Eagle Scout creates peace park in Whitefish

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Even Thomas Henson admits his Eagle Scout project doesn’t exactly fit the mold for such projects.

“I thought Eagle Scouts built bridges, not a peace pole,” he said.

But constructing a peace garden, including a peace pole, is exactly the project Henson started this summer and recently finished as he works toward earning his Eagle Scout.

An Eagle Scout is the Boy Scout’s highest rank and is accomplished by executing a service project, in addition to earning a number of merit badges and proving leadership skills. To earn the rank, the Scout also goes before a review board.

With help from his parents, Mike and Jennie Henson, and fellow scouts and volunteers, Henson constructed the garden near the Whitefish Community Garden behind the Whitefish United Methodist Church.

A rock path winds near a grove of birch trees to an area that opens to reveal the wooden peace pole as its center. Benches face the pole that contains plaques that read “May Peace Prevail On Earth” in English, Spanish, Blackfeet and Swahili.

The United Methodist Church women’s group originally conceived of the idea for creating a peace garden, and was looking a young person to take on the project. The church’s pastor Deborah Schmidt thought Henson would be the right one for the job.

Henson took the project on with determination. He and a group of friends began breaking up the hard clay soil by hand. Eventually he organized donated materials and equipment, along with a volunteer work force. He came out to the site at 6 a.m. before his school day to get in a few hours of work toward the roughly 500 hours spent on the project.

“I spent long hours out here on a monument that declared peace — there’s nothing better a 17-year-old can do,” he said during a dedication ceremony for the garden.

The peace pole is a monument that displays the message of peace in several languages. The idea for a peace pole is credited to Masahisa Gori in 1955 in Japan. The Peace Pole Project today has spread the idea with hundreds of thousands of poles being placed around the world as symbols of peace.

When it came time to find a peace pole for his garden, Henson looked at ordering one, but didn’t like the idea of a plastic pole.

He asked around for a wooden pole and Kerry Crittenden offered up a 150-year-old telephone pole that had once been on Montana’s Hi-Line. The telephone pole was milled down, trimmed and stained before being placed in the garden.

Although Henson was new to the idea of a peace garden when he began the project, he now sees it as the right fit for his project.

“The idea just clicked and it was important to take it on,” he said.

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