From the time he was a little boy, David Lehman was always bothered that the flag pole in front of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca was not properly illuminated at night.
As he grew older and became active as a Cub Scout, Webelos, and then Boy Scout, he stepped up and did something about it. He took on the flag pole as his Eagle Scout project.
“He’s been patriotic since he was a baby,” said his mother, Diane, explaining why her son considered it imperative that he did something to honor the flag waving atop the flag pole in front of the church where the family worships on Sundays.
The senior at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, though, soon found out the project he adopted was not going to be as simple as digging out the old flag pole, putting in a replacement pole into the hole in the ground, and then installing a bulb to keep the flag well lit and visible in the dark of night.
He learned soon enough that the job is not as easy as putting up outdoor Christmas lights. It was more complicated than that. He realized from the get-go that he had to jump over a number of hoops – bureaucratic, financial, manpower, among other things – to complete his project.
Before David could even get to his proposed project’s launching pad, first he had to get the green light from the pastor of the church, Father Patrick J. Walker. For that, he had to write a project proposal.
The problem with the old flag pole, he explained in his proposal, was that it not only had improper illumination at night. It was also a constant challenge for facilities manager Richard Sepulveda to raise the flag or to take it down during foul weather.
After the project was approved by the pastor, it was down to the crucial leg of the Eagle Scout project for the oldest of the three children and the only son of Dan Lehman, a state employee working for the California Department of Fish and Game, and wife Diane who works at the office of St. Anthony’s Parish.
The City Hall bureaucratic hurdle
First, David had to get a building permit from the city. But he didn’t just have to go to City Hall and ask for it. He had to find somebody to draw the plans for his flag pole. And because his proposal included the installation of an electric light to keep the flag illuminated during the night, he was also required to get an electrical permit from the city.
David, who plans to join the military after high school, couldn’t just make a drawing of his project on a piece of paper by himself either. The law says the building has to be drawn by a licensed architect. Fortunately for the Central Catholic senior, his parents knew a family friend who was a professional architect and was willing to donate his time for the cause.
And while all the preparatory work was being done at the project site, every aspect of the job – from the digging of the hole in the ground to the proper disposal of the old cement material – had to be inspected by the city.
The financial challenge
The project didn’t come cheap either for the high school senior. Taking care of the fiscal side of the project was another difficult challenge that faced the would-be Eagle Scout. Since his parents could not subsidize his effort, he had to secure all the financial backing that his project required.
“The Boy Scouts of America does not want parents to have to pay for their boy’s project,” Diane Lehman said of the financial hurdle that their son confronted early on.
The flag pole alone cost $800. The building permit fee was around $300. The electrical permit, which was separate, came up to $200. The price tag for the lighting material was $400.
To the fiscal rescue came the St. Anthony of Padua chapter of the Knights of Columbus. But David did not just go to the group’s meeting and ask for money. He gave a talk on flag etiquette – how to properly maintain or hang a flag, the right way to dispose of Old Glory, why it needs to be illuminated at night and why it should be taken down during bad weather, and when it should be flown at half mast.
In addition to the Knights of Columbus, families in the parish who heard about what he was doing also gave donations. He also talked to his parents’ friends about his project and to get their support. That was the modus operandi that he used to getting many aspects of his project donated as well. A business in Ripon donated the cement that was needed to secure the base of the flag pole.
Thanks to all the donations he collected, he was able to order the flag pole from a company in Kentucky as well.
Labor that was needed to dig the ground and take out the old pole, replace it with a new one, install the electric wiring and the light bulb was a separate challenge altogether. David had to form a work crew that would help him do all that, which is another Eagle Scout project requirement.
All’s well that ends well
Time was of the essence to get the project completed before David turned 18 years old just before Thanksgiving. The Eagle Scout rule requires that the project has to be completed before the Scout’s 18th birthday. Despite the scare, David made the deadline.
The day after Thanksgiving, Father Walker did the honor of blessing and dedicating the church’s new flag pole located in the grassy area between the church and the ministry building near the curb along East North Street.
David also made sure that he secured a telescoping flag pole for his project, so that Sepulveda does not have to put up a lot of effort anymore when he needs to take the flag down when it’s raining.
“Because the flag pole was so old, it was hard for Richard to bring the flag in during bad weather,” Diane said.
A lightning rod was also installed so that “during a storm you don’t have to worry about being electrocuted. So you could stand around the flag and pose for pictures and be perfectly safe,” she added. That was all part of the permitting requirement, she said.
In recognition of the anonymous people who donated the old flag pole, David and his work crew saved some of the concrete that was taken out and mingled it with the new materials used for the base.
“It was an old flag pole. A wonderful family put it in with love years and years ago,” Diane said.