15th Year of Turn for Troops Tops 175,000 Pens to Military

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For the 15th year in a row, volunteer woodturners gathered at Woodcraft stores nationwide over Veterans Day weekend to make pens during the Turn for Troops National Turn-a-Thon. This year’s event produced 17,097 one-of-a-kind wood pens which will be sent to active duty or recovering military personnel across the globe. That total is the second highest in the event’s 15-year history, with the record year being 2009 with 17,228 pens. Since the first event in 2004, 175,224 pens have been crafted for the troops.

Gamma Phi Beta sorority member Gianna McCrystal turns one of more than 100 pens made by San Diego State University students this year. 

Dedicated Volunteers

Though many volunteers are practiced turners, for a lot of folks woodturning is a first-time experience. Anyone with a desire to say “thank you” to the troops can come in and make pens during a Turn for Troops event. Youth, college students, Veterans and senior citizens have all given their time to turn pens, with an opportunity to include a personalized note with each pen made.  

San Diego State University Gamma Phi Beta sorority member Gianna McCrystal and Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity brothers (pictured below) have participated in Turn for Troops by making more than 400 pens over the last three years.  

Gianna’s father Eric McCrystal, who owns the San Carlos Woodcraft store, has assisted the college students in their volunteer efforts as well as hosting events at the store.

Silicon Valley Woodturners member Gordon Patnude (pictured below with Eric) personally delivered 310 pens made by their club for the TFT effort.  After submitting a total of 727 pens in 2018, a happy Eric said, “We joined the 10,000 pen club this year!”

San Diego State University Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity brothers have participated in Turn for Troops the past three years. 
San Carlos Woodcraft store owner Eric McCrystal accepting 310 pens from Silicon Valley Woodworkers member Gordon Patnude.

Store Milestones

Four other Woodcraft stores have exceeded the 10k mark since the program began: Tucson (19,308), Nashville (18,921), Boise (16,154) and Grand Rapids (15,682). The top four contributing stores for 2018 are Grand Rapids (2,981), Tucson (1,764), Nashville (1,390) and Boise (1,086). The Boise location has been a Top 4 contributor all 15 years.

According to Boise Woodcraft owner Monte Eldfrick, their store looks forward to the Turn for Troops event each year. “It brings a community of woodworkers together for the benefit of people they may never meet. We get a chance to honor, pray and spend time thinking about our service men and women across the world,” he said. Though it makes for a long, hard day, “everyone leaves our shop with huge smiles on their faces knowing their day and craft counted for something beyond themselves.”  

Other stores submitting 1,000+ pens in 2018 are Seattle (1,054) and Milwaukee (1,050). The single highest contribution overall was Grand Rapids with 4,004 in 2016.

From the Heart

For Chris Johnstone, part of the team at the Rockville, Maryland, Woodcraft/Woodworker’s Club, the annual Turn-a-Thon is an event close to his heart. “My dad was a Veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. I have a serious soft spot for vets and look forward to TFT every year,” he said. 

The turners who come out continue to inspire him with their generous spirit. “I have facilitated this event at our store for years and have personally witnessed the dedication, devotion and inordinate number of hours that participants put into it,” he shared. “Many also donate pen kits (often the pricier varieties), exotic and/or handmade blanks and add personal touches such as engraving and slick packaging.”  

Paul Wodiska, who turned over 150 pens himself, gives assistance to mother and son Diane and Alex Klein over Veterans Day weekend at the Rockville location. 

Gary Guenther watches over as LaTonya Crowell turns a pen on the lathe at the Rockville store's Turn-a-Thon.

Reflecting on his store’s most recent event, Chris said, “I sometimes despair at where we seem to be as a country and even a race but seeing the dedication, benevolence and hard work that went into this gives me hope that all is not lost! It was a lot of work but that gift makes it so worth it!”

Expressing Thanks

All ages, young and old, take part in turning events across the country. Five-year-old Georgia turned her first pen at the Seattle Woodcraft store over Veterans Day weekend. Her note (below) was included with her pen, which will go on to a lucky service member. Store owner Michele Hall commented, “When I was bagging up our TFT pens, sometimes I take the time to read the notes that our customers have added to their pen – especially the ones done by kids. Often, what the kids write is pretty profound.” Ten-year-old Henry, who has family members who served in the Navy, expressed his thanks in his hand-written note.

Five-year-old Georgia turned her first pen at the Seattle Woodcraft store. 
Henry, age 10, expressed his thanks in a handwritten note.

Woodcraft President Jack Bigger extends his own heartfelt thanks for another successful year of Turn for Troops. “On behalf of Woodcraft, thank you to the many store owners, employees and volunteers for their wonderful contributions of time and talent, which have collectively allowed us to support more than 175,000 service men and women over the last 15 years,” he said. “Most importantly, our brothers and sisters in uniform who serve for all of us will benefit by knowing someone else cares about the sacrifices they make.”

The Boise store created this unique message using shavings and sawdust. “Woodcraft Boise is always ready!” said owner Monte Eldfrick.

Get Involved

Interested in learning how to turn pens? Call or stop by your local Woodcraft store to see when the next pen turning class will be held. Also, if you want to get involved with Turn for Troops, check with your local store. Though the national event is held over Veterans Day weekend, many locations host workshops throughout the year.

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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