Olean will soon be overrun by a flock of eagles, Eagle Scouts that is. Troop 617 expects five of its members to reach the highest rank in the Boy Scouts this year.
Eagle candidates must show Scout spirit and earn at least 21 merit badges, capped off with a service project that the scout plans and executes himself.
Thomas Crino's project came from his heart. The 17-year-old did the landscaping to prepare a space for a teardrop memorial donated by the Knights of Columbus that will honor the unborn outside of St. Mary of the Angels Church. St. Mary's sponsors Troop 617.
"I cleared a space to put that out front of St. Mary's. I did landscaping and moved the sign that was already there over a little bit to make room for it," Crino said. He added some donated flowers and mulch to make the area look as nice as possible.
He will also build a new set of over 300 crosses for the Cemetery of the Innocents. Each cross represents one baby aborted each day in New York.
The project came easy for Crino. His parents, Mark and Colleen Crino, are the pro-life directors for St. Mary's Parish, and his father is a landscaper, who taught the lad a thing or two.
"I've always been a very pro-life person. I was raised pro-life, and I have a great respect for pro-life supporters. I felt it would further my involvement in the cause," Crino said. "My dad is a landscaper. He taught me a lot of the things that I know. A lot of the skills I used I acquired working with my family on house projects."
"His mother and I were proud that he came up with this," said his father, an assistant scout master. "You can't come up with an Eagle Scout project for the scout; the scout has to come up with it. He looked at the space and said, 'Something's got to happen here.'"
Thomas hopes to have everything complete by Oct. 5, when National Life Chain takes place.
Fellow scout Alex Kruze earned his badge with a similar project. But instead of honoring the unborn, his work salutes a survivor.
Kruze raised funds to landscape and decorate a memorial for Olean native Louis Zamperieni, the son of Italian immigrants. Zamperieni, the subject of the film "Unbroken" survived for 47 days after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean during World War II. He later spent two and a half years in a prisoner of war camp.
James Bardenette, who oversaw the memorial project, said the landscaping and flowers Kruze added to the memorial softened the atmosphere around the black granite monument, which stands 7 foot by 4 foot, 10 inches thick and weighs 5,000 pounds. A bench allows people to sit and read the short story that appears on the back of the monument. The Zamperieni memorial opened in Olean's War Veterans Park in September.
"Part of the reason we did it is because he was a native son, but what's so important, along with the immigration, story is really a story of our youth," said Bardenette. "Our youth that follows us should not forget that the freedom we enjoy here tremendously in this country is not free. A very high price is paid for freedom. The sacrifices, the suffering that American citizens endured, paid for all our freedoms that we enjoy today."
Three other Boy Scouts are expected to work on Eagle projects throughout the year. No date is set for distributing the Eagle awards.