Some people have a propensity for doing the right thing, for all the right reasons. Cedaredge resident Keith Kollasch appears to be one of those people.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Keith was one of nine children (six boys and three girls) born to Jeneva and Raymond Kollasch. Keith graduated from Calumet Township High School, before entering the Indiana National Guard in 1959.
He met his wife, Susan, in 1993 while working as a stonemason in Colorado Springs. Keith became involved in woodworking as a hobby eight or nine years ago, before retiring to Cedaredge in 2003.
A member of the American Association of Woodturners, Keith eventually became a member of both the Grand Valley Woodturners and the Black Canyon Wood Carvers clubs. In the summer of 2008, Keith was intrigued by an article appearing in the “American Woodturner” magazine regarding a project named the “Eagle Cane Project.” He was so intrigued that he presented the article, along with a cane that he had crafted, to the two clubs in June 2008, seeking support in starting a similar project on the Western Slope of Colorado.
The Eagle Cane Project was started in 2004 by cane maker and woodcarver Jack Nitz, who wanted to show his support and respect for wounded post 9-11 soldiers. Nitz, a member of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association, carved a symbolic “presentation” cane to be given to the returning veterans. According to Nitz, the initial scope of the project was to supply only Oklahoma post-9/11 veterans who have sustained some sort of combat related injury that affected their mobility or use of their legs.
But it wasn’t long until other woodcarvers wanted to become involved and eventually the Eagle Cane Project spread to woodcarving and woodturning clubs across the country.
As a result of Keith’s efforts, wood crafters and artisans from the Grand Valley Woodturners, the Black Canyon Woodcarvers and the Grand Valley Woodcarvers joined together to adopt the Eagle Cane Project as an ongoing project for the three clubs, as a tribute to veterans living on the Western Slope with service related injuries/disabilities and as a sign of their support and respect for those veterans.
Keith explained that because the Grand Junction VA Hospital is not a trauma center, ﬁnding injured post 9/11 veterans on the Western Slope proved to be difﬁcult. So club members decided to expand their criteria to include all WW II and later veterans, with a combat related injury or disability, living on the Western Slope. Keith said the only other criteria (other than having sustained a combat related injury or disability) for those Western Slope veterans to receive the Eagle Cane is that they must be nominated by someone.
Starting with a simple 32-inch block of hardwood with straight grain, (oak, maple, or black walnut), each cane is turned on a lathe by members of the Grand Valley Woodturners Club (Keith has turned out 12 canes). Members of the two woodcarvers clubs carve the eagle head. The cane is then ﬁtted with colored rings (including a ring made from “Purple Heart” wood, if appropriate), painted, stained or wood-burned, with an inscription of the recipient-veteran’s name, rank, and unit, engraved by Grand Valley Woodcarver’s club member Ron Siever. Each cane is a combination of each of the craftsman’s unique skills.
When possible, the canes are carved and presented by participants from the same state as the veteran, and so it was that during a potluck banquet, hosted by Cedaredge VFW Post 9221 and the Cedaredge Ladies Auxiliary Post 9221. Keith presented VFW member Bill Hendrix with an Eagle Cane. In so doing, he explained that the cane is not normally used as an everyday object, but is a representation of the three club’s support and respect for the nation’s wounded veterans.
Another Cedaredge resident, Ken Snyder, was presented with an Eagle Cane by the Grand Valley Woodturner’s club treasurer, Buck Taylor, in September 2008, during a potluck dinner at the Cedaredge Town Park.
According to the Grand Valley Woodturner’s newsletter, as of January 2010, club members have presented 87 Eagle Canes to Western Slope veterans.
Keith also noted that the cane tips have all been donated by Walker Drug, and that the wood blocks used to make the canes have, for the most part, been donated by Mr. Hardwood (Montrose), and Intermountain Wood Products (Grand Junction).
And, according to Keith, it’s not just the Eagle Canes that he is proud of. The three western slope clubs have also created Christmas ornaments for sale at Heirlooms for Hospice, located at 635 W. Main in Grand Junction, with proceeds from those sales going to support the mission of Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado.
It should also be noted that Keith is not only the current president of the Grand Valley Woodturners Club, but is also an avid skier who donates much of his time as a volunteer ski instructor with the Colorado Discover Ability (CDA) program at Powderhorn’s Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School,” as well as working on personal wood projects in his shop at home.
Formed in 1980, CDA is a non-proﬁt organization whose mission is to promote increased independence and self-worth through outdoor recreation for individuals with disabilities, as well as for their families and friends.
Inclined to do the right thing for the right reasons? You bet.
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