borough Council, once again, congratulations (Yang) for your accomplishments in making Eagle Scout."
Slater was followed by State Senator David G. Argall (R-29), who was also an Eagle Scout.
"Looking at that plaque, Yang, you and I have something in common. I think, it looked like maybe you were the 16th or 17th on that list. I'm Eagle Scout #15 from Troop 76 in Tamaqua, and what is important about that is they're now in the nineties," said Argall. "I had something to do with some of them, including, I think #83 is my son, and I'll say to your mom, that was much more stressful than getting mine."
"I've told my parents, I've told audiences all over the district I represent in the state senate, which goes from McAdoo all the way to Womelsdorf, that one of the best things that my parents ever did for me was sign me up for this program. I have learned so much, I have met so many people, literally all over the world," said Argall. "I did scout stuff in northern Bavaria. It was so much fun, because I learned a long time ago, if this program isn't fun, the kids don't stay with it, and I learned that lesson long and hard as a cub scout leader, and as a boy scout leader, and so I suspect your leaders have already told you, but, wherever you go, whether it's right here in northern Schuylkill County, or any place on the planet, there is a troop that could use your help in the future to help other people learn what you have learned, and hopefully have just as much fun as you've had."
"Congratulations, young man, keep up the good work," Argall said in conclusion, presenting a citation from the State Senate to Yang.
Davis and Mickey then returned to speak of Yang's "Trail to Eagle Scout," telling stories of their experiences with him throughout scouting.
"When I first met Yang, he came in as a Tiger Scout, just like any other kid," said Davis. "The first thing that impressed me and has stuck with me all of these years is the Pinewood Derby Car. It was only my second Pinewood Derby I ever ran, and trying to tell the kids 'It means more if you do it yourself, or as much of it as you can.' Yang, to this day, and that even includes my own son (Devin Davis), was the only one I have ever seen whittle his own Pinewood Derby car at the age of 7."
Throughout the Trail to Eagle presentation, the two presented symbolic gifts, the first two being a block of wood and a pocket knife, with Davis saying, "So let's see what else you could whittle, Yang."
The two continued to note that, despite disabilities, Yang took the same route as the other scouts, and Mickey recalled purchasing a pair of closed-toe sandals for Yang, who insisted "sandals were the way to go" for scout camp, where open-toed footwear wasn't permitted.
"It was amazing watching you go through camp, go wherever you needed to go, to see you trip over the stump that nobody else had ever seen, and get right up and go. Nothing stopped you," said Mickey.
Jane Kruse, Schuylkill County Master Gardener, noted that Yang's Eagle Scout project was the development of a butterfly garden at Gillingham Charter School, Pottsville, followed by Michele Day recalling her membership and participation in the board of review for Yang's Eagle Scout application.
Prior to the presentation of the Eagle Pin, Mentor Pin, and Mother's Pin, as well as Yang's remarks, came the recognition of Eagle Scouts in attendance, and the Scout Oath and Law.
Eagle Scouts in attendance along with Yang were Argall and Joseph Engle, of Shenandoah.
John Mickey was presented the Mentor's Pin, stating it's the second he'd been awarded, while mother Mindy Heppe was presented the Mother's Pin.
"Boy scouting has played such a big part in my life. It has influenced a lot of my early life, and the morals and the values that are taught in boy scouting have influenced the person that I am today," Yang said in his final remarks. "It also has fostered my love for the outdoors and the environment. I still go hiking every once in a while, and canoeing and kayaking and all that fun stuff."
"A word of advice to the upcoming scouts, the trail to eagle is like hiking up a mountain. It can be long and hard sometimes, it could be difficult, but once you reach the summit, all the bad times seem good, and the good times even better. It's well worth it," Yang said in conclusion.
The Court of Honor ceremony concluded with a benediction and retirement of the colors.
"This is the prayer I said at Devin's (Eagle Scout Court of Honor), and I like it because it's wonderfully short, and that's only part of it. It also is a world kind of prayer, because it was written by Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld," said Mindy Heppe. "'For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes. Amen.'"
Following the ceremony attendees stuck around as the sun set, sharing stories while having S'mores, hot dogs, and pierogies.
Shenandoah Eagle Scouts
1942 - Louis Twardzik
1961 - John Sosna, Jr.
1970 - John G. Engle
Joseph A. Engle
1972 - Joseph Bellucci
Daniel M. Nicholas
Joseph S. Hyduk
1973 - Edward J. Kolonsky
1978 - Bruce L. Matta
1980 - John J. Miravich
Mark A. Miravich
1987 - Frank Racis
Joseph A. Crea
Michael C. Arbushites
2009 - Edward Chowanes
2016 - Devin Davis
2018 - Yang Heppe