LA SALLE, Ill. — Stacks of small wooden planks and cutouts of candy canes, ornaments and bells were stacked on a table in a communal hall at the La Salle Veterans Home Thursday.
As residents filtered in, with the help of volunteers they found their way to the table to collect supplies for their monthly woodworking activity. For October, the craft was to create a standing Christmas tree that would be painted and decked out with the cutouts.
For just under two years, the woodworking activity has been facilitated by area volunteers and students from La Salle-Peru High School, organized by Marseilles resident Keith Deck.
He said it all started when he and his wife, Janie, approached the home seeking volunteer opportunities. What he found was that there was a need for this particular type of activity.
A range of volunteers, many veterans themselves, gather each month to assemble the projects. Ten to 15 veterans take part in the woodworking activities on a monthly basis, Deck said.
Susan Scully, director of volunteer services for the veterans home, said the woodworking activity gives residents much more than the projects they complete.
“It gives them a sense of purpose and a reason to come out of their room and socialize with others,” she said, noting the projects are also a way to boost to their self-esteem and confidence.
Past projects, some of which are on display in a front glass case at the veterans home, have ranged from a small chair and wheelbarrow to a bird house. Scully said they sell the items they make, with the proceeds coming back for the purchase of more wood. She said Deck does the woodworking, cutting out shapes and making his own kits for projects.
Deck said the process has been a learning one for the volunteers, learning about what activities work best for the group and their different levels of participation, as well as seeing how the activity engages them physically and mentally.
A Navy veteran himself, Deck said he enjoys working with the residents and hearing their stories, particularly those of the World War II veterans.
“The stories they tell are just incredible,” he said. “Those stories are just going away.”
Morris resident Rhode Bronk, who also is commander of the Disabled American Veterans organization at Morris’ Chapter 86, said he was pulled into the volunteer work through Deck. He said it was a nice fit of his interests.
“I like doing woodworking, I always have,” he said. “And being a disabled vet, it’s nice to come out here and do something with the veterans.”
Beyond coming out, Bronk said his DAV chapter has helped support the woodworking activities with financial donations. Bronk also said it’s fulfilling work.
“I think working with the veterans makes you feel good,” he said.
After pulling on gloves, obtaining paint brushes and paints in small containers, the residents carefully applied paint to the wooden shapes and began to assemble the trees with electric drills. Instead of painting tree ornaments, Felix Borisek, a lifelong La Salle resident and World War II veteran, worked on a dice box game.
Borisek said he always enjoyed working with his hands, and woodworking.
“I was always a handyman,” he said. He said he was a foreman at the Westclox factory, working side jobs as a plumber, electrician and carpenter, to name a few.
“At that time, I had to work to live,” he said. “If you didn’t do jobs on the side, you didn’t live as well.”
The only thing Borisek said he’d like to change is how often it’s held.
“I’d like to have it once a week,” he said.
Deck said the group can always use volunteers interested in joining and helping the residents with the activities. Potential volunteers can contact him at (815) 795-4811 or Scully at (815) 223-0303, ext. 296.