Mary Keefe wanted to celebrate her 35 years as a nurse at Marshall Hospital. While some people might have opted for a cruise, Keefe held out for an heirloom quality rocker — the very first rocker handcrafted by an organization dedicated to creating job opportunities in El Dorado County.
God’s Work for Man (GW4M) is the vehicle for Robert Thresher’s vision of how to help his fellow man. After seeing, in his vision, different pictures of how to create work that would serve the community and provide jobs, Thresher and his wife, Mary, took action. The first idea was for people to learn mechanics skills as they fixed the cars of people in need and then to use those skills to obtain paying jobs. This idea was the root of the Auto Ministry run by the Threshers’ son-in-law, Harry Rehder, for Green Valley Community Church.
Another picture in Thresher’s vision was of an old craftsman passing on his skills to create jobs. Thresher, who runs a technology consulting business with his wife, had some experience with woodworking, but not for many years.
“We weren’t sure how to go about starting a woodworking industry, so we went to a woodworking convention,” said Mary. Things started falling into place. A craftsman of beautiful hardwood heirloom rocking chairs at the convention offered Thresher a free course in making the rockers if he was willing to come to Montana.
Thresher accepted the offer and built his first chair. A house fire enabled the Threshers to obtain woodworking equipment at no cost. All they needed was hardwood and volunteers to train. Then, another miracle occured.
“We were visiting a woodworking friend at Marshall Hospital,” said Thresher. “I wanted to asked his advice about some rocker joints I wanted to use and the nurse there saw my samples and asked about them.” The Threshers told her about their vision and showed pictures of the rockers they planned to create.
“She told us she wanted one to celebrate her 35 years with Marshall,” said Robert, “and she wanted the very first one we made.”
With their first order came volunteer Jim Shoun, a home repairman whose business had been affected by the economy. “We taught him to make the chairs and now he loves the work,” said Robert. Shoun built the next chair, now on display in the Cary House Hotel lobby.
The idea is to teach people to create heirloom quality rocking chairs, giving jobless trainees marketable skills and customers a luxury product that will last a lifetime and beyond.
“We have a list of volunteers who work with us, including a CAD engineer. Our volunteers will teach trainees and we’ll have a cottage industry in Placerville, putting people to work, teaching them marketable skills in woodworking, machine repair and industrial automation,” said Mary. “The chair is the first of several ideas we have for wood products.”
The chairs, which sell for $4,000 to $6,000 are made from a variety of hand-selected hardwoods and bookmatched. Bookmatched means adjoining wood surfaces are matched to mirror each other, giving the appearance of an opened book — a technique used in luxury objects like violins or guitars and the interiors of Rolls Royces. The chairs have handfitted joints, coopered tops and a handrubbed finish that is easy to maintain over the years. The chairs can be fitted to the owner and in a variety of styles.
The Cary House chair is made of quarter sawn red elm with ash for striping. Ash is used because it maintains a memory and keeps its curve and strength over time, said Thresher. “The red elm wood came from a tree planted in front of the Sacramento History Museum. When the tree had to come down, we were able to get a piece from California Hardwood. They are in the business of saving hardwoods from landfills and being used as firewood.”
Each labor-intensive chair is signed and serialized with the GW4M logo and the maker’s initials and is built to wrap around your back when you sit in it and massage your back when you rock.
“This is a good cottage industry for Placerville,” said Mary Thresher. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the county and city, but now we need a commercial space of at least 3,000 square feet so we can use bigger, commercial grade machinery and have room for a number of volunteers and trainees. We found a place, but we need some kind of corporate sponsor to help.”
A patron donated $10,000 to the El Dorado Community Foundation for the project, in hopes of matching donations and the Threshers are hoping that the sale of chairs, fundraising efforts and sponsors will help fund their vision.The proceeds from the sale of Mary Keefe’s chair, a black oak beauty, went back into the business to build more chairs and train more volunteers.
To volunteer woodworking skills, financial support, machinery, to order a chair, or to become a trainee, contact Mary Thresher at 530-748-9582, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Website at gw4m.org.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or email@example.com. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.