SMETHPORT — Smethport Boy Scout Ethan Nannen was honored on Veterans Day at a rededication ceremony at the town’s Rosehill Cemetery, where he reset 25 headstones of Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War veterans as his Eagle Scout project.
The headstones’ foundations had sunk and crumbled. Some were falling apart and others had actually fallen over.
With the help of his father, Graham Nannen, Ethan and others began their restoration work seven months ago.
Approximately 60 people from the community braved the chilly weather to attend the program that featured selections by the Smethport Area High School band and choir and remarks from Ethan, his father, and McKean County President Judge John Pavlock, who organized the program. Jordan Pavlock offered the opening prayer.
In his remarks, Graham Nannen thanked Pavlock for his efforts in the program that recognized Ethan and honored the nation’s veterans.
“To my son, thank you for taking on such a large project for our veterans and the Rosehill Cemetery and seeing it through to its completion,” he said. “I believe there is a mutual respect between a father and son when they put their heads together, and a good result will follow. I believe the resulting project speaks for itself.”
A Scout since he was six years old, Ethan always had his sights on attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, scouting’s highest award, a rank that requires the Scout to plan, organize and lead others in a service project that must benefit the community, religious institution or non-profit organization.
“Over a year ago, I was faced with selecting a project, and I knew I wanted to select one that would be meaningful to a lot of people and would be around for many years to come,” Ethan said. That’s when he decided on this project.
“As time goes on, headstones become dirty, shift and sink into the ground,” he noted. “These changes occur so slowly that we may not notice them for many years. The conditions of these headstones had reached a point of disrepair, and I knew something should be done about it to honor these veterans who served our nation.”
Realizing that this would be a tough, but worthwhile project, Ethan set to work in April by removing each headstone from the ground with much of the work done with shovels. Gravel was placed in the hole and set the form. The stone was centered securely before concrete was poured into the form. After the concrete dried, the form was removed. “The final step was to backfill and tamp the dirt around the stone,” Ethan explained. “Then it was time to move on to the next stone.
“Though this project was difficult and time-consuming, it has been the most satisfying achievement of my life,” he stated. “I believe that everybody should be able to experience something like this in their lives.”
Ethan expressed appreciation to fellow students and community members in attendance.
In his remarks, Pavlock noted that the family and friends of those who rest in the cemetery placed the headstones as reminders of their loved ones’ sacrifices and would not be forgotten.
“Did you know before today that a Revolutionary War veteran is buried right here on this hill?” he asked the audience.
“We have a connection to these veterans because they, like us, called these hills their home, their community. They served so that we could live free in this valley, this county and this country.”
Pavlock added, “It was an understanding of that sacrifice, the need to honor and thank our veterans that motivated Ethan to reset these headstones, to take that task on as his Eagle Scout project.”
Instead of saying, “Ethan worked real hard on this project,” Pavlock referred back to newspaper headlines of the 1890s when the headline would be “Young Ethan Nannen toils in sweltering sun, heat and rain to honor our distinguished veterans.”
“But that’s just what Ethan did,” Pavlock stated. “He, his father and others toiled really hard in all kinds of weather and all summer long to complete this work. These headstones will now be here, standing tall for many, many more decades until ‘Young Ethan’ is no longer young, but will be, in fact, old Ethan Nannen.”
The names of the veterans’ headstones that were reset were read.
The ceremony concluded with a prayer.