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Henry Carving a Walking Stick
February 23, 2024
Garrison Crossing

Life in Every Step

Come in!” shouts a muffled Evelyn. I open the door to the Rempel’s seventh floor suite in The Hawthorn, and my face is instantly hit with a waft of what I can only describe as smoked hickory wood chips.

“Are you cooking?” I ask. I also let out a giggle because I know Evelyn no longer needs to cook here; if she’s busy in the kitchen, then she’s usually baking something sweet, not savoury. I look over to see her husband, Henry, sitting comfortably in a red, velvet chair. In one hand is a tall and skinny branch of wood, and in the other is a handheld tool plugged into the wall—a pyrography pen.

When I heard about Henry, a resident at Elim Village Garrison Crossing who runs 10 kilometers every other day, I knew I needed to meet him and capture his story. What I didn’t expect is that these runs, which he’s done for 13 years by the way (and he’s in his 80’s!), are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his remarkable hobbies.

“Does this smell?” Henry asks, looking down at the fresh burns he’s just etched into the wooden stick. I nod my head. “I lost my sense of smell—I had no idea!” he remarks, and the three of us fall into laughter. Henry went on to share that his desire to start running at age 32 began when he learned that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit—we must take care of them. It became clear that he looks at all things through a lens of greater purpose, including the wobbly piece of wood that floated in from the ocean over 22 years ago—but we’ll get there!

Our chat about running transitions to Henry sharing about his family. “My son, Michael, came into the world with Down syndrome,” he mentions. “His love was so overpowering that it could disarm anyone entering the same room as him.” In 2000, at age 27, Michael was diagnosed with a heart disorder. Reflecting on those tough times, Henry reveals, “A few weeks after Michael’s diagnosis, my first wife was diagnosed with cancer.” After a pause, he adds, “Michael peacefully passed away after two months, and my wife followed two and a half years later.”

Henry stands up and as he heads towards his bedroom, he motions for me to follow. There, propped against the wall, are six different wooden sticks; one is painted, the others bare. He reaches for the one with a beautiful, multi-colour pattern painted on it (pictured below).

Henry's Walking Stick

“This is the first walking stick I made,” he shares. “Not long after Michael passed, my wife and I took a trip to the Oregon coastline. On the beach, I discovered this piece of driftwood. It wasn’t neat or tidy, but it represented life. It represented Michael.” So, he brought the driftwood home, enhanced its beauty with paint, and dedicated it to his son.

This act of creation marked the beginning of a new, meaningful hobby. Since that day at the beach, Henry has continued to craft walking sticks, giving them freely to family, friends, and even gifting miniature ones to children. Today, he ventures to the Vedder River to gather wood, peel back the bark, and use his pyrography pen to tailor each walking stick to the person receiving it, just like the one pictured above.

If your life was captured on a walking stick, what designs or words would you like it to bear?

Written by: Rachel Nedelec (Hoffos), Staff Contributor

This article was featured in the 2023 winter edition of The ELIM Connection (page 11)—a community publication distributed three times per year to all residents of Elim Village. It is also shared with our email subscribers. The ELIM Connection focuses on the stories and lifestyle of those living and aging in place at our two retirement communities.

To access the entire publication, or future editions of The ELIM Connection, subscribe to our e-mailing list.

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