By Donald Wittkowski
Two Eagle Scouts who embody the personal qualities emphasized in the Boy Scouts of America code were honored by City Council on Thursday night for projects that benefited the local community.
Council joined with the American Legion to also honor members of the Ocean City police and fire departments for helping two military veterans in separate incidents, including one man who needed life-saving CPR.
Nicholas Theis and Andrew Leonetti, members of Ocean City’s Boy Scout Troop 32, were showered with applause from the standing-room-only audience when they were called up to receive their honors in the Council chambers.
Theis, a freshman at the University of Missouri, recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout for creating a program that provides life jackets free of charge to boaters who need to borrow them. The idea is to loan the life jackets to boaters who have forgotten their own, ensuring that they won’t venture out on the water without one.
Leonetti, a junior at Ocean City High School, built a custom-made coat rack that he donated to the Ocean City Free Public Library to become an Eagle Scout. He spent eight months planning and building the portable coat rack, which stands 61 inches tall and 60 inches wide.
Eagle Scout is the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve. Only 4 percent of the Scouts are granted the rank after a lengthy review process for their community-oriented projects.
City Council President Peter Madden read proclamations honoring Leonetti and Theis for having the personal qualities associated with the Boy Scouts of America code, including “integrity, courage, perseverance, sacrifice and service to others.”
This wasn’t the first time Leonetti appeared before Council. Last year, he and another Ocean City High School student lobbied the governing body on behalf of young street performers who entertain the summer crowds on the Boardwalk.
At the time, Council and the mayor were debating the finer points of a new ordinance to regulate the Boardwalk performers. Leonetti has a band that plays on the Boardwalk to earn tip money. He was one of the performers that city officials consulted with as they crafted the ordinance.
Meanwhile, members of the city’s police and fire departments were also honored by Council on Thursday night in collaboration with the American Legion of Cape May County.
Citing their high level of professionalism, Mayor Jay Gillian said the city’s first responders allow him to “sleep better at night.”
“No matter what kind of crisis you go through, these men and women step up every day,” Gillian said.
During the honors ceremony, Ocean City police officers Brendan Gheen and Thomas Strunk were recognized for coming to the aid of military veterans in separate incidents.
Gheen helped save the life of veteran Jim Sweitzer, an Ocean City resident, by administering CPR and setting up a defibrillator after he found Sweitzer unconscious in his car on Nov. 4, 2017.
Ocean City Fire Capt. William Martin and firefighters George Karpinski, Ryan Lenegan, Matthew Slaughter and Jason Boyle arrived on the scene later and took over the life-saving efforts.
AtlantiCare paramedics Sandy Monaghan and Lauren Lasassa provided further assistance while Sweitzer was transported by ambulance to Atlantic City Medical Center’s Mainland Division.
In an incident on Oct. 16, 2017, involving another veteran, Strunk was among the first responders to help a man who was struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems.
At first, it appeared the man was disorderly and would have to be arrested. However, Strunk recognized the man was in need of medical attention and, along with Sgt. Tyrone Rolls, transported him to Cape Regional Hospital for treatment.
After learning the man was a Navy veteran, Strunk called the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Philadelphia to arrange for the man to receive counseling and treatment. Strunk received permission to drive the man to Philadelphia to the VA center.
In addition to being honored in proclamations from City Council, Strunk and members of the police and fire departments received certificates of appreciation from the American Legion for helping the two veterans.