Others to finish Scouts project in North Huntingdon

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Norwin High School senior Michael Sweeney, 17, died unexpectedly last month in the midst of his Eagle Scout project.

Friends, family and other scouts will gather later this month to finish his work so Michael, of North Huntingdon, can receive his Eagle Scout rank posthumously.

Although a final ruling hasn't been issued yet, Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha said Michael died of heart-related problems that neither he nor his family knew about.

Don Brill, Michael's assistant scoutmaster in Troop 252, North Huntingdon, said Michael's death has caused an outpouring of sympathy in the community. As many as 75 people -- including his Scout Troop members, other troops, Norwin High School and the community -- have volunteered, Mr. Brill said.

"There are a lot of people who knew Mike and loved the kid, and there are a lot of people who want to help," Mr. Brill said. "People are coming out of the woodwork."

On Oct. 27, he and other volunteers plan to converge on Braddock's Trail Park, North Huntingdon, where only a knee-high chain prevents visitors from falling over a cliff near a waterfall.

"Mike didn't like that; he considered that dangerous," Mr. Brill said. Volunteers will complete Mike's project there.

They will bolt railings into the bedrock and install a 100-foot-long fence along the top of the cliff to prevent falls.

They will dig holes to cement additional posts on another section of the fence into the grass, he said.

"We're asking that the people show up with wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes and wire brushes," he said.

For Michael to receive his Eagle Scout rank, another Scout must take his place in leading the project. Hunter McGowan, 17, who already has completed his Eagle Scout project, will take the lead, Mr. Brill said.

In addition to being an active outdoorsman who did trapping and taught younger youth how to trap-shoot at the White Oak Rod and Gun Club, Michael was also on the Norwin track team and coached Little League baseball and youth basketball, Mr. Brill said.

"He was everything an Eagle Scout should be," he said. "He would do anything for anybody.

"The comment that was made at the funeral home was that Mike always did the right thing," he added.

In honor of Michael's life as an outdoorsman, the lining of his casket was done in camouflage material, and the students at Norwin High School wore camouflage clothing one day in his honor, Mr. Brill said.

He said Renee Syster of Custom Fencing of Ligonier, who donated pressure-treated split rail lumber for the project, had two nephews who had to undergo heart transplants and has a son who has finished the labor on his Eagle Scout project.

Mrs. Syster said she and her husband, Donn, donated the lumber because she was touched by the request of Michael's parents that people do a random act of kindness in his memory.

She found out about Michael's heart condition after calling Mr. Brill.

"It just hit home, having a son awaiting his Eagle Scout award, and having two nephews with that condition," she said.

She said Tom Cesarino of Cesarino Lumber Co. in Farmington, sold the fence lumber to her half off the regular price.

Michael's parents will encourage others to perform random acts of kindness in his memory at a new website, www.michaelsactofkindness.com.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer; suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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