Carving for causes

CMWA meets monthly to carve at Whitney, recognized for efforts with ‘Rock On Award’

One hundred and sixty nine. That’s how many comfort crosses were carved. It was the summer when Pam Witte’s mother became ill, and a parishioner from her church gave her a metal cross. Witte, president of the Central Minnesota Woodcarvers Association, (CMWA), had read about comfort crosses, made of wood like basswood or box elder, that fit comfortably in the hand and are commonly held while praying. Witte thought about the cross her mother had received and an idea came to mind.


Pam Witte and Lee Eisenschenck, CMWA members, pose with 169 comfort crosses and a Centra Care representative. The group meets monthly at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. Contributed photo


Members of the club could carve comfort crosses and donate them to nursing facilities and hospice centers as a group project. She proposed the idea to the CMWA and, by the time summer was over, they had made 169 crosses. Since then, members have worked overtime carving about a thousand crosses and giving them to anyone who requests them. “It’s a blessing for the maker, the giver and the recipient,” said Witte.

Member Lee Eisenschenck has spoken to individuals who have received a cross from their club, and he knows how grateful they are for the gift. “Lee is committed to providing a cross to anyone who wants one,” Witte said. “And we do this free of charge. We feel a great sense of peace and accomplishment for offering something so small that provides comfort to the sick and dying.”

Besides making comfort crosses, the CMWA carves honor canes, and they also help area groups with fundraising by donating a project for their annual raffle. Al Gerads, Brenda Lodermeier, Ken Ramler, Mike Lodermeier, Curt Hutchens and Ron Lorenz are CMWA members who worked on a relief project last year which raised $817 at the wood show’s raffle in April. The proceeds were donated to Quiet Oaks Hospice in St. Cloud.

The woodcarver’s group’s hard work and commitment to serving was recognized in June, during Granite City Days, when the CMWA received the Rock On Award from St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. The award, presented during the Lemonade Concert, acknowledged the club for their leadership, civic participation and community service.

The club is made up of about 30 members who share a love for woodcarving. They meet monthly at Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud to conduct business, share their skills and socialize. Members frequently gather at the Whitney Woodshop during the week to carve, provide assistance to beginning carvers or visit and drink coffee. The Woodshop is located in a separate building near the east entrance to the Senior Center.


World War II veterans receive honor canes from the CMWA: (left to right) Edwin Albrecht, of Wabasha, Max Wenker, of Melrose, Curt Hutchens, of St. Cloud and Earl Hoppenrath, of Maple Grove. Contributed photo


The CMWA began the Honor Cane Project a few years ago as a way to thank veterans who have received a Purple Heart. Each cane is unique. Ken Ramler carves the general shape of the head out of a block of wood and another club member will take over and complete the eagle head, adding details like eyes and feathers. The head is placed on a staff, which includes ribbons and painted or wood-burned information, such as medals. North Star Signs donates the name plate for each staff with the veteran’s name, branch of service, date and place of injury.

“The eagle heads are all different,” said Curt Hutchens, vice president of the CMWA. “Some members use glass eyes and others carve out the eyes. Some heads have ‘a little more attitude’ than others.” He explained that each recipient may choose which head they want for their honor cane. There are several choices. “We let every Purple Heart veteran know that it’s an honor for us to make the cane.” Canes have gone to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hutchens noted that there’s more interest among Vietnam veterans in receiving a cane than in the past.

Hutchens has made about 60 honor canes and hundreds of comfort crosses. He’s not only active in the CMWA, but he belongs to three additional woodcarving groups in Florida where he and wife, Judy, spend time each winter. Since his retirement after 37 years of teaching in 2005, he’s been busier than ever, carving animals and caricatures, in addition to the club’s projects. He finds carving to be a relaxing hobby. “We have curio cabinets in our home which are filled with my woodcarvings,” Hutchens said. “Kids, grandkids and other family are always checking out my latest carving and telling me what they want.” He has never been interested in selling his work. “I think I would lose my enthusiasm for carving if I started selling it.”


A few pieces in Curt Hutchens’ woodcarving collection. Contributed photo


Some members of the CMWA teach classes for beginning carvers. A big challenge and crucially important lesson for a beginner is to learn to carve safely. “The knives are sharp.” said Hutchens, “Beginners need to carve away from themselves. It’s all about doing it safely.” Hutchens always carries band aids with him. Ken Ramler teaches a woodcarving class to individuals with any level of ability at Whitney Senior Center Tuesday mornings from 9 to noon.

Witte acknowledged it’s harder to attract new members to their club. “Our membership is aging, and we’d like to get new members, but people are busier, and they may not be able to focus on a hobby until retirement.” Woodcarving organizations across the state are having similar problems with increasing their membership.


Members of the Central Minnesota Woodcarvers Association (standing, L to R), Al Gerads, Brenda Lodermeier, Ken Ramler, Mike Lodermeier, (seated L to R), Curt Hutchens, Ron Lorenz, worked on this project which raised over $800 for Quiet Oaks Hospice. Contributed photo


Anyone interested in learning more about woodcarving is welcome to attend the CMWA monthly meeting at Whitney Senior Center at 1527 Northway Drive, St. Cloud. The meetings are held the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

The CMWA is an active club. There is work to do, so they continue to “Rock On”, serving others and making a difference every day in the lives of individuals and the wider community.

More information about woodcarving or the CMWA can be found at www.minnesotawoodcarvers.com/central.html.

#CentralMinnesotaWoodcarversAssociation #HonorCane #Woodcarvers

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