Fittest loser
Article updated: 10/30/2012 8:01 AM

Rolling Meadows parks leader is Scouting's go-to guy

Eagle Scout candidate Ben Shirmer, right, and Brian McKenna.

Eagle Scout candidate Ben Shirmer, right, and Brian McKenna.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

Ben Shirmer’s project will improve the drainage in the garden at the Rolling Meadows Senior Center.

Ben Shirmer's project will improve the drainage in the garden at the Rolling Meadows Senior Center.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

Ben Shirmer’s project to improve the drainage at the Rolling Meadows Senior Center is nearing completion. He has also constructed planters for the garden.

Ben Shirmer's project to improve the drainage at the Rolling Meadows Senior Center is nearing completion. He has also constructed planters for the garden.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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By Eileen O. Daday

Brian McKenna serves as superintendent of parks for the Rolling Meadows Park District. But local Boy Scouts know him as the go-to guy for Eagle Scout projects.

This summer alone, McKenna has worked with four Eagle Scout candidates from Rolling Meadows and Palatine, on projects at various park facilities.


McKenna describes it as a win-win. He knows of projects within the park system that need to be completed, and by enlisting local Scouts he can save the park district money.

At the same time, he adds, the Scouts are learning leadership and hands-on skills.

But the Scouts who turn to McKenna for ideas, know this much up front: Completing their Eagle Scout projects with him won't come easily. They'll have to put in plenty of planning, sweat equity and physical labor.

Ben Shirmer, a junior at Fremd High School and Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 209 in Palatine knows this all too well.

He is finishing up a project with McKenna at the Rolling Meadows Senior Center. Essentially, he led Scouts from his troop in solving a drainage problem at a memorial garden plot.

Left untreated, the garden was drawing standing water that was leaking into the senior center and the Rolling Meadows preschool, which share a common wall.

Shirmer and the Scouts worked with McKenna to install underground drainage tiles, as well as a vinyl liner around the perimeter of the garden to protect the building foundation.

Afterward, the park district delivered new top soil which they had to level, before installing raised garden beds and a new walking path made of crushed granite.

Shirmer was able to obtain all of his materials from the park district, as well as some of the heavier work that included removing a tree from the area. But he still spent nearly two months working to complete the project.

"I like working outdoors, with plants and wildlife," says Shirmer, who also plays lacrosse at Fremd and hopes to compete on the diving team this winter. "It was a lot of digging and flattening, but we're almost done."

Shirmer also helped his friend, Max Provan of Palatine, with an Eagle Scout project suggested by McKenna. Working with other Scouts from their troop, they built an accessible fire pit at Kimball Hill Park in Rolling Meadows, to add to its waterfall, gazebo and lighted ball fields.

The two started in Cub Scouts together and now have completed their Eagle Scout projects.

Another Scout who turned to McKenna was Conor Thomas of Rolling Meadows. Once again, the plan they came up with went beyond the common perception of an Eagle Scout project.

Thomas worked last summer to clear nonnative plants, such as buckthorn and wild brush, growing at Creekside Wood Park in Rolling Meadows. He also led Scouts from his troop to extend the walking paths into the 7-acre park, which offers residents the chance to hike and enjoy the wooded trails.

"I knew it would be a lot of work," says Thomas, a sophomore at Rolling Meadows High School, "but I think Eagle Scout projects should be hard work."

Currently, McKenna is working with Nihaal Sitaraman of Rolling Meadows on a beautification project in front of the Rolling Meadows Community Center. The Fremd junior is helping to install new signs in front of the building as well as add new raised flower beds and landscaping.

"It's really a high visibility site," McKenna says, "so making sure the signage and entry are new and cleaned up, is really important."

McKenna already has another project in mind for next spring. He is seeking a Scout to help lead a one-day project in rebuilding the playground at Creekside Park in Rolling Meadows.

"I'm thinking of it as a one-day, community build," McKenna says. "But I'm looking for a Scout to help pull it all together."

Interested Scouts can contact McKenna through the Rolling Meadows Park District. Email him, at

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