As veterans pounded nails into the walls of birdhouses on a recent Sunday, jokes got traded as often as a supply of hammers, nails and drills.
A new woodworking club at the Spokane Veterans Home draws six regulars who meet once a week around a long table in the dining room. The group has become so popular that the center has put out a call for community donations of woodworking tools, from hand saws to electric drills.
“This is a benefit to the veterans here,” said Willard Wilson, 75, an Army veteran who also is an author. “It gives me more relaxation and time with other people. It takes my mind off things, and it gives me a way to take out my frustrations with a hammer.”
By Nov. 5, the group finished 11 birdhouses adorned with American flags. Three of them are set to go into auction baskets for a Veterans Day remembrance event 11 a.m. Saturday at Jack & Dan’s Bar and Grill, 1226 N. Hamilton.
The group’s other birdhouses will sell for $20 each, at the event and then from the lobby of the Spokane Veterans Home. The proceeds from Saturday’s fundraiser and the birdhouse sales all benefit the center’s “betterment fund” toward residents’ activities and events.
Sheri Hendon, a veterans home social worker, had the idea to start the club. She began a woodworking hobby at home after a move to Nine Mile Falls. The property’s previous owner had left behind wood from a mill operation.
To bring what she’s learned to veterans, Hendon credits two donors who set that into motion.
“What got this club kick-started was a donation from a couple who lives in the Suncrest area – Mo & Karlyn Moyer,” Hendon said.
“They’re really big donors here, especially near the holidays. They had to build something at their home and had a bunch of extra cedar wood, so I went to pick it up.”
Because of the large amount of wood sections at first, Hendon employed the help of her 10-year-old grandson, Raylan Beirl. He later came to watch the birdhouses being constructed and to help on Oct. 29.
“When these were all individual pieces, there were 98 of them, and I took them home,” she said. Her grandson helped with staining and sealing.
“He wanted to be here to see us put them all together. When we had them all out in my shop, I told him, ‘Grab a brush, start over there and we’ll meet in the middle.’ My son is also a veteran, so they do what they can,” she said.
The motivation for bringing the craft to veterans goes beyond the projects.
“It benefits camaraderie, gets them out of their rooms, and it’s a good time to tell stories and just hang out, get to know each other,” she said. “There is a lot of using critical thinking skills, so it’s keeping the brain rockin’ and rollin’.”
Annie McCardy, a recreational therapist, helped Hendon launch the group.
“It took us a while to measure everything,” McCardy said. “It was all these boards. They had to go through the diagrams and figure out, OK we need this many 5 ¼ x 8 and 5 ½ x 8. Then, it took us a while with the table saw outside.”
Both she and Hendon move around the table offering assistance when needed.
Hendon said it helped that one veteran in the group is mathematically inclined.
“As that turned into a fraction equation scenario, we said, ‘Please don’t make it more difficult than it already is. We’re struggling.’ ” she said. “He had it handled; he was all over it.”
Gary Wright, 65, was busy hammering sides of a birdhouse together. He said a spinal cord injury paralyzed his lower body, but he has use of his arms. He traded jokes with Willard, who sat next to him. The group works on projects for nearly two hours before lunch.
“I’ve been with this club since the start,” Wright said. “I’m from a carpenter family. My dad was a contractor and all of us boys – I’m No. 3 out of six boys – we all helped dad. He taught us everything he knew, so I’ve pretty much been working with wood for quite a while.”
Bill Bresko, 97, also began piecing together sections with McCardy’s help. Bresko had served in the Marines, Navy and Air Force. He lost his home in August’s Gray fire in the Medical Lake area, Hendon said.
Bresko had done prior building and woodworking on a farm.
“We had to build a barn and woodshed,” said Bresko, who also did projects in a remote part of Alaska when he and his wife did mission work.
Myerlene Spiess, 77, helped the group with a little sanding and attaching flags while visiting with Hendon. Her husband served in the Air Force.
“I’m just trying out everything here,” she said of the Veterans Home. “I was even in the wheelchair races.”
Group member Robert Smith, a 76-year-old Air Force veteran, stopped by only briefly because he had visitors, but offered a few tips. He had worked as an electrical contractor but also lived on a ranch in Sandpoint after the military.
“I’ve done woodworking all my life,” he said. “On the ranch, we were building all the time. You’ve always got a hammer or rope in your hands because we raised rodeo stock.”
After birdhouses, the group plans to build shelves and coat racks, again to sell with proceeds for the veterans betterment fund. The group keeps improving its work, Hendon said, and any supply donations will help.
Other items needed are a planer, files, mallet, screw gun, tape measure, square, miter saw, lathe, clamps and an oscillating spindle sander.
Hendon said people can drop off woodworking club donations at the Spokane Veterans Home, 222 E. 5th Ave., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
“We definitely need more drills, because we fight over them, and hammers, and nails.”