Life sometimes unfolds in unexpected ways.
That's a reality that Gene Van Grevenhof clearly understands. He hadn't planned on learning to create decorative items using wood and a scroll saw or launching a business to market those items. An accident at work, however, left Van Grevenhof disabled with a back injury and started a sequence of events that led to the establishment of Gene's Little Wood Shop.
"I hurt myself in February of 2009 and couldn't do anything else, so a friend of mine brought me this old scroll saw," he said. "I couldn't do anything. I couldn't lift. I couldn't walk that much. ... I started making stuff and it led on from there."
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Gene Van Grevenhof, owner of Gene’s Little Wood Shop, uses an old scroll saw to transform pieces of wood. He sells his creations at craft fairs and the monthly hillbilly sales and flea markets at the Webster County Fairgrounds.
Initially, creating decorative novelties was intended merely as a hobby. Van Grevenhof's passion for this undertaking, however, has turned a pastime into a small business. What was once the family garage at his residence, 436 Fourth St., N.W., has now become a workshop that is the base of operations for Gene's Little Wood Shop.
Even though Van Grevenhof hadn't begun working with wood before his accident, he had long thought it might be a hobby worth pursuing.
"My dad always did wood work," he said. "I always thought I'd love working with wood. I was right."
"It started off as a hobby," Van Grevenhof said. "I thought well, I could sell a few things and help the wife (Elaine Van Grevenhof) out because I'm on disability. So I go to craft shows. I go out here at the hillbilly sale every month. People have special ordered. ... When I go out to the show out here, I've got four tables full."
Van Grevenhof produces a wide array of decorative pieces. The possibilities are endless, but examples include designs on cabinet doors, portraits on wood, ornate facial tissue boxes, jewelry boxes, tops for mailboxes, patriotic-themed items and assorted religious icons such as Nativity scenes and angels. He can also render a customer's name in wood.
"I make a lot of names," Van Grevenhof said.
"Most people when they look at a piece of wood, they see a piece of wood," he said. "I look at that piece of wood and I see a design that can be made out of it. Different types of wood for different designs. I carry walnut, soft and hard maple, hickory, aspen, cedar, cherry, oak. ... I love it."
Each item has a unique quality even if it is similar to others because no two pieces of wood are identical. How many decorative works Van Grevenhof can produce in a typical week varies depending in part on the complexity of the design being created on the wood.
While a few of Van Grevenhof's creations are done in pine, he said he primarily utilizes hardwood.
"It's durable and when you finish it, it looks so much nicer," he said. "Basically, everything I make is out of hardwood. I'm talking about oak, red oak, walnut, hard and soft maple."
Van Grevenhof said while he hopes to sell the items he makes, their creation is a about more than that. He has developed a love of wood as a medium and the artistic process.
"I'm very fussy with my stuff," he said. "It's got to be right. ... Each piece of wood has its own distinction. Sometimes it takes me a while to decide. Once you cut it, you are committed to it."
Meet Gene Van Grevenhof
Van Grevenhof grew up in Spring Valley, Minn., and graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1966. He joined the U.S. Army on Sept. 29, 1966, and served until Sept. 30, 1969. His time in the Army included a year and a half in Vietnam.
Back in civilian life, Van Grevenhof was a truck driver for 23 years. Then in 1988, he broke his back. In 1992 he had to have stabilizer rods put in his back.
"That was pretty much the end of the truck driving," Van Grevenhof said.
It wasn't, however, the end of his determination to succeed despite some physical limitations. In 1995, Van Grevenhof established Eagle Communications in Fort Dodge. That business remanufactured toner and inkjet cartridges and lasted until 2003, when he went to work for another local business. In February 2009, he was injured again.
"I don't let my disability stop me," Van Grevenhof said. "I can't. I think too many people when they get disabled, they just give up. I never gave up in my whole life."
Contact Terrence Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org