The Walter Kowalewski III and Andrew Baldyga Memorial Award
By Gary Lake, Scoutmaster Emeritus
Andrew Baldyga and Walter Kowalewski were no different than any other scout in troop 48. Each found the experiences of scouting to be challenging and rewarding. Backpacking and camping for both Andrew and Walt became an important part of their lives while in the troop.
When the troop set out on its first 50 mile backpacking trip, Walt was one of the more capable teenagers on the trip. During that 35 mile hike Walt and the other scouts enjoyed the many vistas both day and night. One night even offered a display of lightning off in the distance well below our altitude. Along with a pesky raccoon one evening and a quite “where should we go” midday thunderstorm another day the excitement just came coming. Since the AT only gave us 35 miles we spent the last day of the trip canoeing the Delaware River for 15 miles, where I believe as much of the day was spent in the river as on it. In this picture, Walt can be seen on the right in the red shirt and the piedmont of New Jersey in the distance. Even though the conversation while hiking was nothing meaningful, I came to know Walt and the other scouts quite well. I was struck by Walt’s maturity and empathy for his fellow scouts. He was never the one that spoke ill of or in ridicule of anyone. His attitude was positive and when the day grew long and the feet were sore Walt was the first to offer his hand to another to help him get up from a rest and head for the rear of the line to make sure the others were able to keep up. When it was all over Walt seemed to walk a little taller on each trip he attended.
Andrew, a few years later experienced his first backpacking trip when we walked a section of the AT in New Hampshire. This was the hardest of any adventure we ever attempted and Andy, new to the troop, gave it his all. With his bags of GORP and a steady heart he made it through to the top of Mount Washington. Although Andy could not complete the entire trip, he was not to be denied on subsequent trips. He kept coming back for more and was able to put plenty of AT miles under his feet in the years to come. The confidence he gained on each trip would ultimately guide him through many life decisions. Upon graduating from Duke he went for the adventure of working in Yellowstone to be near the pristine outdoors of the national park. Working in a hotel kitchen, his career wasn’t thriving but his goal of experiencing the best of the Rockies was. His experiences out there made the rest of us very jealous.
Before leaving for Yellowstone came back to the troop for several backpacking experiences. Pictured above, he was assisting me in a short training trip on the Batona Trail. Later that summer he assumed the role as my only adult assistant as we backpacked the AT in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and Georgia. Although the trip met with less than success, Andrew’s maturity and leadership was invaluable to the group and me. I knew after that trip that I had gained a true friend that would be there for the troop whenever needed.
Shortly after joining the troop, Walter became sick and would regularly miss meetings. One night at a regular troop meeting, Walter and his parents came in to explain his predicament. They explained that Walt had a cancer in his arm and they had to remove his triceps. With a sort of comic optimism they demonstrated how his arm could only move in one direction and that if he raised his arm over his head his hand would fall back onto his head. With no hint of concern for any cancer being left behind they left with nothing but a clear vision that he would be back in full swing with the troop in no time.
Walter and his family awoke each day knowing that Walt’s cancer was merely an obstacle to overcome and not an end. Each day they grouped around Walter in his hospital bed and enjoyed every moment with him until in his mother’s arms he slid off and would never attend another troop meeting.
Each day Andrew threw the covers off himself to place his feet on the floor looking forward to the events of the day. Never was that more true than a warm day in July as Andrew was about to climb a mountain in the Grand Tetons. He had prepared for this ambitious event and looked forward to it with fervor. As he and several friends enjoyed the scenery and challenge of the climb Andrew took his last step on a piece of ice losing his grip and falling several hundred feet. That enthusiasm he awoke with earlier that day was never to happen again and our fellow scout would never join us on another backpacking trip.
Walt and Andrew embraced the best that the troop had to offer from the brotherhood to the adventures, from the successes to the failures. We can keep these scouts alive in the troop by doing the same as they did – waking each day and embracing a spirit that is adventurous and optimistic.
We honor both of these fallen scouts as best we can by each year linking their names to other scouts in Troop 48 that wake each day exhibiting a scouting spirit that we can all try to live up to.
Winners of the The Walter Kowalewski III and Andrew Baldyga Memorial Award:
Daniel Kowalewski – 1991
Chris Notorfrancesco – 1992
Steve Casaboon – 1993
Bill Farreny – 1994
Kevin Chin – 1995
C.J. Trost – 1995
Daniel Whalen – 1996
Kurt Schmid – 1998
Ted Madden – 1999
Ian Denholm – 2000
Andrew Johnson – 2001
Evan Denholm – 2002
Michael Gallagher – 2003
Shern Kier – 2003
Dan Bush – 2004
Chris Dambly – 2005
Jim Galloway – 2006
Aaron Kopania – 2007
Nolan Kier – 2008
Sean Gillespie – 2009
Daniel Smith – 2010
Sajin Maharaj – 2011
Josh Siegel – 2012
Nicholas Maurer – 2013
Bryan “Skippy” Gillespie – 2014
Stephen Chiasson – 2015
Chase Kniesler – 2016