Woodcraft 2019 Turn for Troops Program Produces Over 15,000 Handcrafted Pens for Military Personnel

Allen Harp helps his son Allen turn a pen at The Woodworkers Club/Woodcraft of Rockville, Maryland, store during the Turn for Troops National Turn-a-Thon in November 2019.

Volunteers of all ages and skill levels handcrafted 15,385 unique wood pens in 2019 for the Woodcraft Turn for Troops program that sends the pens to military personnel on active duty or recovering from injuries. The total of pens turned since this program began 16 years ago is 190,609.

“Once again, dedicated volunteers have partnered with Woodcraft and its retail stores to provide unique thank-you gifts for the men and women who are defending our nation,” Woodcraft President and CEO Jack Bigger said. “On behalf of the corporate staff, I thank all the volunteers and Woodcraft personnel who made Turn for Troops successful for another year.”

The official Turn for Troops National Turn-a-Thon is scheduled each year on the weekend of Veterans Day at Woodcraft retail stores across the nation. In addition, woodturning clubs and individuals turn pens all year long.

Pens Sent to the US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser

Winslow W. Griesser with his Gold Lifesaving Medal. 

(US Coast Guard photo)

The US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser was delivered to San Juan Puerto Rico in December 2015 and commissioned on March 11, 2016. (US Coast Guard photo by Ricardo Castrodad)

Some of the pens turned this year went to the crew and officers of the US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser that is stationed at San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Sentinel-class vessel is named for the great-great grandfather of Edward Sontag, owner of two Woodcraft stores in Virginia – Richmond and Norfolk. Winslow Griesser received a Gold Lifesaving Medal for his heroic efforts in a rescue while serving at the Buffalo Station in November 1900. Cutters in this class are named for Coast Guard heroes from the past.

“It would mean a lot to me if we could send some of our pens to the crew and officers as part of the Turn for Troops effort,” Sontag wrote in his pen request. “I have been blessed to have quite a few of my family members serve in the military. Mostly in the Coast Guard but also the Marines on my wife’s side. The whole family went to the commissioning in Puerto Rico.”

To learn more about Winslow Griesser’s heroic rescue, click here and here.

Rockville Woodcraft Doubles Its Pen Production

The Woodworkers Club/Woodcraft of Rockville, Maryland, set a record among stores by doubling its pen production from 902 in 2018 to 1,842 in 2019, thanks in a large part to the 1,250 pens turned by the Baltimore Area Turners club. This increase moved the store from number seven in 2018 to number three in 2019 in total number of pens turned by stores during one year. Likewise, it moved Rockville from 16th to ninth in overall contributions since the program began. 

“We push hard for this event every year,” Chris Johnstone, one of the four co-owners, said. “My dad, who died in 1997, was a veteran of World War ll, Korea and Vietnam. I have made it my mission to see this through every year in his memory. There is a core group of folks that are here every year and that we can always count on to give and receive nothing in return but the joy of giving.”

Chris said the Rockville store appealed to the Baltimore Area Turners for help a few years ago, and their contributions have been increasing yearly.

“I feel some sadness for veterans of recent wars, and I have those in my family as well, because the conflicts that we are and have been in since Vietnam are less well-defined and their reasons more complicated and less understood by typical Americans, yet their sacrifices are often on par with the older guys,” Chris said. “One thing I have noticed is that we are seeing more and more youngsters coming in with their folks and eagerly contributing. This is on a greater scale than we have seen in years, and it’s uplifting and encouraging. We are hoping that this continues.”

Members of the Baltimore Area Woodturners, Lori Szarek, Tom Szarek, Louie Harris, and Wayne Kuhn, from left, display the 1,250 wood pens the group turned in 2019 as part of the Rockville store’s participation in Turn for Troops.

“I would be remiss in not mentioning Roman Steichen, who has pretty much taken over the hands-on part of the project freeing me up for the PR, outreach, material and tool sourcing, etc.,” Chris said. “He is tireless in his encouragement of our local turning club and gives 110% in prepping kits and arranging sessions in anticipation of the actual event. He brings his dad and children on Veterans Day every year, and the entire family is a beacon of patriotism and generosity.”

Chris explained that Roman is a customer who became a good friend and then a teacher and “member of the family.”

Dan Wilkin and his son Oliver and daughter Raley participated in the Turn for Troops Turn-a-Thon at the Rockville store in 2019.

Tucson and Nashville Pass 20,000 Overall Mark; Grand Rapids Keeps No. 1 for 2019

Two other stores also set records this year by passing the 20,000 mark in pens contributed over the past 16 years – Woodcraft of Tucson, Arizona, 21,232, and Woodcraft of Nashville, Tennessee, 20,218. They are the top two stores in overall totals. For 2019, Tucson kept its number two spot in yearly totals with 1,924. Nashville, with 1,297, dropped from number three to number five.

Woodcraft of Grand Rapids, Michigan, maintained its number one spot in 2019, with 2,222 pens, and moved from fourth to third place in overall totals with 17,904. Woodcraft of Boise, Idaho, remained in the top four stores in fourth place for both 2019 (1,389) and overall (17,543). The only other store to contribute 1,000+ pens in 2019 was Woodcraft of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with 1,065. Woodcraft of San Carlos, California, with a 10,503 overall pen total, is the only other store in the 10,000+ overall category.

Individual Turners Pass 1,000 Mark Overall

Veteran Neil J. Hadden of Fredonia, New York, who has been contributing pens for over 10 years, made 150 pens, which brought his overall total to 1,134. Turners from The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, also joined the 1,000+ group this year after just two years. The 685 they turned in 2019 brought their total to 1,455.

Retired Navy Veteran Daniel Banz of Tonganoxie, Kansas, joined volunteer turners this year in making 155 pens. He has been making pens to give away for over 20 years.

After pens arrive the Woodcraft corporate headquarters, Woodcraft personnel check with their military contacts about where to send the new batch of pens. Sometimes stores will suggest recipients, and sometimes military personnel will reach out to Woodcraft after reading publicity about the annual event.

A young turner gets some help at the Sacramento, California, turn-a-thon.

A veteran turns a pen at the Sacramento, California, Woodcraft store.

Cynthia Aley shapes a pen during the Rockville turn-a-thon.

Congratulations to the stores and individuals that set records, and thank you to all the volunteers who turned pens at turn-a-thons and throughout the year to make sure this unique Thank-You Gift is available for military personnel.

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