RIDGWAY — When Ridgway native Austin Erich looks at a Civil War veteran’s headstone, he sees much more than a slab of cement – he sees a war hero who deserved to be remembered, and a piece of artwork that should shine.
Erich, 17, and a Ridgway Area Middle/High School senior, can remember attending a Boy Scouts of America assembly when he was in kindergarten. His father, Chris Erich, said he also remembers the day his son ran in the house saying, “I want to be an Eagle Scout.”
Erich, now an Eagle Scout with BSA Troop 93 of Ridgway, spearheaded the restoration of 55 Civil War veteran headstones at Pine Grove, Saint Leo’s and Thayer cemeteries in Ridgway.
Some of the headstones needed cleaned and repaired, Erich said. Seventeen of them needed new footers, and 23 new markers were placed. St. Marys Monuments contributed, helping to dig up two headstones by machine. The rest – 11,840 pounds of cement – was mixed, and dug, by hand.
Erich held several fundraisers to collect enough money for this project, including a bake sale, spaghetti dinner and hot dog stand, raising a little more than $7,000. He has dedicated 1,063 hours to the project.
He started the two-year project in March 2017. Erich has also researched 68 local Civil War veterans – 360 hours – and put together a hard-cover before-and-after book documenting his Eagle Scout project.
Right before Memorial Day, the Scouts always place American flags on the graves, Erich said. He remembers being saddened by the conditions of some of the headstones, with some sinking into the ground, and others blurred and dirty.
“I looked at my dad and said, ‘We can’t read these names,’” Erich said.
“He said, ‘This isn’t right for a veteran to lose recognition,’” his dad added.
Chris Erich says growing up, he and his son would watch things like World War II documentaries on the History Channel. Austin Erich aspires to be a history teacher.
“He has a lot of pride for people who have served in the military,” Erich’s dad said. “He would always go up to them and shake their hands.”
Once a Scout reaches the “Life” rank, they can work on becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement possible, Erich said.
Erich’s father is also a troop leader, and has been alongside helping his son throughout the project.
Erich is the 82nd Eagle Scout of Troop 93, a day his father says he has long waited for.
“He really lived up to his dream, and made 12 years of commitment,” Chris Erich said.
Like the Scouts motto, Austin Erich is focused on being a leader and giving back to the community. He also hopes to set an example for the younger Scouts.
He said he is also thankful for all the help of his mentor, Mark Roselli.
A ceremony for Erich and his project, open to the public, will be held at the Ridgway Fire Department on North Broad Street at 1 p.m. Nov. 17. Erich says he will read the Civil War veterans’ names and contributors to the project, and have the hardback book on display.