Work center a sanctuary for veterans
Like the famed stock car designer Smokey Yunick, who died in 2001, U.S. Army veteran Dan Mackenzie likes to engineer his own unique vehicles.
Mackenzie doesn’t work in an auto shop, though he could if he wanted to. His nephew owns Big Willies Garage at 2475 Riverside Parkway.
Instead, the 40 percent disabled veteran, a former ambulance driver, builds his designs at Help Hospitalized Veterans Community Based Crafts Center, 1670 North Ave.
The center “is designed for veterans to come in and be comfortable and talk with other people, have a cup of coffee and relax. It’s just a sanctuary for veterans,” Mackenzie said.
The center stocks all the tools and materials a veteran might need to do just about any kind of craft, including leather working, woodworking, paint by number, sun catchers and many more, craft care specialist Lisa Smith said.
The Grand Junction center is a flagship for the nonprofit Help Hospitalized Veterans organization, which is separate from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Smith said.
Veterans of any age and from any era are eligible to work on a free craft kits as long as they can prove they received medical care in the previous six months. They can even bring family members to work on their own kits, Smith said.
“I had no idea how relaxing it is to be able to work on these things and how beneficial it is,” said retired Air Force officer Linda Wright, a veteran of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. “I love the leather pouches and wallets. Everything that I’ve made, I use.”
The program lets Mackenzie choose plastic model kits featuring the stock cars he loves free of charge, a big savings considering the kits would normally cost $25 or more at a retail hobby shop.
“I started in 1958, when I was a kid. I made models for about three years and then I never made another until I got married in 1974,” Mackenzie said. “I married into a racing family and I helped them build stock cars.”
Mackenzie raced a black, 1957 Chevrolet in Grand Junction for a time, winning local High Points Champion in 1981.
These days, Mackenzie confines himself to designing model racers. He often consults with his nephew, Willie, about motor size, suspension and other mechanics in order to create a unique, but realistic, vehicle.
“I may use 10 different kits to make one car,” he said. “I want it to look like every car you could walk over to, sit down, take off and have some fun.”
A rotating exhibit of Mac-kenzie’s award-winning designs will be on display at the center through Nov. 27, Smith said.