By: Terry and Kay Appenfeldt
The Christmas cars are coming! That is the atmosphere in the Senior Center woodshop these days. The Senior Center woodshop designs, handcrafts, and builds a new Christmas car each year. The cars are handed out along the parade route at the Holiday Parade by Santa’s elves (Senior Center volunteers). Christmas cars have been handed out since 2002 as a gift from the Senior Center to children along the parade route. Each car puts a smile on a child’s face at Christmas. Currently, there are close to 800 cars in storage ready for distribution.
The Beaver Dam Senior Center woodshop opened at the Third Street location on October 2, 1974. The woodshop workers did furniture repair and basic woodworking with Norm Reier and Jason Merritt serving as the woodshop managers. In 1985, woodshop manager Don Kopff had a personal vision and dedication to restore the Eastern bluebird population in Dodge County. He dedicated the woodshop to building nesting boxes so these birds would have new homes. Nesting boxes were made from donated wood from friends, lumberyards, and contractors. To make the nesting boxes and the return of the bluebird a success, Don and members of the woodshop developed bluebird trails. Woodshop volunteers would contact local farmers to gain their permission to put up the trails. Bluebird nesting boxes were donated by the woodshop, and each trail was completed when 10 to 15 boxes were placed on a fence line on fence posts. As you travel Hwy 151 toward Madison, the bluebird restoration sign remains to show the start of the trail on that highway. Their project was so successful that the Senior Center woodshop was featured on WKOW-TV Channel 27, which filmed their success in restoring the bluebird population. After that appearance, the project went national. Orders for the nesting boxes came from all over the United States and shipments went out on a weekly basis. Believing in conservation, Don expanded to building nesting boxes for tree swallows, wrens, wood ducks, and swallows.
Woodshop manager Rich Krahenbuhl instituted the toy project in 2000. The woodshop handcrafted toy blocks for children. The primary purpose was to give the bagged toys to ill children at Beaver Dam Community Hospital. The project expanded when Norma Krahenbuhl researched patterns to make toy cars. After a pattern was selected, the woodshop made the cars out of donated 2 x 4s. The Christmas cars were born in 2001 when 50 bags of cars from the Center were distributed to local children at Christmas.
Woodshop manager Jim Schwartz instituted bluebird and wren building kits in 2003. The original bluebird and wren nesting boxes were divided into sections and packaged with instructions for construction. Jim traveled to 4H groups, Boy Scouts, summer recreation activities in the park, school groups, Cub Scouts, and other groups taking his hammers to help children build a birdhouse. Children were told about how to preserve the birdhouse and how to attract the bird that would live there.
In the absence of an assigned woodshop manager in 2006, Christmas cars were built under Ken Hardinger’s direction. Then in 2007, woodshop manager Terry Appenfeldt instituted one-of-a-kind handcrafted wood projects. Using their creative talent, volunteer workers in the woodshop designed and built handcrafted display cases for the Police Department and Mayor Kennedy. An extensive assortment of other items constructed includes bookshelves, presentation plaques, pier sections, handcrafted children’s puzzles and games for the DNR and the DIY program for the Community Activities and Services Department for the City of Beaver Dam, a replicated Rambler excursion steamship, a gun cabinet, free libraries, garden benches and a clock. The clock was built to recognize the 40th anniversary of the Senior Center in 2010. It was designed, handcrafted and built in the Senior Center Woodshop by Terry Appenfeldt, Lewis Terlisner and Rich Krahenbuhl. Eight different Senior Center woodcarvers designed the fixtures featured on the face of the clock, which represent the various programs at the Center. Bob Stafford donated his time to put the timing mechanism into the clock, which continues to occupy a special place in the main room of the Center at Third Street and will be moved to the Watermark.
The woodshop has contributed handcrafted items for Wings Over Wisconsin, the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association, and has also designed and handcrafted the plaques for winners of the Holiday Parade each year. They have participated in the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) workshops for over 30 years. This year the woodshop volunteers helped organize a Bird City celebration that helped the City of Beaver Dam meet the criteria for continued certification as a Bird City. The volunteers continue to make bluebird and wren nesting boxes and kits, kestrel houses, wood duck houses, butterfly houses, bat houses, and bird feeders. They build birdhouses with children, and they do small repairs for the disabled and for senior citizens.
Look for the elves on December 5 at the Holiday Parade beginning at 5:30. On the parade route, the elves see grandmas and grandpas who collect the cars for their grandchildren, and children hustle with open bags so they don’t miss getting their car. The woodshop has been told that many people have collected the cars since 2002 when the first cars were distributed. For those that miss the parade, a small amount of cars are held back for distribution at the Senior Center and Recreation Building at 114 East Third Street, but don’t wait long, they go fast.