Crutches don’t prevent McLaughlin from soaring

Matthew McLaughlin installs his Eagle service project plaque along the trail from Manna Soup Kitchen to the Volunteers of America Community Shelter in August. Matthew organized members of Boy Scouts Troop 501 to reconfigure and fix up the path as part of his quest to become an Eagle Scout. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Victoria McLaughlin

Matthew McLaughlin installs his Eagle service project plaque along the trail from Manna Soup Kitchen to the Volunteers of America Community Shelter in August. Matthew organized members of Boy Scouts Troop 501 to reconfigure and fix up the path as part of his quest to become an Eagle Scout.

For coming from a family that has no background in scouting, the McLaughlin boys have shown a real commitment to the Boy Scouts of America.

Sean McLaughlin recently achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, and now his little brother, Matthew, is well on the way to becoming an Eagle Scout himself. The boys are the sons of Michael and Victoria McLaughlin of Durango, neither of whom were Scouts in their younger days.

In mid-August, Matthew recruited 16 other members of Troop 501, including his brother, to rebuild the path from the Manna Soup Kitchen to the Volunteers of America’s Community Shelter. He injured his leg two days earlier, so he found himself semi-sidelined on crutches and working more as a director on the project, but since that’s part of the requirement for the award, it was all good.

In the VOA’s newsletter, Rachel Bauske, the program coordinator at the Community Shelter, said the path – a Cadillac of a path – “will make the journey back to self-reliance a little easier for the men, women and children the shelter serves,” and VOA Executive Director Sarada Leavenworth said it has to be seen to be believed.

Matthew, soon to be 15, joined the Cub Scouts in 2004 as a Tiger Cub. He earned the Arrow of Light, the highest honor of Cub Scouts, and joined Troop 501 in 2009. His Eagle Service Project is the final step before being named an Eagle Scout, which is itself the culmination of years of service projects, weekend campouts, high-adventure camps and fulfilling the requirements of several lower ranks.

His troop is one of the older ones in Durango and will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2013.

Lest you think becoming an Eagle Scout is easy, since Matthew joined Troop 501, he has volunteered for 22 service projects totalling 73 hours of effort, earned 58 merit badges, camped 110 nights, attended the 100th Anniversary Jamboree of the Boy Scouts in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, canoed 77 miles in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada, hiked and backpacked more than 60 miles, sailed the Florida Keys and earned his scuba certification off Catalina Island in California. (This doesn’t even count all he did in Cub Scouts – he did all this in just three years.)

Matthew is one of eight members of his troop who is scheduled to attain the Eagle Scout rank this year. In 2011, about five percent of all Boy Scouts earned Eagle Scout rank, and the average age of the boys who did so was 17, according to the Boy Scouts of America website. The requirement is only 21 merit badges, so we can say Matthew is just a bit of an overachiever.

And if you wonder if scouting leads to anything, 181 Scouts have become astronauts, and at least four Eagle Scouts have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. Not bad.

The McLaughlins’ scouting journey began when Victoria was approached by another mother in Sean’s first-grade class about being a den mother. Just look where a little volunteering can lead. She doesn’t regret a thing.

“Scouting truly delivered the character development and adventure it has promised for more than a century,” McLaughlin said in an email.

Congrats to Sean and Matthew.

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Easing into their birthdays after a lazy weekend are Ginger Williamson, Cindy Cortese, Don Brown, Casey Baty, Eric Meyer, John Ter Maat, Christian White, Margie Hanlin, Margaret Wilhite, Penni Compton and Ginny Dignum.

Belated greetings to Chelsey Helling, Ryan Meer and Howard “Bud” Poe, who celebrated with family over the weekend.

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The members of the La Plata Quilters Guild share their beautiful creations with a number of local organizations, but one of the most meaningful gifts is the quilts they make for the Blue Star Mothers of Durango.

This year, Pat Akers spearheaded an effort to make more than 25 quilts, which will be presented to Gold Star Mothers from Colorado – those who have lost a son or daughter in war since Sept. 11 – who will be attending a Gold Star Weekend in Estes Park this month. Our Blue Star Mothers host the event, and Jill Coddington tells me that when they draw names at the end of the weekend to see who will receive the quilts, the recipients “hug them to their hearts as if they truly came from their fallen child.”

It is one of the most poignant moments of a poignant weekend.

The guild has been making and donating quilts for this event for several years, making more every year. Their eventual goal is for every Gold Star Mother to receive a quilt.

There is something so powerful about receiving a gift made by the loving hands of someone you don’t even know to comfort you through your darkest hours. What a lovely, heartfelt way of giving.

The quilts were presented to the Blue Star Mothers on Aug. 23 at Christ the King Lutheran Church, where the guild meets each month.

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How many times have you driven past Hood Mortuary and thought, “What a cool building?” And how many times have you thought you would like to check it out, but it was felt kind of morbid?

Well, this Saturday is your chance. The mortuary is celebrating its 110th anniversary from 1 to 4 p.m. with an ice-cream social. Founded in 1902 by Andrew Hood, the business originally was located near where the Red Snapper is now.

Walter “Speedy” Doran, who bought it from Hood in 1924, moved it to its present location, the Amy mansion, in 1932. So they’re also celebrating 80 years in their current digs.

The Amy mansion is one of the great old houses on East Third Avenue. Ernest Amy built the house for his bride, Isabelle, to entice her from the civilized East out to the wild, woolly West. She was related to the Pullman family, the railroad-car tycoons, and the gorgeous wood paneling on the first floor was a wedding gift from them.

Amy had the means to build the house, about $50,000 in late 1880s dollars, because he was running the San Juan and New York Smelter, which was the biggest business in town. It also was the business that made Durango thrive.

Ryan Phelps bought Hood in 2005, and he always has welcomed visitors who want to see the lovely building. Most people, however, are a little hesitant about just stopping by. (And it’s important not to ask for a tour when a family is having a visitation or a service.)

There will be door prizes, a live radio remote and, of course, tours galore.

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I hope anyone going through a medical ordeal has family and friends who are cheerleaders, offering encouragements to hang in there and fight through the tough spots. In Tony Gelles’ fight against non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he has had actual cheerleaders spurring him on.

His daughter, Savannah Gelles, is a member of the Bayfield High School cheerleading squad. She talked to her fellow cheerleaders and coaches about doing something special for her dad, and they signed on right away.

On Aug. 18, Tony Gelles’ room at Mercy Regional Medical Center was full of lovely young ladies in uniform – and friends, who didn’t want to miss the show – for a personal performance, including custom-written cheers with lines such as “Tony, are you there? Put your hands up in the air!” (He did.)

His family said Gelles’ smile was the biggest they’ve seen since his ordeal began.

He was diagnosed at the end of May and has to endure chemotherapy treatments every 21 days. This isn’t go-to-the-cancer-center-for-a-few-hours chemo. This is six-days-straight-with-an-IV-as-an-inpatient-at-Mercy chemo. Gelles has been terribly ill throughout the process, and Savannah and her friends reminded him that people care about him.

The only photo had all the cheerleaders and Gelles in it, which is too many people for a Neighbors photo. But I can at least name the girls who did something really nice on a Saturday night. In addition to Savannah, they are Misty Eve, Ashlee Parks, Tatiana Silva, Syerra Peterson, Cannon Smith, Jennifer Olguin, Ryker Roberts, Denvir Clarke, Jamie George, Madeline McCarty, Brittany Hunter, Noel Dulan and Selby Pope.

The girls’ coaches weren’t at the hospital, but they helped them get ready for it. They are Kimarie Pate, Meeca Bailey and Sammee Crawford.

I imagine the Gelles’ family feels as though misfortune keeps piling on. Tony Gelles is disabled, and both his wife, Michelle, and Savannah work at Old Tymer’s Café to help make ends meet.

On Friday, the Gelleses learned the chemo isn’t working, and now they’re preparing for Tony to have a bone marrow transplant at the University of California. They’ll be wearing out the DVD of the cheerleading as they confront this new challenge.

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Enjoying champagne toasts for their anniversaries are Steve and Andrea Owen, David and Nancy Shipps, Damen and Nancy McCaddon, Tom and Linda West, Ron and Julie Atkinson and Nick and Sandy Blaisdell.

Happy anniversary wishes also go to Dan and Mary Schler, who are celebrating six decades together Friday.

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Here’s how to reach me:; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB of memory), include no more than three to five people and I must know who’s who, left to right, and who to credit with the photo. Candid photos are better than posed, and photos should be submitted as .jpg or .tif attachments.