On Christmas Eve, 2009, Duane Thole lost his wife, Shirley to cancer just four months and five days short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Thole, who resides at John Clark Co-op Senior Housing in Rockville maintains a deep connection to his wife through the art of origami. The word for this ancient Japanese art comes from ori- meaning “folded” and –kami meaning “paper.” Over 10 years ago, Thole was introduced to this Japanese art form when his wife purchased a book for him culled from the Perham Library; The Complete Book of Origami, Step by Step Instructions in Over 10000 Diagrams, authored by Robert J. Lang. “I guess she wanted to punish me,” he joked. Since that time, he has added numerous books on origami to his collection. From the very simple folds needed to create a flower to the complex directions involving innumerable folds resulting in a Viking war ship, Thole describes his method of attack as “plodding along until I’m done.” “My first one was a seahorse. I sat on the floor with my granddaughter and we worked on it and worked on it for three days and it was just crappy.” Undeterred, Thole has gone on to tackle the most complex figures using glossy paper ads that arrive in his mailbox or found in the local newspapers using his hands and an old black pliers and a tweezers as tools. Thole has never been one to give up easily. The visit with this artist revealed his self-effacing nature, optimism, and humor. When presented with a request for a rooster, he set off on the task, all the while criticizing his work. After several minutes, he chuckled, “If this takes much longer, I’ll regret ever having agreed to this.” His life history is a testament to his fortitude to overcome the obstacles life has thrown at him. As the visit progressed, he recounted his early life and career path. Born in Bemidji, he lost his father at an early age, leaving him and two siblings to be raised by a single mother. “She never took any handouts.” He served in the Army during the Japanese occupation and following his honorable discharge, took advantage of a training program offered to servicemen, attending the Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis to study automotive general. He worked as a truck driver for a number of companies and was forced into early retirement following an accident. None of these challenges have hardened him and his sensitivity remains intact. After a two hour visit with Thole, he enthusiastically shared almost his entire collection of work. “I want you to have all of these except the flowers; those are Shirley’s.” He named them one by one and gently placed them in a plastic shopping bag. The visit was not complete until he brought out a prize piece; a heart with four “fingers” holding a quarter that he created from a one dollar bill. “You can have this for a dollar, twenty five.” Unable to take his “one and only,” this visitor regretfully declined the offer. The origami process of repetitive folds, and the need for deep concentration on the complex directions necessary for a successful outcome appears to provide Thole with a meditative state that serves to remove, if only temporarily, the pain of losing the love of his life. The crane is a traditional Japanese symbol of good luck, and folding a thousand of them is supposed to grant the folder one wish. It wouldn’t be difficult to guess the wish he may well carry in his heart; it’s the one shared by all of us the wish to forever be with the ones we love.
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