Fargo man shows appreciation to veterans, law enforcement with special handmade gifts
By Lisa Ridder
National Random Acts of Kindness Day is coming Feb. 17, bringing with it an opportunity to support, promote and celebrate kindness, caring, paying it forward and compassion.
Nathan Hoekstra of Fargo is no stranger to random acts of kindness. He has found a way to use a hobby and passion as a way to celebrate heroes and spread kindness in the Fargo area.
Nathan was young when he learned the woodworking craft. Today, he uses that skill to honor veterans and those serving in law enforcement.
“It brings me great joy to do something a little extra for the men and women that sacrifice so much for their country and communities,” he said.
Nathan’s journey to brightening lives in the Fargo area started about five years ago when Nathan and his wife, Amber and daughter, Maren, made the move to Fargo from Wisconsin. The family moved to a new community with both Nathan and Amber starting new jobs, and the family eventually welcomed the newest member their family, daughter, Nora.
Nathan was both thrilled and excited that the move meant he would have an expanded and dedicated shop area. The shop space meant that he could continue with projects he enjoys and pursue new ones as well.
“I got into woodworking in high school (New London-Spicer High School) and made several pieces of furniture during school. Once I had a shop area of my own, I started to expand what I was making,” he said.
With the increased shop space and a desire to continue to be challenged with new projects, Nathan started creating personalized wood flags that he would give to veterans, member of law enforcement or their families.
“I have been doing it for a few years now” said Nathan. “I saw a few designs online and decided to give it a shot. Then I thought about making them more personal by adding things like badges and military ranks. After giving away my first one, I was hooked. The first one I made was for a gift for a Master at Arms in the U.S. Navy. I make them for people that I see as true heroes, such as law enforcement and veterans. I have also made them for former members of the military and law enforcement.”
Nathan doesn’t have any idea how many flags he has made and given away. And most of the time, those receiving the gifts don’t know they are getting one.
“It could be people I know or if someone reaches out to me, I will make one for them as well. I never charge any money to make them,” said Nathan. “I make zero money off of the flags I make. People offer to pay, but I always turn them down. The happiness it brings people is the only payment I need.”
The flags are a labor of love.
“Depending on how intricate the military or police insignia is, it could take anywhere from 8 to 20 hours to make a flag,” said Nathan. “I carve all the insignia freehand with the help of a print out as a reference point. I use a preset pattern for the stars to make sure they are all even. I make them one at a time, because each one might require something a little different.”
Nathan doesn’t have a favorite flag or favorite design. “I really like all of them for different reasons, because each one I give out seems to mean something a little different to that person, said Nathan.
The flags are similar in the fact that they are all made of pine.
“I burn the wood then carve the image into the wood over the burned area. It makes whatever image I’m carving really stand out well,” said Nathan. “Depending on what the person wants, I can stain it or just clear coat it, allowing for it to be used indoor and/or outdoors, based on their individual preference.”
The day that Nathan hands the gift to the hero is always a special one.
“I really enjoy the reactions I see when I give them to people. Most of the time they don’t know I am making it, until I drop it off or send it to them,” he said. Nathan also enjoys hearing the stories of the people he gives the flags to. “I made a flag for a Fargo Police Sergeant and dropped it off at his house on Sept. 11. Before I dropped it off, I didn’t know that the reason he became a police officer was because of the tragedy that happened on 9/11,” said Nathan.
Nathan has no reservations about taking on a new project. “I have worked with a variety of wood, depending on the project,” said Nathan. I have made everything from shoe racks to dining room tables, including coffee tables and end tables. “Also, pretty much all of the supplies I need and use have continued to be available, so the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted my woodworking projects.”
Nathan stays extremely busy with his family and his job, but he’s always has time to make a difference in the lives of others. Nathan and his family just moved to a new home in Fargo. He is hoping to expand his flag project soon. “I hope to soon be able to give flags to families of fallen soldiers and law enforcement officers,” he said.
Nathan knows all too well what it’s like to lose a family member.
“Losing my brother, Adam, was the hardest day of my life and I still think about him every day,” he said. Nathan’s commitment to impacting the lives of others is demonstrated by his efforts to establish a scholarship fund in memory of his brother, Adam. The family hopes to honor his legacy by impacting the lives of others through scholarships. Even though a golf tournament fundraiser could not be held last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, they found alternate ways to raise funds and maintain the scholarship.
Nathan’s employer has a recognition program where they recognize employees making a difference in the company and the community. About 10 months ago, Nathan was recognized for going above and beyond in his daily efforts, consistently demonstrating kindness and compassion towards his coworkers, customers and those he has impacted with his flag donations.
It is apparent that at the core of Nathan’s kindness and compassion towards others is his family.
“My brother, Adam, was a lot like my dad, which is where he got all his best qualities. My dad will help out in any way he can and is always there when you need him. My mom is the same way,” he said.
Nathan’s wife, Amber, has similar things to say about Nathan.
“Nate would do anything for anyone. From those he is closest to, to a stranger walking down the street,” said Amber.
Nathan plans to continue with his flag project. He also hopes to encourage others to carry out random acts of kindness.
“I think the simplest of things can make a big impact in someone’s life, even if you don’t think it would,” he said. “Something as small as holding a door for someone might just change their day for the better.”