By JOSHUA THOMAS
For the Recorder
CANAJOHARIE -- On Saturday afternoon, three members of Canajoharie's Boy Scout Troop 81 earned Eagle Scout designation during a ceremony held at the Canajoharie High School.
The scouts -- Bailey Pitonza, 18, a 2013 graduate of Canajoharie Central School currently enrolled at Clarkson University majoring in engineering studies; David Wilday, 17, of Fort Plain Central School's class of 2014; and Paul Wohlberg, 18, of Canajoharie Central School's class of 2014 -- have been in pursuit of Eagle designation since becoming scouts at 10 or 11 years old in fifth grade. Ascending the ranks -- through Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle -- has taken each devoted scout nearly a decade.
"I've been working on it so long, it's a great reward for the time I've put into scouting," Pitonza said.
One of the greatest challenges faced by Eagle Scout contenders is to complete a community service project that improves local life.
Pitonza's project involved the creation of four roadside welcome signs to be installed in Palatine Bridge -- one at each Route 5S entrance, one on Route 10, and, an extra, to possibly be installed on the bridge crossing the Mohawk River. Each sign includes a flower box at the bottom. Once the signs are installed, a discussion will take place regarding who will provide and care for the flowers planted in them.
"I met with the Palatine village board and Mayor James Post and discussed a variety of ideas, and it seemed to be the one I wanted to go with," Pitonza said.
Construction of the signs took a total of six months.
Pitonza said the long progression from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout has also involved earning both rank and merit badges; the rank badges signaling a successful ascension, and the merit badges earned for the various activities that help the scouts move forward.
Paul Wohlberg's project was to redo the patio garden outside the atrium of the Canajoharie High School. During Saturday's ceremony, the garden was visible the entire time, blooming just behind the wall of windows behind the event's speakers.
Wohlberg's project nearly involved the creation of a terrace next to the Nellis Pool -- which was originally discussed with his former superintendent Richard Rose, though the project was altered with the input of current Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw.
It ended up being good in the long run, Wohlberg said.
Wohlberg said the garden took six months to install, completed in September 2012, with the assistance of school staff members including grounds Superintendent Gary May, Troop 81 members and local volunteers.
David Wilday -- a Fort Plain student and a member of Canajoharie Boy Scout Troop 81 because Fort Plain didn't have a Boy Scout troop at the time he was ready to move up from a Cub Scout -- created a new sign and compost bins for Fort Plain's Community Garden at Wiles Park as his community service project.
Canajoharie/Fort Plain special education Director Theodore Arndt expressed a need, and Wilday responded, working throughout the winter, leading three to four other scouts per work session, to create numerous compost bins, paint the sign of the former Fort Plain tourist information booth now used as a storage shed, and create a rack for hanging tools such as shovels and rakes.
Though the new Eagle Scouts were proud of the accomplishments that helped them earn their official designation, all three agreed that one of the most important honors that comes with Eagle designation is the opportunity to provide a good example for the scouts who rank below them.
Pitonza said, "When I joined, one of the first events I attended was an Eagle Scout ceremony for someone else. It was an inspiration to me, so I'm hoping that me earning it helps the other scouts."
Wilday said, "It's your job to be a role model to them [younger scouts] -- to help them be able to achieve their Eagle Scout. I think it's a great honor. It's a lot of work to get to it and a lot of responsibility."
Wohlberg said, "I like being a role model. I strive to be a role model, and I hope they get something out of what I've done and out of my scouting."
Saturday's ceremony featured speeches by current and former Boy Scout Troop 81 members and leaders, along with the awarding of "mentor pins," which scouts provided to those who've helped them along the way. The scouts also recognized their parents and their support with "parent pins."