GOSHEN — Greencroft resident Elvie Bontrager doesn’t want to lead an idle life.
“I’m not going to sit in a rocking chair and rock; I’m going to get out and do something,” he said, donning a denim smock, sandpaper in hand, overlooking an end table for his sister-in-law.
Bontrager is one of about six residents of the senior living community regularly creating within the Greencroft Goshen Senior Center woodshop. Spread between two rooms, planers, saws, sanders, stacks of wood, tables and hand tools are situated throughout. Air hoses hang from the ceiling alongside electrical sockets.
The shop is a kind of meeting place for craftsman on campus.
Greencroft covers the sharpening of blades, the replacement of parts and other assorted upkeep; residents pay a one-time $10 key fee, a $10 annual shop fee and an additional $10 yearly fee for personal cabinet space.
Woodworkers can come and go as they please, and all residents are welcome to join.
“It gives me something to do, and also to meet other guys to talk and chat,” resident Harold Helmuth, a retired carpenter, said. “It’s kind of our small group, you know? I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have a wood shop.”
Hunched over his workbench, Helmuth burned lines into an assortment of wooden figurines from the creation story to be used by Sunday school children at his place of worship, Waterford Mennonite Church. A soon-to-be candy dish sits on the table, ready to be carved clean.
Helmuth said his work has taken first place twice at Greencroft’s Art is Ageless event, an annual contest and exhibit featuring residents’ work.
“The woodburning he does is so fine, it’s like an ink drawing with a fine pencil — it’s that fine,” said resident Russ Hochstetler.
In addition to working on personal projects, Hochstetler explained the shop crew will assist fellow residents by fixing chairs or other pieces of furniture.
“Knowing that we’re woodworkers, when they want something done, they’ll corner us,” Helmuth chimed, laughing.
Wood is typically sourced by donation, Hochstetler said, with local businesses such as Miller Door & Trim and Doors & Drawers Inc. offering scrap to the crew.
“Wherever we can get free lumber, we do,” he said.
There’s an unwritten rule, Hochstetler said, of shop members not using power tools unless someone else is around.
“We’ve had a few minor slips,” he said.
Hochstetler often assembles cutting boards shaped as Midwest states and sells them at local bazaars, most recently at a pop-up craft fair at The Old Bag Factory.
“I cut them, and they all have to be sanded until they’re perfectly smooth and clean,” he said, examining multiple slabs of wood clamped with a vise. “I usually number them so I know where they’re going to go. I glue them up, and after they’re glued for 24 hours, then I run them through a drum sander to smooth them clean.”
Walking through the shop’s finishing room, where lacquers and other coatings are applied, he points to trays with inlays and a Lazy Susan nearing completion.
“I get my tray ideas out of quilt books, and then we share with each other over here,” he said, noting inspiration is generated from thumbing through magazines as well. “The guys here are not tight about any of their ideas.”
While the space affords room for imagination, Hochstetler noted the camaraderie as a vital aspect of the woodshop.
“I lost my wife in May, so since then, I’ve been coming up about every day,” he said, adding about three other regulars have lost their spouses. “I spend probably three or four hours a day, maybe, in and out, back and forth.”
The group avoids getting bogged down by commissions, Hochstetler said; they agree — being told what to create saps the joy from their work.
“I just love to work with wood,” Hochstetler said. “I’m not sure what I’d do without that. It’s rewarding.”
To contact the Greencroft Senior Center wood shop, call 574-537-4092.Geoff Lesar can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 307.