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Despite the heat, bugs and a brief appearance from a garter snake, a group of Texas-based Boy Scouts and McDowell County volunteers worked together Wednesday to restore a bit of the area’s coal and music heritage.
Local organizer Gary Dove met with Scouts for the John Ellison project in Landgraff which will restore the former coal miner’s lamp house as well as clear land to build a replica of the coal camp house the musician grew up in. The project was one of many across the region Wednesday as part of the 2013 Boys Scouts of America National Jamboree Day of Service Initiative.
“The Scouts are cutting grass, clearing brush and are removing debris from inside the building,” Dove said. “We are going to build a replica of the house Ellison grew up in along with the restoration of the lamphouse, which will be filled with local coal camp memorabilia. One of John’s dreams is to have a replica of his house here. The house was originally up on the hillside, but we will have a replica moved down here for easier access. We want to show people what these coal camp houses were like and feel this will be a huge boost to tourism.”
Ellison himself was present to help the Scouts clean up and to teach them his signature song, “She’s Some Kind of Wonderful,” which he and the troop of Scouts performed on the bus ride up from Welch. Ellison also told the scouts about how he would travel down to the lamp house early each morning to fetch his father’s lamp before his father went into the mines.
“I come to this area a lot because I still have family here,” Ellison said. “This is a dream come true. It’s a vision I’ve had a long time. I wanted to do something positive for the area I grew up in. I want young people around here to see what I was able to do and realize they can do things too. We need to motivate these young people and show them nothing is impossible.”
Troops from northern Texas, including the Dallas and Plano areas, arrived with Ellison via charter bus to get to work on the site. Zachary Kocurek, 16, was one of the scouts who helped clear debris out of the lamphouse site.
“I didn’t know we would be getting such a cool project,” Kocurek said. “It’s great to be working with John Ellison. He’s a much better singer than any of us and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know him. All of the people in West Virginia worked so hard to bring us here for the jamboree. This is just our way of saying thank you for everything they’ve done.”
John “Jack” Copley, 16, said he didn’t mind working on his first trip to West Virginia.
“Things are going a lot faster than we anticipated,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were going to have us do. I’ve never been to West Virginia before and it’s a lot different than back home, which is really flat. In scouting, we are told to give back to scouting. West Virginia gave us this great jamboree and camp, so we want to give something back to them.”
Copley said the jamboree experience has already more than lived up to his expectations.
“This is my first jamboree and I knew it was going to be fun,” Copley said. “I didn’t realize it would be this fun. I got more fun than I bargained for on the first day alone.”
Joe Stallard, scoutmaster for the troop, said Scouts ranged from 13 to nearly 18 and were excited to get to work in West Virginia. Of the 36 Scouts working at the site, Stallard said seven have attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
“We flew from Texas to New York City on a plane, went to Baltimore and caught an Orioles-Rangers game, and then visited the Smithsonian in D.C. before coming here Monday,” Stallard said. “A few of our Scouts had been to jamborees before, but they were really impressed with the Summit. It’s like the World’s Fair for scouting.”
Stallard said his troops received a warm welcome from West Virginia.
“We stopped at a McDonald’s and came in wearing our scouting uniforms,” he said. “Everyone was so welcoming. They were so excited and thanking the Scouts for coming. I’m happy for the Scouts because this is showing people what scouting is all about.”
Stallard said his troop had been looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and getting to work in McDowell County.
“This is what Scouts do,” he said. “Part of our oath is to help others at all times. Having fun is good, but the boys learn so much more by helping out. Scouting is also a great equalizer in that anyone from any background can become a Scout. It brings kids from all over together for a common goal. We do service projects in our community back home, so this is just like helping out in our community.”
Though the jamboree isn’t over, Stallard said several of the Scouts have already mentioned coming back to the area
“The Summit is a permanent campground and our group is already discussing coming back next summer for the high intensity summer camp they will offer,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area.”
Within 30 minutes, the Scouts had already cleared piles of brush and begun work removing debris from inside the lamphouse. Welch Mayor Reba Honaker stopped by to see the progress after having greeted the bus load of Scouts as they came through the city.
“We are so excited to have them here,” she said. “They have come from all over the U.S. I got to welcome every bus that came through Welch and I told them we couldn’t be more excited to have them here. They are working on a lot of worthwhile projects we hope will promote McDowell County tourism. It’s amazing what they’ve already accomplished in such a short time they’ve been here.”