Couple happily designs, builds and thread-crochets through their retirement years

Wally and Sharon Lutz with some of the items they recently designed and made in their Montevideo home. Photo by Scott Thoma

Wally and Sharon Lutz with some of the items they recently designed and made in their Montevideo home. Photo by Scott Thoma

“We each like to do our own thing,” said Wally Lutz, smiling as he turned toward his wife, Sharon. “We don’t like the same kinds of shows on television, so we each have our own room with a TV in it.”

The Montevideo couple also utilize their hobby talents in their own way in separate work areas.

Wally, who recently turned 86, designs and builds wooden toys. Most of the toys he constructs in his downstairs workroom are farm related, such as tractors, barns, stables, fences, and various farm animals. He builds wood toy airplanes, as well as birdhouses and other items.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with wood,” he said.

Sharon, 10 years Wally’s junior, can be found in an adjacent room sitting at a work station while thread-crocheting angels, snowmen, ornaments, chrismons, eggs, pumpkins, and much more.

“I learned how to thread-crochet from my grandmother when I was in elementary school,” she explained. “My brothers were all in sports, and this was a way for me to stay busy until they came home.”

While the couple enjoy doing their own thing with no interaction or interference from one another when working on a particular project, they do have one impressive similarity.

“Sharon and I make the patterns or designs out of our heads,” said Wally.

“It’s more challenging to create a unique design yourself, rather than making the same thing someone else does,” echoed Sharon.

“Sometimes I’ll get an idea in my head, and I can’t get to sleep,” laughed Wally. “Thinking of different patterns is the fun part.”

The Lutzs met in the summer of 1958 in Valley City, N.D., where they both were living at the time, and were married the next year.

The Lutzs made the move to Montevideo in 1962 because of Wally’s position as a petroleum representative. He was transferred to another location for a few years, and then they returned to Montevideo in 1968 and have been there ever since.

Wally managed the Cenex station in Montevideo for 24 years until retiring in 1995. He then began to devote more time to his woodworking skills.

While Wally was working at Cenex, Sharon began making various crafts in 1982 for Creative Crafts, a co-op consignment crafts store formerly located in the business district until the store closed in 2003.

“I made sun catchers and angels and things like that,” she said. “After the store closed, I started making things as a hobby and to give for gifts.”

Wally working on a stable in his workshop. A completed stable is to the left of the one he is working on. Photo by Scott Thoma

Wally working on a stable in his workshop. A completed stable is to the left of the one he is working on.
Photo by Scott Thoma

And Wally would help out by building tables and shelves and other things for the Creative Crafts store when he could.

“That’s how I accumulated all the tools and table saws and things I have that I now use to make my wooden toys,” he exclaimed.

Wally’s passion for making wooden toys actually started while making a birdhouse about 10 years ago and trying to somehow incorporate a tractor with it.

“The two things together looked bad, but Sharon liked the tractor I made and suggested I make more of them,” Wally said. “We don’t help each other with what we’re making, but we will ask an opinion on something we make.”

“I don’t know how to make his, and he doesn’t know how to make mine,” Sharon remarked. “But we do ask each other’s opinion when we’re making something.”

Wally is unable to give a timetable on the number of hours he spends on his detailed toy tractors because he tends to make several at one time.

“Most of the time is spent waiting for the glue to dry,” he said. “I use wood for everything except little hinges on the barn roof and the stable doors.”

But he also spends time making sure his projects are realistic and to scale. He even puts treads in the tractor’s wheels by cutting into them with a dremel.

“I have to do that out in the garage because (the etching into the wood) smells the whole house up,” he said.

Each of Sharon’s thread-crochet items is delicately detailed. They appear to require a painstakingly long time to complete, but Sharon dispels that assumption.

“It’s not as long as you would think,” she said. “A couple hours to crochet from start to finish. But you have to remember that I’ve been doing this a long time.”

After each item is crocheted, they are dipped in sugar water of equal parts, then pinned over a form on a soft tile to retain their shape, and allowed to dry for a couple of days. When dry, the sugar water hardens, and the items become more durable.

Sharon pinning an angel skirt around a form to allow it to dry and stiffen. Photo by Scott Thoma

Sharon pinning an angel skirt around a form to allow it to dry and stiffen. Photo by Scott Thoma

“Sugar water works a lot better than a commercial stiffener,” Sharon explained.

But it also takes patience and a watchful eye when preparing the sugar water.

“You have to boil the mixture on medium high for about 3 1/2 minutes,” she said. “And you have to put a thermometer in it to make sure it is exactly 214 degrees. One degree higher or lower and it doesn’t work as well. I experimented with it a lot. There were a lot of trial and errors.”

Soon, the house was becoming a warehouse for wood toys and thread-crochet items. So they decided to start selling some of their inventory at area vendor shows.

“We go to four shows a year now,” said Sharon. “We’ve been doing it for a number of years. It’s something to do together that we enjoy. And making these things keeps us healthy, both mentally and physically.”

When looking at the price tags attached to their crafts, it’s obvious that they aren’t attending vendor shows to get rich. The money they earn goes into purchasing more stock for their projects than into their pockets. They each have a vast supply of materials in their respective areas.

But attending a vendor show is also rewarding when the Lutzs see the smiles on the faces of those purchasing their items.

“I love seeing the children so excited when their parents or grandparents buy them something we’ve made,” said Wally. “It’s not just boys that buy the barns or tractors. A lot of girls want them, too.”

At one vendor show, a little boy was attending with his mother and urged her to purchase one of Wally’s tractors.

“She had bought a lot of things from us at shows,” said Wally. “But his mother said ‘no’ this time, and the little boy started to cry. It broke my heart.”

Sharon then completed the story.

“Wally is such a ‘softie,’” she said. “He knew the mother and found her the next day and gave her the tractor to give to the boy.”

It’s hard not to be a “softie” when you have seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren of your own.

The Lutzs say they will continue with their hobbies as long as they are able because it gives them too much pleasure.

Making the items will continue to keep Wally and Sharon apart, but selling them will continue to bring them together.