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Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe Keith Ailts completed a landscaping project at Sunset Rest Cemetery near Rushmore that has now earned him the Eagle Scout, the highest honor in the Boy Scouts.

Rushmore teen earns Eagle Scout

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

RUSHMORE -- For a Boy Scout to attain the highest honor in the organization -- that of Eagle Scout -- he has to earn at least 21 merit badges, complete a service project, take part in leadership opportunities and attend a Scoutmaster conference, all before the age of 18.

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There are more than 2 million Eagle Scouts in the nation, and though it is considered a difficult honor to achieve, a Rushmore couple will soon celebrate a second Eagle Scout in the family.

Keith Ailts had dreamed of achieving the Eagle Scout since before he was old enough to be a Cub Scout. Back then, he walked in his older brother's shadow to the meetings and became hooked on the organization that introduces boys to an array of experiences and builds leadership skills in the process.

Travis Ailts earned his Eagle Scout badge in 2006, and Keith will receive his in a special ceremony planned for Nov. 21, in Rushmore. The brothers are the children of Gary and Melody Ailts.

"Not many families have two boys that get Eagle Scouts," said Keith Ailts. "I wanted to become one, too."

It was nearly two years ago when Ailts discovered a way to do a project for his community that would not only invoke a sense of pride among its residents, but would give him an opportunity to get his hands dirty, organize volunteers and seek financial contributions from donors.

The result of his hard work can be seen in the Sunset Rest Cemetery just outside of Rushmore, where he and a crew of volunteers worked on a landscaping project that included relocating the cemetery's veterans memorial and flag, erecting a new sign and planting an array of perennial flowers.

"We come out here a lot and I saw the flower bed wasn't looking very nice," said Ailts. Others had noticed it as well, and when local donors John and Irene King stepped forward to establish a flower fund, Ailts' ideas for a project began to take root.

He worked with Sunset Rest's cemetery board on a plan that could be coordinated with their project to establish a new crossroad in the cemetery that would ease traffic flow during burials and Memorial Day programs.

Ailts began working on a design in February 2009 and, after receiving approval from the cemetery board, presented the plans to the Boy Scouts Sioux Council leadership for a final OK.

"You have to write up a booklet, you have to show leadership and you have to do a project that will benefit other people," said Ailts. And, the more hours the Scout can log in the process, the better it looks to the council.

The 15-year-old began seeking donations by mid-summer 2009 and raised more than $1,100 of the total $1,217 needed to complete the project. The dollars nearly matched the total hours put into the project, with Ailts logging nearly 88 hours of his own time. Other volunteers included his family, fellow Boy Scouts in Troop 134, members of the Sunset Rest Cemetery Board and friends. He also had help from a professional brick layer to get the landscaping block properly in place.

Gene Lais at the Worthington High School also offered assistance with a pair of signs for the cemetery -- one that is located in the landscaped area, and a second that was erected along Nobles County 35. Ailts designed the signs with help from his mom and brother, while Lais ordered them through his connections in the school's graphic design class. Bedford Technology donated the recycled plastic lumber for both of the signs.

Construction of the landscaping began in late July 2009, and Ailts finished the entire project a few months later. Once it was finished, he still had to attend a couple of camps this past summer to earn the camping merit badge and meet the Eagle Scout requirements.

Ailts is excited to get his Eagle Scout honor, and appreciates seeing the results of his hard work. Community residents also seem to like the addition to the cemetery.

"Everybody likes it," he said. "They compliment me every time they see me."

Ailts is one of two members in Troop 134 to earn the Eagle Scout this year. The other is Justis Ostrem.

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