Worthy of merit

Published 9:31 am Thursday, August 6, 2009

Above, Duane Riley (left) and Joseph Weiser (right) were joined by some members of the Niles Four Flags Garden Club for the installation of the new Michigan Historical Marker. Kneeling are Elaine Metzger, Marilyn White, Karen Persa and Phyllis Davis. Dedication of the marker is Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the depot. (Daily Star photos/KATHIE HEMPEL)

Above, Duane Riley (left) and Joseph Weiser (right) were joined by some members of the Niles Four Flags Garden Club for the installation of the new Michigan Historical Marker. Kneeling are Elaine Metzger, Marilyn White, Karen Persa and Phyllis Davis. Dedication of the marker is Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the depot. (Daily Star photos/KATHIE HEMPEL)

Niles Daily Star

Over the years there have been a few special Scouts who have sought after and achieved the status of Eagle Scout. This Sunday in Niles one more moves a step closer to achieving the award.

The real winners, however, are the communities and individuals, both present and future, who will be touched by this young man’s efforts.

Robert S. S. Baden-Powell introduced badges for achievement in his 1908 book, “Scouting For Boys.” Initially, the highest available rank in scouting in the U.S. was going to be the Wolf Badge, based on the Silver Wolf badge in Great Britain.
However, no Wolf rank was ever awarded. Several leaders who reviewed the proof version of the Handbook for Boys of 1911 thought that the highest award should recognize the American Eagle and by the time the handbook was published, the highest rank in scouting in the United States was given its current name – Eagle.

Joseph Weiser, in the finest tradition of both the Boy Scouts and the American Eagle that soars higher to see the bigger picture of things below, decided that his Eagle project had to impact his community and in his eyes correct a situation that to the 16-year-old just wasn’t right.

Weiser is a train lover. Upon visiting the Niles Railroad Depot, he spotted a small plaque located above the red fire alarm in the depot waiting room, designating it as a historic landmark. However, the simple plaque did nothing to suggest why the station featured in Hollywood movies and itself a tourist stop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was of any significance.

He decided to do something about it. Weiser sought to raise the $3,350 needed to have a large and informative Michigan Historical Marker placed at the station for all to see and admire. Considering the paperwork alone, this was quite the undertaking.

Former Assistant Scout Leader Troop 555 Huntley Baptist Church, Duane Riley of Edwardsburg, was at first concerned. “I thought it was great but it was such a big project. I didn’t know if he could see it through and I had my reservations. But when the dollars began to roll in I saw he was going to be successful.”

It took nearly two years before the money was all raised, the paperwork completed and marker created.

Monday morning at 8 a.m. with the check written and all i’s dotted and t’s crossed, the Michigan Historical Marker depicting the story of the station was installed at the apex of the walkway leading to the front doors of the Niles depot.

Each side of the marker tells a story. On the side facing the parking lot there is the story of the depot itself:

Michigan Central Railroad Depot
This Richardsonian Romanesque-style depot was constructed in 1892 by the Michigan Central Railroad Company. Seeking to create a lasting impression of Michigan for passengers traveling to the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the company hired the Detroit firm of Spier and Rohns to design the station. Built mostly of Ohio sandstone, this depot replaced a ramshackle structure that the Niles Daily Star referred to as “the old cockroach repository.” The grounds featured a pond and gardens designed by German immigrant John Gipner, who presented roses grown at the station to women arriving in Niles. The depot was showcased in several feature films including, The Continental Divide, Midnight Run, and Only the Lonely.
On the side facing the garden tended by the Niles Four Flags Garden Club the marker reads:

Michigan Central Railroad Company
On October 2, 1848, “an era of prosperity” arrived in Niles when the Michigan Central Railroad Company (MCRR) became the first railroad to reach the city. Additional railroad lines soon followed, but by the 1920’s automobiles, buses, and trucks challenged railroads’ dominance. During nationwide consolidation in the 1930’s, the New York Central Railroad Company assumed control of the MCRR. Branch lines were eliminated, and the transfer of freight operations to Elkhart, Indiana, in 1958 further decreased rail traffic through Niles. Amtrak’s arrival in 1974, maintained passenger service to the city and continued Niles’ association with the railroad into the twenty-first century.
The marker will be dedicated and officially unveiled this coming Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. It is expected that there will be a good turnout of local dignitaries, Scouts, friends and the general public. The Rev. Daniel Greegor, of the Sumnerville Bible Baptist Church that Weiser attends, will act as Master of Ceremonies.

With the completion of the ceremony, Young Weiser will have to finish two other merit badges, he has already begun, to achieve the status of Eagle Scout. What is most amazing perhaps is that he has accomplished all this over what some might call remarkable odds.
Both Joseph’s mother and father have suffered disabilities. His mother has resided in Silverbrook Nursing Home for several years. His father, John, who spends most of his days with his wife, hopes to bring her in her wheelchair to the ceremony on Sunday.
Weiser’s mentor and friend, Riley, himself suffered a stroke last November so this summer Weiser decided to forgo his annual Scout Camp outing in favor of becoming his champion’s champion. He has chauffeured Riley to his physiotherapy that just concluded last Friday and now spends a lot of his day helping with the at-home exercise regime and being the best friend he can.

Meeting Weiser Monday, Joan Sanders of Mishawaka, Ind. was impressed. “More young people should have this young man’s mindset for service to others,” she said.

Members of the Niles Four Flags Garden Club would agree. They and many others have supported Weiser both with money and experience through the past two years.
Asked about the importance of scouting, Riley gets a bit emotional. “If it weren’t for the Scouts, we wouldn’t have met.”

Weiser comforts his friend as he talks about the scouting trips he has taken on the trains he loves. “You get to see stuff when you ride the trains. In 2007 we rode from Dowagiac to Chicago, then on to Radon, New Mexico where we got on a bus to Cimmaron, N. M. and the Philmont Scout Ranch.”

The ranch is situated on more than 200 square miles of rugged New Mexico wilderness. Here Weiser who loves the outdoors and hiking, hiked 75 miles over 2 days. On a trip to the Smokies, he hiked 25 miles and at Isle Roilie National Park he hiked another 35 miles.

Other trips took him to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Charles L. Sommers Scout Canoe Base in Ely, Minn.

This year, exemplifying the very best of the Scouts’ famous motto, he is prepared to take an even more important journey with his friend. One step at a time. An effort worthy of merit.