By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY November 5, 2004 Sometimes good deeds are wrapped in strange packages.
A couple of years ago, when Michael VanDenberg was a 14-year-old Boy Scout looking around for a worthy Eagle Scout project, he came up with the idea of creating a handicapped accessible playground at Walnut Mountain Park.
Two years later, the 16-year-old Eagle Scout was selected as a finalist in the 5th annual "Angels in Action," a program sponsored by the makers of Angel Soft toilet paper to recognize children as role models for their efforts to improve their communities.
VanDenberg recently traveled to Los Angeles, California, where he was awarded $2,500 and a year's supply of the sponsor's product.
While in the City of Angels, he attended an awards ceremony hosted by Jane Kaczmarek, star of the FOX sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle."
VanDenberg also stopped by the shop of hotrod builder Boyd Coddington, a custom car fabricator he hopes to work for after completing technical college.
"I love mechanics," said the junior at Liberty High. "I want to be able to say 'Yeah, I built that' that's wicked and awesome."
Before the trip but after lining up about $66,000 in donations, grants and a lot of in-kind services, VanDenberg convinced almost 40 volunteers to lend a hand in building the playground and beautifying the park as his Eagle Scout Project.
He said that volunteerism "isn't the evil word it sounds like it's a ton of fun.
"The Liberty Parks & Recreation Department was totally psyched about it," he said. "The park is getting used more and more by AYSO and Little League, and the siblings of the players didn't have much to do."
All that changed after VanDenberg raised some big bucks by conducting a couple of pancake breakfasts, sold candy and put on a 1950s dance party.
VanDenberg joined Pack 96 of Liberty when he was 8 years old and worked his way up to Eagle Scout on his 16th birthday: June 19, 2004.
Recently, he and a couple of friends decided to start a Venturing Crew, "sort of a co-ed Boy Scout Troop, except we're way more hard core" with rafting, rappelling and SCUBA diving.
His folks, Dale and Carol VanDenberg, run Hillside Greenhouses in Liberty. His father is Scoutmaster for the local troop, while his mom serves as Cubmaster for the pack.
Troop 96 adopted the road running through a local cemetery and cleans it up twice a year in time for the annual 4th of July Parade that ends in the cemetery's Veterans Circle.
"It seems like a pretty popular place for people to roll down their windows and throw junk out," he said.
VanDenberg said that while out in L.A. for the awards ceremony, he got an idea of what a year's worth of toilet paper looks like, as a huge stack of rolls was on display during the event.
"Thats a lot of toilet paper, but I guess I'll use it," he said.