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Northampton Eagle Scout Nick Day 're-beautifies' neglected park at Leeds VA campus

  • Michele O'Dell gets whipped cream on his ice cream during a celebration of Nick Day's,16, of Northampton, Eagle Scout project in which he re habilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Michele O'Dell gets whipped cream on his ice cream during a celebration of Nick Day's,16, of Northampton, Eagle Scout project in which he re habilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Celebration of Nick Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an  outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Celebration of Nick Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Day,16, of Northampton, gets a thank you from David Rudolph, a resident a the VA Center during a celebration of Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Nick Day,16, of Northampton, gets a thank you from David Rudolph, a resident a the VA Center during a celebration of Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michele O'Dell gets whipped cream on his ice cream during a celebration of Nick Day's,16, of Northampton, Eagle Scout project in which he re habilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Celebration of Nick Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an  outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Nick Day,16, of Northampton, gets a thank you from David Rudolph, a resident a the VA Center during a celebration of Day's Eagle Scout project in which he rehabilitated an outdoor space, making it into a functional social area at the VA center in Leeds.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

But until recently, no one was enjoying this area at all. The green space hosted outdoor activities and barbecues many years ago, but had fallen into disrepair and hadn’t been used in two or three years, Veterans Affairs officials say.

Now it’s back in use thanks to Nick Day, a 16-year-old member of Boy Scout Troop 109 in Florence.

Last summer, he was looking for a community service project to complete so he could earn Eagle Scout status — the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve — and he visited the VA’s Voluntary Service Office. “Both my grandparents were in the service and they’re veterans now, so I decided to come here to do my project,” Day said at the space Wednesday.

Voluntary Program Officer Anne Murray showed him the abandoned green space outside the building, complete with rotting picnic tables, dying trees and broken brick walkways. After a year of planning and two months of physical work, Day and a team of 17 helpers and numerous donors transformed the unused area into a welcoming green space for all to use.

“Nick has given us an incredible gift, and I mean incredible,” Murray told the crowd at the park’s opening ceremony Wednesday. “This area out here, I can’t tell you how icky it was.”

At the ceremony, Day received a standing ovation and certificates from the VA and representatives of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. James McGovern. At an ice cream social that followed the ceremony, veterans, VA employees and representatives of local businesses and organizations that contributed to the project lined up to congratulate Day on a job well done and check out a display of photographs from before the “re-beautification project,” as Murray dubbed it.

Day said he and the 17 volunteers put in a total of 280 hours of work on the yard.

“It feels really good because I can look back at those pictures and see what it was like before, and now it’s a beautiful area,” he said.

Dennis Ramstein, program assistant in the VA’s office of public affairs, said the green space next to the Recreation Hall became unusable due to a lack of upkeep. “The campus was built in 1926, so it always requires a lot of maintenance, and with money being what it is, we’ve had to invest in our buildings instead of the grounds,” he said.

In the yard, the grass was patchy, several of the trees had become infested with bugs and died, and the terrain was treacherous because rainwater running down the hill had created small ditches, he said. The picnic tables were weathered and the brick-and-mortar grill and patio had started to crumble.

But after a year of planning and preparations, Day and volunteers got to work two months ago. They graded and reseeded the lawn, used gravel to help with stormwater irrigation, removed dead trees and planted flowers. They also removed an old fence, replaced the picnic tables and the missing bricks in the patio, built a planter and filled it with flowers, installed two benches and removed what was left of the barbecue pit and chimney and filled in the spot to create a large patio.

One of the biggest jobs was taking down the dead trees, but Day had VA Mechanic Bill “Cubby” Gessing to oversee that part of the project. Gessing said some of the trees were infested and one was completely hollow. “You could stand in one of them,” he said.

He was happy to be part of the project and said he has seen veterans and workers using the area for the first time in years. “It was nasty before,” he said. “It’s made a big difference. It’s a real improvement.”

Day said he received help from other VA volunteers as well as local organizations and businesses. The Northampton Lodge of Elks gave him a $2,000 grant to buy materials, and the Montague Lodge of Elks and the Chicopee American Veterans Post each donated a bench. Donations he received from businesses include gravel from Bill Willard Inc. in Northampton, lumber from R.K. Miles Lumber in Hatfield, flowers from Wanczyk Nursery in Hadley and other materials from Foster Farrar True Value Hardware in Northampton and his father’s company, Spring Valley Landscaping in Hatfield.

Day’s father and troop leader Robert Day said his son was the only scout in the troop to achieve Eagle Scout rank this year by earning 21 merit badges and completing a service project that helps a local organization. “Only 3 percent of all scouts become Eagle Scouts, so it’s a pretty unique thing,” he said.

Plus, most Eagle Scouts only achieve the rank in their last year of scouting, at age 18, while Nick Day is only 16. “I’m very proud of him, he worked hard and he did a great job all the way through,” Robert Day said.

Ramstein said the rehabilitation of the yard is especially nice for the veterans who live in the assisted living Community Living Center on campus.

“They are indoors necessarily a lot of the time,” he said. “So it’s great to have a place to bring them outside to enjoy.”

Among the veterans who appreciated Day’s efforts Wednesday was Mark Ellis, who works in the Voluntary Services Office right next to the yard. He said the transformation is like night and day.

“For two or three years, I never saw anybody out here,” he said. “It’s great. I look out my window at it every day.”

Veteran Robert Smith lives in Springfield but comes to the VA campus every day, often to volunteer. He said he usually heads back home by the afternoon, but he stuck around Wednesday afternoon for the celebration in the pretty park.

“It sure is nice to be outside,” Smith said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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