Word of the triplet Eagle Scouts has been percolating through the community for a couple of months now - three brothers, born within minutes of each other 18 years ago this spring, who will achieve the highest rank attainable in the Boys Scouts of America. These things don't happen every day - in fact, it appears to have happened only once in nearly 100 years of Scouting - so attention must be paid.
It's finally official, which means we get to tell you about the Podhorniak boys today, and we could not have a more perfect moment for the story - Mother's Day 2008.
For it's possible that Nicholas, Matthew and James Podhorniak might have done this on their own, but that's hard to imagine. They have 83 merit badges and three Eagle Scout community projects among them, and that's not something teenage boys pull off without a dedicated parent at the wheel of a minivan.
Behind every motivated boy there's usually a supportive adult, and in this case, it was the mom.
There were others who helped the brothers - the adult leaders of Scout Troop 746, for instance - but Mom gets first thanks.
Rosemary Podhorniak provided the emotional and logistical support for her boys as they climbed their way through the Boy Scouts merit system, and, as some of you might have sensed by now, she didn't have a partner to share this responsibility.
Her husband died in 1991, when the Podhorniak triplets were only 15 months old.
"His name was George," Rosemary Podhorniak says when I ask about her husband. "He had lymphoma. He was 31. We had been married nine years."
It has been Mom and the Podhorniak Trio at their house in White Marsh since then.
Rosemary finished her undergraduate degree, took jobs as a bookkeeper and raised the triplets. She had help from grandparents and, eventually, the extended family of Troop 746.
Two of the boys, Matt and Jim, moved into Scouts at the Webelos level, when they were in the fifth grade. Nick held off, convinced that Webelos was "all about arts and crafts."
By the time the Podhorniaks were 11, they were fully into Scouts, going on camping trips each month, attending meetings every Friday. Campfires and knives got them excited, as they usually do for all boys.
Rosemary Podhorniak didn't know much about Scouts, but she jumped into the troop's activities head-first. "This was something we decided to do as a family," she says. "The boys wanted Scouts, so I got involved."
"She's a wonderful person," says Bill Freeburger, Troop 746's Scoutmaster. "Rosemary is a very, very active person who's interested in the other boys, too, not just her own. ... She got right in there with us. She wasn't afraid to go on the camping trips, no matter how ugly the weather got. You know, you can usually tell who among the boys will be an Eagle Scout by how much a parent is involved."
All three boys set their minds to reaching Eagle Scout fairly early on.
"We'd see older guys in our troop get the medal," Matt says, "and that got us thinking about it." But it's not like they made a pact. To hear Jim, Nick and Matt tell it, they just liked Scouts - the friendships they made, the skills and life lessons they picked up - and they wanted to go as far with it as they could.
Nick liked learning first aid the best, and now he's thinking about medical school. Matt enjoyed learning to sail and handle a rifle. Jim liked wilderness survival.
Each of them earned the required merit badges and then some. Each took on a community service project, too - Nick got a new trophy case for the music department at Ridgely Middle School in Cockeysville, Matt made improvements to more than 300 feet of fencing around a playground at his church, and Jim organized an effort to make a half-mile of trail in a state park wheelchair-accessible.
"And something else about Jim you should know," says Freeburger. "He's a leader. He was elected twice the senior patrol leader of our troop, and that's quite an honor. And he did it even with his medical problems."
That's another part of the story: In the midst of the Podhorniaks' efforts to attain Eagle Scout status, doctors discovered a noncancerous tumor in Jim's head. It originated in his sinus. He's had four surgeries since 2006 - the first lasted 16 hours, the most recent, in March, lasted 11. "Hopefully, they got most of it, and it will stop growing," Rosemary Podhorniak says. "It hasn't affected his vision or his hearing. ... Jim doesn't like to talk about this much."
He'd rather talk about knots and lashings, about climbing rocks on a Scouts trip out West, about his various roles with various bands at Calvert Hall College High School, where he, Matt and Nick are seniors. Jim plans to attend Towson University in the fall. Matt is headed to UMBC and studies in computer science, and Nick plans to enter Neumann College near Philadelphia.
"I don't know what I'm going to do when they go off to college," Rosemary says.
The Podhorniaks are the second triplets to attain Eagle Scout status, as far as we can tell. A Google search turned up references to three brothers in Virginia being the first, in 2004.
"It's a very high honor," Freeburger says. "We have a lot of Boy Scouts, but not many make Eagle Scout. It takes commitment from the teenaged boy because, you know, cars and girls compete with it. It's a great, great honor, and the boys will always have it, always be reminded of it, and a lot will be expected of them."
The Podhorniaks' Eagle Scout ceremony is May 23. Calvert Hall's graduation follows about a week later. Exciting days for Nick, Matt and Jim.
But today is Mother's Day. Today is Rosemary's day. Today we say: Nice job, Mom.
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