CLINTON — John Kutzli has always enjoyed working with his hands, spending his free time building little model wagons and stagecoaches, picture frames and lamps. At age 92, the Prairie Hills resident continues to shape wood into canes and walking sticks that he gladly gives away for free.
John and his wife of 71 years, Marilyn, both grew up in Miles and have lived in the Clinton County area most of their lives. He spent years working on a farm in Miles, at the Sears Roebuck in Clinton and at A.C. Nielsen. Marilyn said throughout that time, he would come home from work and pick up a piece of wood to work on.
“He’s always loved working with wood,” Marilyn said.
When the couple lived in Preston for a while, he had a little shop with his models. Marilyn said that as his crafting space and his eyesight decreased, his woodwork projects changed.
For the at least 10 to 12 years, John has been crafting canes and hiking sticks, creating 200 to 300 during that time. With his trusty pocket knife and a shaft of Aspen wood, he creates a variety of canes. One of his sons cuts planks of the wood into the sticks.
John designs his canes, drawing in pencil on the wood before he starts carving. His canes used to be more intricate, including fish, gardening items, or musical instruments he carved for a specific theme. Marilyn said his eyes are not as good as they used to be.
Still, John creates a variety of walking sticks and canes, working on two or three at a time. While he likes the freedom of designing the canes, he has made special orders. Right now he is crafting a special Hawkeyes cane for a devoted fan.
Once the canes are finished, John and Marilyn will give them to various senior centers and living facilities, as well as anyone who asks.
“Anybody can have them free. All they have to do is need a cane or walking stick and come and see me,” John said.
For John, the best part of crafting the canes is just keeping his hands busy. He even takes the extra scrap pieces of wood and carves chain links to give away as conversation starters.
“He just can’t sit and do nothing,” Marilyn said.