Saugerties Boys State delegates prepare for annual leadership event

Saugerties delegates to Boys State will learn how to develop their critical thinking in a group setting. (Photo by David Gordon)

The delegates chosen to represent American Legion Post #72 of Saugerties at next month’s annual Boys State program had their first taste last week of what the five-day event is all about. They met other delegates from across Ulster County. In late June, they will all head to SUNY Morrisville for Boys State, an immersive leadership course in practical government. 

The 2019 delegates from Post #72 include Jeremy Cornelison, Caleb Vickery, Ethan VanPietrzak, Randy Dodig, Mark Danza and Carter Vail. On Thursday, June 27, the Saugerties High School students will head to central New York to begin the Boys State program, which runs through Tuesday, July 2.

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Delegates, nominated by the school faculty, were chosen by the American Legion Boys State Committee at Post #72 for qualifications in leadership, character, scholarship, service and citizenship. Two delegates from the roughly 1000 participants in the state program will be selected to move on to Boys Nation later in the summer. 

In 1935, Hayes Kennedy, a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the Americanism chairman of the Illinois chapter of the American Legion, and Harold Card, the chapter’s Boy Scout chairman and a junior-high schoolteacher, became concerned about the rise of non-democratic political indoctrination camps. They decided to found their own organization stressing the importance of a democratic form of government. In June 1935, the first Boys State program was held on the grounds of the Illinois State Fair.

“It’s designed to teach them how our government, from the local levels all the way up, work, and how they come together,” explained Kevin Pendergast, chairman of the Post #72 Boys State Committee. “There are kids across the state, and when they go there they don’t stay with their guys. They stay in separate dorms in their own separate groups, develop friendships, and vote on the people that are going to run their respective areas, their counties and state. And if you do well up there and get voted up to the governor’s position, you get selected to go on to the Boys Nation for the next level that summer.”

Pendergast said that the program offers kids an opportunity to use on-the-fly critical thinking in a group setting, something they may not get enough of elsewhere. 

“Kids today, everything is timed out and planned out for them,” said Pendergast. “Thinking outside the box for a lot of these kids, you can see they don’t know what to do. But they go up there knowing nobody when they get there, but in the end, in a short time, they make friends and work with people from all around the State of New York.”

Cornelison is looking forward to Boys State. “I want to go into law,” he said. “This is perfect for that, as it’s a mock democracy. I’ve been touching up on government and trying to get a better understanding of that. I think it’s going to be a really good experience, being with a group of guys I’ve never met before.”

Pendergast likes the enthusiasm of the Saugerties delegates, especially as participation in Boys State has been on the decline. “From a state perspective, the numbers have dropped off with less participation,” he said. “Years ago, the place was packed. Like a lot of programs, it waned. People’s lives are so busy today, and to find the time to devote to things like this is hard.”

The interest is still there in Ulster County, in part due to the efforts of incoming Saugerties schools superintendent Kirk Reinhardt, who serves as the county chairman for the Boys State program. 

It helps that there’s so much support for Boys State in Saugerties, said Pendergast, who cited the Elks Club, Sawyer Motors and Sawyer Savings Bank as among its local sponsors. A similar Girls State program is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. 

“Saugerties is never a town to not give back, and help donate to get the kids up there,” said Pendergast. “These folks in this community have always shown their support. I can’t thank them enough.”

Upon their return from Boys State, the Post #72 delegates will join in the Saugerties Fourth of July parade.

“I think it gives kids a great look for when they leave high school and college of how our democracy works,” said Pendergast. “One day down the road it’s going to mean a lot to them.”

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