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‘Bittersweet’ day as Andrew McMorris Lodge formally opens at scout camp

The scouting spirit of Andrew McMorris will continue to shine as generations of future scouts visit the new lodge that bears his name.

The Andrew McMorris Lodge at the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Calverton was formally unveiled with a ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday morning, marking the culmination of a restoration project to turn a rundown Adirondack cabin into a new, updated space that can accommodate large groups of boys and girls.

A picture of Andrew from his seventh-grade school year rested on a folding chair at the end of a row next to Andrew’s parents, Alisa and John McMorris, sister Arianna, and his close friend Carter Rubin during the ceremony. All throughout the lodge, Andrew’s memory was omnipresent.

“Being here today is bittersweet, of course,” Mr. McMorris said in his remarks. “We are overjoyed with this lodge and the fact that it’s paying tribute to our son and fellow scout. Yet we are simultaneously joyous and incredibly sad and broken hearted because our lively and kind-hearted son should still be here today.”

Nearly three years have passed since Andrew, 12, was killed by a drunk driver while on a hike with fellow scouts in Boy Scout Troop 161. And nearly nine months have passed since the driver responsible for Andrew’s death was sentenced and sent to prison.

The grieving process continues for not only the McMorris family, but the fellow scouts and friends who shared Andrew’s passions and for the community that still mourns his loss.

“This lodge is a perfect representation of what it takes to rebuild our life,” Ms. McMorris said toward the end of the ceremony. “Our lives were shattered and our family house was unrecognizable much the way this Adirondack cabin started out. But slowly we built a new foundation that included his spirit and fostered its growth.”

The ceremony featured remarks from several elected officials, including County Executive Steve Bellone, District Attorney Timothy Sini, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio and Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

David Hunt, the president of the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts, said the McMorris Lodge will be a place to bring young people together to learn and grow.

“I believe that Andrew’s passion and zest for life is imbued in this lodge and the beautiful camp that surrounds it,” he said.

Carter Rubin, the Shoreham teen who won Season 19 of “The Voice,” performed the National Anthem as well as two other songs at the end of the ceremony. He sang a duet with Arianna called “Where Do We Go From Here” as well a solo rendition of “Up From Here,” his original song from “The Voice.”

Ms. McMorris said Andrew and Carter used to talk about going together to competitions like “The Voice.”

“They were going to win the world,” she said in an interview.

Carter carried a memento of Andrew with him on stage when he performed on the TV show so he could bring his friend with him, Ms. McMorris said.

She said she didn’t expect to be as emotional during Saturday’s ceremony and said now they can take the next step forward.

The opening of the lodge had been delayed due the pandemic.

“It’s definitely worth the wait,” she said. “We were able to find little nooks and crannies of this building and actually John and I took part in building it and painting and Troop 161 painted all the siding. You had a lot of homegrown talent in this lodge.”

Ms. McMorris and her husband both used their remarks during the ceremony to reinforce the message to avoid drinking and driving.

“Please remember that life is fragile and drinking and driving is deadly and 100 percent preventable,” Mr. McMorris said.

Ms. McMorris advocated for technology to be implemented in vehicles that can detect when a drive is impaired. She said that equipment should become standard just like seatbelts and airbags. She spoke about supporting federal legislation such as the RIDE Act (Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone), which was introduced in the Senate, and HALT Act (Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving), which was introduced in the House of Representatives. Both bills advocate for drunk driving prevention technology to become standard equipment in new vehicles.

Ms. Aguiar presented the McMorris family a plaque on behalf of Riverhead Town that she said can hang in the lodge.

“We want to congratulate the foundation,” she said. “You took a vision and you made it reality.”