When Tommy Fulford set out last year to unearth the history of coal mining in O’Fallon for his Eagle Scout project, the last thing he was expecting was awards. But regional Boy Scout leaders really dug his work.
“My aim wasn’t to win an award, especially not multiple ones,” Tommy said. “I did it to help the community, and this whole experience from beginning to end has been a humbling one.”
Tommy received his Eagle Scout Badge during a Court of Honor ceremony on Jan. 28 at O’Fallon United Methodist Church after completing his project, a coal mine exhibit at the O’Fallon History museum.
Three months later, he was honored again. He received the Eagle Project and Scout of the Year awards from the Illinois Chapter of the Greater St. Louis Area Council on March 4. Along with the awards, he also took home $1,000 in scholarships.
Then, on June 5, his project was named the Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award for the Boy Scouts of America Central Region at a recognition dinner in St. Louis, Mo., earning an additional $500 scholarship.
“It’s really exciting that my project has made that big of an impact in the community, and now region,” said Tommy, the son of Larry and Liz Fulford.
For his project, Tommy said he didn’t want to just give back to his community, he also wanted to honor his own heritage. So, the 16-year-old member of O’Fallon Boy Scout Troop 46 transformed a space in the basement of the O’Fallon History Museum, located 101 W. State St. in downtown O’Fallon, into a coal mine exhibit.
“This project means a lot to me, because I’m a descendent of coal miners, and my family has grown up in O’Fallon, and it’s just near and dear to my heart,” said Tommy.
The Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award was established to recognized valuable service of an exceptional nature by an Eagle Scout candidate to a religious institution, a school, community or other entity through completion of an Eagle Scout project.
The National Eagle Scout Association Committee selected Tommy from a pool of 22 Central Region Eagle Scouts, according to NESA volunteer Paul McLaughlin.
“There’s approximately 769 Eagle Scouts in our Greater St. Louis Area Council in 2017, with 62 councils making up the Central Region, and only 22 of those councils submitted 2017 projects for review,” McLaughlin said.
Dating back to 1904, the exhibit room was once home to the building’s old, coal-burning furnace.
The coal exhibit features a variety of mining artifacts from local mines, including O’Fallon’s last — the St. Ellen Mine, which closed in 1960. There’s also real, Southern Illinois coal, which Peabody Energy Gateway North Mine in Coulterville, Illinois, donated.
“It’s more than just an exhibit — it’s an experience, and that’s the whole idea. When you go down into that room, you are experiencing what it might be like to be in a mine,” said Brian Keller, who also acts as a curator of sorts for the museum and also happens to be Tommy’s uncle.
A lot of work
McLaughlin said there were a few things about Tommy’s project that set his apart from the others he reviewed — the main one being it was “highly unique,” as well as a benefit to the entire community.
Eagle Scouts put a lot of time into their project. Last year, Eagle Scouts and their volunteers nationwide completed 8.5 million hours of service toward their Eagle projects, with the average Eagle Scout putting in about 150 hours per project, according to Boy Scouts of Greater St. Louis.
McLaughlin said what really stood to him was number the hours Tommy put into his project.
“Others I reviewed had about 300 to 400 hours, but Tommy far surpassed that with over 900 hours,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said another element of Tommy’s project contributing to his recent regional selection for honor was that he had to “overcome a significant challenge that wasn’t his own making.”
That challenge was a pipe bursting and flooding his project space.
“But he kept at it in the midst of the hurdles that he had to overcome,” McLaughlin said.
“For as many hours that were put forth, from the research to the paperwork to the flooding, he wasn’t expecting but persevered through. Then actually implementing the coal mine exhibit — it just kinda of felt that it was all worth it in the end, and we’re so proud of him for not throwing in the hat,” Tommy’s mother, Liz said.
“I’d like to thank all who supported me: my donors, all the (18) volunteers, my family and friends,and the museum for allowing me the space to put the exhibit,” Tommy said.
Take a tour
For those who are unable to trek down the staircase to the basement level exhibit, Tommy has videos on YouTube so people can take a virtual tour.
For more information visit www.ofallonhistory.net or call 618-624-8409.