By Danielle Coots
For the News-Current
BEAVERCREEK — The girl scouts have a motto — “Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.” In keeping with that motto, local Girl Scouts introduced one of their own to the Angel’s Pass Memorial Park on Factory Road on Saturday, July 23.
Pat Copeland was a special guest during a memorial ceremony in honor of the park that is the foundation of a tragic event that shaped Copeland’s life.
“I received a call from Mrs. Copeland asking if I could give her the address to the Angel’s Pass Memorial Park because she wanted to see it,” said Troop leader Susan Grinkemeyer. “We can do better than that. We wanted to show her how much this park means to us now.”
On March 18, 1959, eight Beavercreek Girl Scouts and two troop leaders loaded into a station wagon after visiting the Xenia Library to work on their current merit badge. Troop 133 was heading home when they crossed over the railroad tracks near US Route 35 on Factory Road around 10 a.m. The vehicle collided with a Pennsylvania freight train. Six passengers were instantly killed while three others died at the hospital.
The victims were: Leaders Jeanette Randall, 38 and Lucille White, 34; and Girl Scouts: Connie Laprise, 11; Patricia Lipinski, 12; Cynthia-Jean Moorman, 11; Anne North, 11; Paulnetta Randall, 11; Linda Ellen Ward, 11; Sharon White, 11; and Anna Wilvert, 11.
The accident made national news. On March 19, 1959, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that W.R. Murray, the engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad said, “He saw the car slow down as it approached the crossing and he thought it was going to stop. But, it kept coming into the train’s path.”
Investigators indicated that the train was moving 60-70 mph and did not have enough time to stop. In 1959, the train crossing did not have the cautionary signals known today. It was a concern of the city at the time. Prior to the accident, it was noted in the Hamilton Daily News Journal on March 19, 1959 that the Greene County school board had previously requested a flashing system at the crossing but did not receive permission.
There were two girl scouts of Troop 133 that could not make the trip that day — Copeland and Candy Prystaloski. They were in the sixth grade and their Girl Scout experience changed from that moment on. Copeland moved out of state once she graduated from Beavercreek High School. She had not returned to the area until this memorial ceremony.
Prystaloski stayed in the area and wanted to make sure the Girl Scout victims stayed in the memory of not only the Girl Scouts but also to the community. She was instrumental in getting Angel’s Pass Memorial Park approved and built.
The park is situated next to the bike path where the old train tracks were and the scene of the accident.
Copeland made the trip from Indianapolis with her sister and was welcomed by members of the surviving family of the victims and girl scouts and troop leaders from seven local troops that welcomed her back to the area. The ceremony demonstrated their pride as an organization through the raising of the flags, girl scout songs and promise, a candle lighting and, of course, girl scout cookies.
“This park helps make our own girl scout experience richer by having it available to us,” said Grinkemeyer.
Copeland wore her girl scout sash with her merit badges proudly demonstrated and she accepted a bouquet of flowers and held in the tears that were pushing to come out. She said being surrounded by people that that felt her grief, helped her appreciate the park even more.
“Being a part of a girl scout troop that is military based, we get a lot of turn around with the girls and troop leaders. But, what we try to do is tell this tragic story to new members as much as possible so they know the importance of the park and also the history of the troop. It’s a big part of our community and it means a lot to us to have such as great space for the Girl Scouts, but we want to make sure the girls understand and appreciate the meaning of the park,” Grinkemeyer said.
Along with the Beavercreek Parks, local Girl Scout troops care for and maintain the park. The park is open to the public.
Danielle Coots is a freelance writer for Greene County News.