Hutchinson woman takes over tools after husband passes away
When Duane Thorpe, of Hutchinson, was battling cancer four years ago, he suggested to his wife, Deb, that it might be a good idea to sell all of his tools. After all, Duane was a woodworker with an abundance of tools, and the extra money might come in handy.
“He knew he wasn’t going to survive the cancer because it had spread,” said Deb, with tears welling up in her eyes. “I had no plan to use the tools, though. But I didn’t want to sell them because I wouldn’t accept that he wasn’t going to be here.”
Duane passed away in June 2012 at age 53.
Duane and Deb had been a close couple as evidenced by the many Facebook photos she has posted reflecting their 25 married years together. Ironically, Duane and Deb were born on the same day, Nov. 2, 1958.
At the conclusion of this school year, Deb retired from a 35-year elementary teaching career, including nine years in the Clarkfield Public School system and the last 26 years with Hutchinson Public Schools.
While she was still teaching, her nights and weekends became lonely and boring after Duane’s passing. So, instead of sitting around the house thinking about the loss of her soul mate and best friend, Deb began “putzing around” in the garage.
She had absorbed a bit of woodworking knowledge from watching and assisting her late husband over the years.
“He would make crafts and things, and I would paint them,” she said. “And then we would go and sell the things we had made at craft shows. But I really never built anything myself, nor did I use any of the saws or other tools.”
Duane eventually started his own woodworking business at home, making kitchen cabinets, desks and tables, to name a few things. Deb would paint or varnish the completed projects. Together, they made several cabinets for her school. When Duane became too ill to do any woodworking, he began making stained glass projects.
After Duane’s passing, Deb’s “putzing” in the garage soon saw her attempting to build a few things on her own.
“I just needed to do something to stay busy. I needed to get on with my life,” she tried to explain, although the tone of her voice revealed exactly what she meant. “The first few things I made weren’t so great. But I’d like to think I’m getting better at it.”
While Duane would purchase wood to make his projects, Deb didn’t want to waste money buying a new piece of wood if the project she was attempting to create didn’t turn out.
So she found inventive ways to come up with her materials.
“See here,” she said, while opening a portion of the three-stall garage at her home to reveal an excessive amount of scrap wood and other materials.
Deb, a 1977 graduate of Tracy and a classmate of this article’s author, has become a self-taught constructor of
impressive projects created from scrap lumber, old pallets or old furniture.
For instance, she has transformed a child’s headboard into an outdoor bench, an old pallet into a table, and an old dresser into a TV stand.
“I don’t claim to be a professional or anything,” Deb laughed, downplaying her talent. “But I enjoy it, and it keeps me busy. And I know I’m using (Duane’s) tools.”
She often hooks up the trailer to her vehicle and scours the area for project material. The pieces she obtains might come from a construction site’s dumpster, an auction or even a second-hand store. As long as she can visualize something that can be made out if, she’ll grab it.
She also finds a lot of things online and is willing to drive to another community to pick it up if it interests her. And a lot of the paint and varnish she uses on projects is obtained free from the recycling center in town.
“I like to restore or refinish old furniture, too,” she said.” So I’ll look for some old piece of furniture at Goodwill or a garage sale or someplace like that. The pallets I find on Craigslist for free.”
And Hutchinson has a day each year in which residents can place one item they want to dispose of and the city will picked it up free of charge. Deb takes advantage of that day by driving around to see if anyone is tossing out something she could use all or a portion of for one of her projects.
Deb’s three children, Kelsie, Kyle and Kenzie, aren’t exactly enamored at the thought of their mother nosing around in a dumpster looking for possible treasures.
“I’ll joke around to my kids and ask them if they want to go ‘dumpster-diving’ with me,” Deb laughed. “They aren’t real excited about it.”
Most of the projects Deb constructs are for family or friends, but she has limitations when a request is made.
“I’m not good if someone asks me to make a certain piece of furniture,” she admitted. “I like to just ‘wing it’ and make something up as I go. Or, I might see something on Pinterest to make, and I’ll try that. If I can make something that maybe makes a low-income person happy, then it’s all worth it. I’m not in it for the profit.”
One of the most impressive items she has made is a crib-sized, bunk bed that she designed herself by refurbishing a twin-sized bed frame that she found on the city pick-up day and some pine boards purchased from Menard’s.
“That’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve made,” she said. “I made it for my grandkids, Claire and Evan.”
Because a lot of the wood she is able to pick up is old, it needs a coat or two of paint to look its best.
“Painted furniture is coming back so that’s good for me,” Deb remarked. “And one good thing about paint is that it hides a lot of sand marks.”
Deb admitted she has suffered a few nicks and scrapes compliments of her newfound hobby.
“I cut the very tip of my finger off once,” she said, managing to laugh about it now. “Nothing too serious, though.”
Knock on wood. Or, in this case, knock on scrap wood.