By: Georgia Gilbert, East Syracuse/Minoa Area Service Unit Manager
At Camp Hoover in Tully, NY there is a Blue Spruce pine tree just around three or four feet tall outside Mark Lodge. It is a young tree, beautiful and perfectly formed. What many girls who stay at Mark Lodge or any of the other sites at Camp Hoover might not know is that the tree was not planted just to add beauty to an already beautiful camp. The tree was planted in memory of a young woman, beautiful but not quite perfectly formed.
Jessica Levering was born with a rare congenital heart defect. Hypo-plastic left heart syndrome is fatal if nothing is done about it so tiny Jessica had five open heart surgeries by the time she was five years old. If you didn’t know Jessica’s medical history you might not even realize that she had gone through so much in her entire life. She wasn’t one to complain or dwell on her medical issues.
Jessica became a Girl Scout when she was in first grade. After graduation she became a lifetime member. Girl Scouts, Jessica said, was a place where she could feel safe and be able to do the things the other girls did that she might not have had a chance to do given her medical issues. Anyone who knew Jessica in Girl Scouts always saw her as upbeat with a bright smile on her face.
I first met Jessica when she was a Girl Scout Junior. She was playing with a doll while her mother, Kay, was taking a class. Jessica was so well-behaved and striking with long dark hair and a pale complexion. She was a kid that seemed to be as at home with adults as she was with kids her own age. I didn’t know about Jessica’s health issues. It was just not a topic that she discussed. She’d rather talk to you about the Red Cross babysitting class she had taken. Or the camping trip her troop was planning. It wasn’t until she was an adult Girl Scout and we were doing camp training together that I got to know her a little bit better. She and I shared a love for Disney and she told me about her Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World. That was the first time I realized that she had serious health issues.
Jessica loved to camp. I will never be able to see a baggie omelet again without thinking of her! It was her favorite camp breakfast. Or how she taught the other adult participants Girl Scout songs at camp training because that was an area I did not excel in! Girl Scouts gave her a chance to go white-water rafting, take a trip to New York City where she and her troop got to do a workshop with the cast of Chicago. She went to horse camp and was proud that she was able to participate. When she graduated from high school she continued on in Girl Scouts helping out younger troops. It was not rare to see Jessica at training or a meeting. Even those who did not know her well knew who she was and have a fond recollection of her.
Throughout her life Jessica had problems with her immune system because of her heart defect. She had immunoglobulin transfusions regularly. Jessica was in her twenties when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The first things she asked her doctor after being diagnosed was for permission to continue in Girl Scouts. She said that she didn’t think she could make it through all that she was going through and what was ahead of her if she had to give up Girl Scouts.
Jessica passed away in February 2012 just a month after her 22nd birthday. Shortly after her passing a memorial was held in her honor at Camp Hoover. Family and friends brought pictures and other remembrances of Jessica. Prayer flags were hung along the road and the perfect Blue Spruce was planted. Pixie dust was added to the tree because it seemed like something that Jessica would have liked. It must have worked. The tree is strong and healthy and still perfect looking. To her mother Jessica was her hero, to her friends she was a best friend and to the rest of us she was a true Girl Scout.
If you and your troop ever get a chance to visit or camp at Camp Hoover stop by the tree and remember the Girl Scout that will forever be a part of the camp.