NEW CASTLE — The Wrona twins thought they had lots of time to work on their Eagle Scout award.
It was 2010 and Brandon and Chris, members of Boy Scout Troop 721 in the Mohawk area, had all the requirements done except for the major one — their service projects. Projects are the culmination of a Scout’s training and involve a major effort, as well as benefit the community and demonstrate leadership.
Mothers and fathers of Eagle Scouts receive special pins and the twins’ mother, Ann Wrona, recalls she would point to her lapels and say “Pin! Pin!” to try and give them a little push.
In 2012, the boys went on a 13-day backpacking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. When they got home, they knew something was wrong with their father, Brian.
“He was losing weight,” Brandon recalled.
Doctors thought he had diabetes, Ann said. But three months later came a more devastating diagnosis — pancreatic cancer.
Brian began treatments and the boys realized two things. They didn’t have all the time in the world to earn their Eagle awards. And they wanted their Dad to see it. The push began to choose a project and get ready to do it.
Last April Chris began work on his project, a sprucing up of the Bessemer Pumphouse Park on East Poland Avenue in Bessemer. Chris and a group of volunteers raked up old mulch and replaced it with new. And they gave a fresh coat of paint to the equipment there including, basketball poles, benches, a swing set, the sliding board and the railing on the building.
When the project began, Brian was still well enough to help. “He encouraged us to work as hard as we could,” said Chris. “He would help me, give me suggestions on how to paint.” But by August, as the project neared completion, Brian’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he was on a feeding tube. The boy’s maternal grandfather, George Ellenberger of Edinburg, pitched in to help and the project was finished after 216 volunteer hours of work.
A little later, Brandon started his project, painting the exterior of the Pulaski Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 1 in Pulaski and a storage shed. After 120 hours of effort, he was done. By this time Brian was undergoing surgery and radiation treatments and was unable to help.
With their father failing, the boys raced to the finish. They went before the Scouting Board of Review Oct. 3. Here they had to explain their projects and have them judged. Then came the waiting. Usually, the Eagle awards do not arrive until six to eight weeks later and only then is a Court of Honor scheduled. But knowing the situation and Brian’s condition, the local Scout Council called the National Scout office and “explained,” Ann said.
The medals arrived three days later.
Then it was a scramble to pull together a Court of Honor at Mt. Jackson Presbyterian Church which meant sending invitations, planning a ceremony and preparing a reception for more than100 .
On Oct. 26, the boys were presented their Eagle Awards at a ceremony which became a tribute to Brian as well as his sons. “Everybody knew how sick he was,” Ann recalled. “Everybody came to say goodbye. A friend he hadn’t seen for 20 years even showed up.”
They boys presented him with the “Dad Pin.” Brandon also chose to give his Mentor Pin to his father. This pin signifies someone in the scout’s life, “the person who helped you, who you couldn’t have done it without,” he said.
“Everyone was bawling,” Ann said.
Two weeks later, the boys were marching with other scouts in a Veteran’s Day Parade downtown when Brian, 43, breathed his last.
“I sent them a text — ‘Your Dad doesn’t hurt anymore,’ ” Ann said. “All the scouts in the parade knew him. They were hugging and crying,” she said.
Significantly, Brian died at 10:26 a.m. on Nov. 9. The Eagle Award ceremony had taken place Oct. 26 or 10/26. “I took that as a sign that it meant alot to him,” Ann said.
Almost two months later, the family is dealing with the holidays and a future without their husband and father. But Brian’s legacy shines through with a love and humor that abounds in his family even during these difficult days.
Ann said that every Christmas, Brian would buy her a CD and lotion. His sons bought them this year, she said.
“Nobody sits in his chair,” she continued with a smile. “When the newspaper comes, they put it in his chair. And when the Steelers play, they place his chair in a reclining position.”
And there are also four Hot Wheels cars on his chair, in memory of the Saturday ritual he established when his boys were little. “He would take us to Lowe’s and then to breakfast and then to Walmart to buy Hot Wheels,” Brandon recalled with a grin.
The boys, who are seniors at Wilmington High School, will turn 18 next month. They plan to attend Butler County Community College. Their Scout Master is Terry Groth and Dr. Thomas Patton is their Senior Scout Master.