BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Camp Wilkes is known as the Boy Scout Camp of Biloxi, but it is actually open to the public. If you stop by there, you're almost sure to see a man who has dedicated his life to the place he holds sacred.
He has molded young lives there for more than half of a century and is affectionately known as "the oldest Boy Scout in America." That's why we honor AJ Stanovich of Biloxi as a South Mississippi Hero.
This scout leader watched little Fred Haise go from scouting in Biloxi all the way to the moon. Gerald Blessey went on to become Biloxi's mayor and now an appointed state official. A.J. Stanovich has been guiding and molding future leaders for a very long time.
"Probably about 10 hours a day or more and it's been 66 years," Stanovich said.
The year was 1942, during the height of World War II, when a scout master named Gene Wilkes helped the boy scouts secure 89 acres of waterfront and wooded land for a mere $4,000. His efforts were honored with the name "Camp Wilkes."
"As I was growing up, I didn't have a dad and Mr. Wilkes kind of more or less adopted me as their son," Stanovich remembered.
Mr. Wilkes and scouting, he said, helped raise him and he has never stopped giving back to the organization he holds sacred.
"He is the most dedicated, most awesome volunteer that has helped thousands of people," Tim Harrison said.
Harrison's Eagle Scout ceremony was held at a Camp Wilkes building now named for his father, a former scout leader and Eagle himself, Curtis Harrison. For Tim and several family members like cousin Kenny Goundas, it is part of their fabric. They say A.J. Stanovich held this special place together all these years, shaping countless young lives.
"He's tireless," Kenny Goundas said. "He's always working, he's always finding something else to do, he's always got something else going on."
But Stanovich said his acts of volunteer service are nothing heroic.
"You know some people hunt, some people fish, some people drink, some party, I enjoy working with kids," Stanovich said.
His hobby is a great service to this community.
"It's all for free," Goundas said. "He's been doing this longer than I've been alive, by a good bit actually, a couple of decades longer."
He'll actually be 81 next month and those who know him best say wild horses couldn't drag him away.
Adam Collins is on staff at Camp Wilkes.
"He'll be out here till the good Lord takes him and we want him out here," Collins said. "He's a valued asset."
Stanovich said Camp Wilkes and the young scouts who come through here year after year, keep him strong and full of life. He said that's just one of the many lessons he learned from Mr. Wilkes.
With a smile and a laugh Stanovich said, "My scout master said anyone who works with young people will stay young. He lived to be 94, I'm trying to outlast him."
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