LS: Art of Quilting Column November 23, 2008

Toy makers gladly donate talents for children

LOIS KELLERHER OF GRAND JUNCTION spends about three hours each day sewing dolls and quilts. Her husband, Paul, designed the pattern for the 10-inch wooden cradle. CRADLES WITH DOLLS and quilts are given to children in pain or under serious stress. JOE WARNER/Special to the Sentinel


WOODEN TOY MAKERS who donate their time and talent for children are, from left, Paul Kelleher, Don Espeland, Tom Recher and Spencer Sorlye, all of Grand Junction. The toys are distributed through the Kiwanis Golden K Club. JOE WARNER/Special to the Sentinel

Toys can be powerful.

They can turn a child’s frown into a grin, stop tears and bring stability to a chaotic situation.

That’s the intention of a group of Kiwanis Golden K Club members in Grand Junction who make hundreds of wooden playthings that are donated to children who are in pain or under serious stress.

The men — who are mostly retired — transform their garages into woodworking shops with band saws and scroll saws, turning out small cars, trucks, airplanes, animals on wheels and magic wands from cast-off pieces of pine, redwood, alder and walnut.

About 25 agencies in the city benefit from these donated toys. In October, the Kiwanians gave away 185 of them, says Don Espeland, a past club president.

He came up with the idea to make the toys about 18 months ago. Another one of the toy makers, Paul Kelleher, is married to a quilter, Lois. She noticed that the toys the men made were geared primarily toward little boys.

Lois suggested they make doll cradles, too. It didn’t take Paul long to come up with a pattern for a 10-inch cradle with rockers on the bottom and a curlicue on the headboard. 

What’s a cradle without a doll and its own little quilt? Exactly.

Since June, Lois has sewn 181 cloth dolls and 193 matching miniature quilts, about 10 inches square, to be tucked into the cradles and given to little girls in difficult circumstances.

“There’s a big demand locally,” Lois says.

She made 40 sets in October.

“Being a quilter, I have lots of fabric odds and ends,” she says.

Lois has made quilts of different sizes and styles for about 14 years and describes herself as “self-taught.”

She makes the little patchwork doll quilts from 2 1/2-inch strips, sews them up on three sides and turns them right side out “pillowcase style,” then topstitches the perimeter by machine.

Sewing on her machine by day, Lois stuffs the 8-inch dolls and does the hand stitching in the evenings while
watching television.

They feature a mixture of tan and pink faces reverse appliqued into small print fabric with sleeping eyes and eyelashes and a mouth drawn with a permanent marking pen. Lois says they have a “naive” characteristic about them with no loose parts such as buttons. She ties a piece of lace around the necks as a final touch.

“I try to make each doll with a different dress and a matching quilt so there are no duplicates,” she says, estimating that she spends about three hours a day on this endeavor.

Husband Paul, too, is dedicated to churning out the cradles in his garage shop.

“Our garage hasn’t seen a car in years,” Lois laughs.

Some of the Grand Junction agencies who receive the toys are hospitals, the Marillac Clinic, law enforcement units, domestic violence and homeless shelters, developmental organizations, hospice and a center for sexual abuse victims.

The Kiwanis Golden K Club also distributes these toys internationally.

In September, 56 dolls and cradles and 225 cars, trucks and airplanes were sent with a Fort Carson brigade deploying to Iraq.

Lois says military personnel carry the toys in their packs to give to the Iraqi children.

The Golden K group wants to send another shipment to Iraq in the spring.

Espeland says the wooden toys have been delivered to children in Africa through a church missionary, too.

“For some of those children, this is the first toy they’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s a good feeling to know” that the men’s efforts end up in a child’s hands.

Each cradle and wooden toy is polished with mineral oil for a safe, natural finish.

The men refer to themselves as toy and furniture makers, because they also craft full-size picnic tables, park benches and Adirondack chairs for donation to charitable organizations. Plans are in the works for child-size
tables and chairs for the Marillac Clinic.

Kiwanis member Spencer Sorlye coordinates and stores the projects while Espeland calls local agencies monthly to see how many toys are needed. The items are divided up at the club’s meetings at Redlands Community Center, then distributed by various members throughout the community.

The Golden K Club meets weekly and has about 28 members.

All of the wood the men use is donated by Alpine Custom Doors and Millwork and by club member Gordon Harbert, owner of Harbert Lumber.

Espeland was told by a toy store owner that each of the wooden playthings with wheels was worth about $10. So he figures if the club makes 100 toys a month, that’s a $12,000 value that the club puts into the community each year.

Expenses run $700 to $800 a year for saw blades, axles and wheels and mineral oil, which can be reimbursed to the toy makers by the club.

“The toys are for donation only, not for sale,” Espeland says.

The value estimate was given to him before the men started making cradles, which he figures are worth at least $15, maybe more with the dolls and quilts included.

“And the cradles are a hot item now; we get a lot of requests for them.”

People are very appreciative, Lois says.

She welcomes donations of thread and fabrics with small prints, and if anyone would like to help her make the dolls and quilts, call 243-8110.

Anyone who would like to get involved with the Golden K members’ projects can call Espeland at 245-9081.

Talk about your unsung heroes. Think of all the children who have a toy to hold tight during difficult times, thanks to these terrific toy makers.

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