SOUTH RUSSELL — One thing that scouts and veterans have in common is a sense of duty and honor.
Life Scout Charlie Kukla, 17, a senior at Chagrin Falls High School and a resident of South Russell, needed a community project to apply for Eagle Scout status, so he decided that it was the perfect opportunity to honor veterans in Geauga County and across the United States.
Charlie brainstormed with a number of people including Scout adviser Fred Sanford, South Russell Mayor William Koons and South Russell Service Department member Tim Alder to figure out a project that would benefit the community. They came up with the idea of installing a memorial at the village’s main intersection devoted to veterans that would be made of stone and engraved with the names of all the branches of the U.S. military.
The project reflected the tone and benefit to the community that the group envisioned. Charlie said he thought it would be a good way to honor some of his family members like a great-uncle who served in Vietnam and a great-grandfather who served in World War II.
“I’ve known other veterans, just in general,” Charlie said. “It’s been a really cool experience to be able to do something for them, especially because I have that connection.”
As a Life Scout, Charlie is just below Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank. Charlie needed to complete a community project before his 18th birthday, which is April 6, to fulfill his requirements to apply to be an Eagle Scout.
The timing of a winter installation created a hurdle for the team — frozen ground.
Charlie and his crew worked to dig a foot-deep hole to house the memorial, before hitting hard, frozen, Northeast Ohio clay.
“It took us bringing over a backhoe and digging with that,” Mayor Koons said. “Our service department has been able to work with Charlie and show him things. Between digging the hole and pouring concrete, it’s like, ‘Oh, good, we got a free truckload of concrete. How do you get from the road to here? Well, I’ve got to get three guys and three wheelbarrow loads,’ and he gets to learn all this stuff.”
The truckload of concrete came courtesy of R.W. Sidley, and Sheffield Monuments created the memorial stone itself. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also have made financial contributions to the project, and the South Russell Village Women’s Committee maintains the flowers around the memorial. A spotlight has been added recently for increased visibility.
While the community pitched in with finances and supplies, and Mayor Koons and Mr. Alder helped on the South Russell side of things, Mr. Sanford helped Charlie ever since the two met on a scout trip.
“Mr. Sanford is my Eagle adviser and mentor on the project,” Charlie said. “I first got to know him on my first High Adventure trip to Northern Tier. He is a person whose guidance has been invaluable and someone who I respect immensely.”
Charlie said so many people played a role in this coming together, and because of that Charlie’s parents and the team are hosting an event on March 9 at South Russell Village Hall to thank the volunteers and donors, and to officially dedicate the memorial.
The gathering will feature light snacks and a presentation from Charlie about the project. Mayor Koons is looking forward to the event.
“It will be the VFW, American Legion, and the scouts — young scouts,” Mayor Koons said. “It’s always good for the young scouts to see how you work your way up and how you get something done.”
Charlie is looking forward to thanking everyone who helped him get his own ‘something done’ and achieve his goal.
“All of them were very enthusiastic about being willing to donate toward the project— it was awesome to see that support,” Charlie said. “They were more than happy to give their time to do it. The support of all the donors and volunteers was amazing.”
You can see the memorial at the corner of Chillicothe Road (Route 306) and Bell Street in South Russell Village.