On a typical Monday morning, you can hear nail guns popping and table saws humming in the woodshop behind the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne Thrift Store on South Calhoun Street in Downtown Fort Wayne.
This busy woodshop would have been hard to imagine about 20 years ago. At that time, John Becker was a board member for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Fort Wayne. While on a house visit, he saw four boys jumping on their mattresses on the floor. He was moved by the scene and an idea popped into his head to build bunk beds for the boys.
He and two other men decided to take action. The only problem was they only had a small work bench and didn’t even own a power saw. On top of that, the former Math and Chemistry teacher had never built anything in his life. But, that didn’t stop them. Becker went to the downtown library and checked out a woodworking book that had a “recipe” for bunk beds.
They bought a power saw from a local pawn shop and got to work. That was the humble beginnings of what is now a well oiled machine that cranks out products to supply furniture to the thrift store and to help local families in need. Becker says the work is extremely fullfilling and brings him happiness. “It’s nice that I can help somebody else because that’s what the St. Vincent de Paul Society is all about, helping others.”
Now 89-years old, John Becker is still at the woodshop three days a week making ladders for the bunk beds and doing whatever else is needed. He has plenty of help. Pat Doyle is 82-years old and has been volunteering his skills at the woodshop for the past 18 years. Doyle builds the bunk bed frames. He’s incredibly talented, but is best known as the jokester of the group.
Doyle has a sign in his workspace that reads “Authentic Irishman for hire: Storytelling & singing dancing and carrying on. Available all hours. Experienced drinking companion.” The sign adequately describes the man who brings laughter and joy to the group each day while they churn out products. Doyle says it’s part of the joy of what they do. “Our goal is to help those less fortunate, which makes us feel good at the end of the day. We feel like it’s time well spent, and I have a hell of a lot of fun in here and that’s all you can ask for.”
Doyle says the work is therapeutic for him and many others who have lost loved ones within the group and at home. “I lost my wife four years ago and this group helped me through some tough times. I look forward to coming in here because it’s fun. That’s my main objective. Get a few laughs and get a few smiles and help those that are less fortunate.”
Doyle says with a smile, “The boys in the group keep telling me you’re going to have to go to confession, Pat. I tell them we need somebody on sited for me, but I have a good time.”
John and Pat are just two of the incredible men that make up the group of Woodshop Warriors. Society of St. Vincent de Paul Fort Wayne Executive Director Lara Schreck says the volunteers are inspiring. ” They make such a big difference in our community and they have so much fun doing it. They’re all such great friends and I love seeing that camaraderie.”
You can learn more about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Fort Wayne and donate to help with upgrades to the shop by following the link.
The group also mentors young people interested in woodworking and is always looking for more volunteers who want to help out.
It’s easy to see why the “Woodshop Warriors” are Positively Fort Wayne!