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Meet Kenny: An Inspirational Wood Sculpting Doctor

I was a 17 year old new mother, working multiple jobs and going to school when I met Kenny. We both worked at Albertson’s Grocery Store in Panama City, Florida. Kenny was 17 also, and a high school student who worked evenings and weekends bagging and stocking groceries. I worked in the bakery from 4:30 – 9am each morning and then went back in the evenings to stock non-grocery items for Paradies & Co after my son, then 12 months old, went to sleep. My mother worked a 9-6 day at the time, so it worked well for me to be at work while Levi was sleeping and she could watch him.

Kenny was a bit of a mystery to all. He used to shuffle from one place to the next with his head down, while hiding under his work visor and shaggy hair. When he was in the break room, he would always sit in the same corner, fully engrossed in a book without speaking to a soul unless someone spoke to him first. I had known him for several months before the first time he actually lifted his head up and I saw how beautiful his eyes were. When he spoke to people he was always very polite, but it was clear that he was not the happiest 17 year old around.

Actually, something about that grocery store seemed to attract the most interesting collection of social outcasts, and it didn’t take long before we had all bonded and become a weird kind of family. There were several teenagers, a few older people in their 20’s and 30’s, and one man from Poland who had to be in his forties, but we somehow didn’t care. We were all at a place in our lives where working for minimum wage at a grocery store in a small Florida town was our reality, and we each needed friends desperately. I was the only one in the bunch with a child, and being shunned for this reason from others left me wildly open and thankful for any friendship that presented itself.

As you can probably imagine, we made quite a motley crew. Our outings together generally consisted of eating meals together at the Waffle House next door, before or after our shifts, going on occasional road trips to nearby Tallahassee for concerts, or taking Levi out to a park to play. Everyone in our group loved park outings with Levi, but Kenny loved them the most. Talking and playing with Levi was the only time I ever saw Kenny open up completely and be comfortable with himself in front of others. I remember thinking to myself on several occasions that he was going to make an amazing father someday.

After about two years, I made a decision to move to Jacksonville. Leaving everyone was so difficult. We promised to stay in touch and we tried for a time, but life got too busy and the distance proved insurmountable.

Then, completely out of the blue, 25 years later, Kenny found me on Facebook! It was so wonderful to hear from him and catch up. He shared the whole story of how he had started dating and then married a girl who worked with us at Albertson’s, and now they had a beautiful daughter who is the center of his universe. He had also served a full career in the Air Force, was nearing retirement and had just completed his PhD.  Since that day, we have continued to stay in touch. Now, we generally don’t let a week pass without talking with each other.

I’m forever grateful and so excited that Kenny was gracious enough to do an interview, and be my first featured hand crafter for the boutique. He has been such an important person to me for many years, and I’m very happy to be able to share his story and his beautiful sculpted wood pieces with you!

The interview follows:

In what part of the world and during which era did you grow up?

“I was born in Los Angeles, California in the early 70’s. Luckily, when I was six we moved to the mountains north of LA which were adjacent to a National Forest. I was able to experience a lot of freedom to explore and just enjoy being a kid. It was actually quite an amazing childhood, not unlike a sort of Tom Sawyer-ish way of growing up.”

Who do you feel most shaped who you are as a person, and how?  

“I wish I could say mom and dad, but that would be a lie. As a young kid I discovered the magic of reading, and I would have to say my early years were shaped from the stories of a thousand protagonists. As a grownup however, my father-in-law made a great deal of effort to share his life wisdom with me. I can only assume he did this, so that I would make a better husband to his daughter. In a sense, he became the dad that my own father was unable to be.”

What has been the hardest learned lesson in your life so far?

“Probably that not all problems have solutions, and not all stories end with happily ever after. But, I am young and maybe I will find that I was wrong about that too. :)”

What nourishes your soul on a daily basis?

“Time spent with my daughter more than anything, but also my dogs, and my wife. When I really need to de-stress, it is usually by creating something beautiful and functional out of a hunk of wood in my shop. Whether a new pen or a piece of furniture, it doesn’t take long and I am able once again to find my peace.” 

Can you describe your favorite way to recover and rejuvenate after an especially hard week?

“This is the place that I suspect you may begin to think of me as somewhat lazy. For me, nothing is better to recover from exhaustion than a nice hot cup of coffee and watching my favorite show on television. This might be anything from West World to Doctor Who. Sometimes, I also like to sit out in the courtyard with my family and a drink and enjoy watching the sun set.”

What was the one single moment in which you felt the most loved?

“There is truly no one single moment that comes to mind of when I felt the most loved. When my daughter was young we would snuggle, watch TV and eat a piece of chocolate. We called it daddy-daughter chocolate snuggle-buggle time. Those are the moments of my life I will forever associate with the most love in my life.”

What is the most difficult decision that you’ve ever been faced with?

“When I became an officer in the military I had to resign as an enlisted member and go to college for two years. I had failed at high school and I was worried that I would not be able to make it through completing a degree in college. If I failed I would have been out of a job with little prospects for the future, if I succeeded, my pay would double and I would receive a commission as an officer. It was very difficult for me to give up what was easy and take that chance, knowing how hard I would have to work.”

Can you tell us the story of the best meal you’ve ever had?

“As a child, a long time ago my Uncle Gi held a giant family reunion BBQ out in the mountains. There were tons of us there with lots of kids and music and the smell of BBQ everywhere. My brother and I went on an adventure and ended up with poison ivy, but we had so much fun. When it was time to eat in that beautiful part of our country (CA mountains) it was the best burger, hotdog, and chips I’ve ever had.  And since then, nothing has matched it.”

What are you most afraid of right now?

“Anything bad happening to my daughter. It sounds like a short answer, but this defines who I am and all my life choices more than anything.”

Can you tell me about a time in your life when you thought you were right about something, but later you found that you were mistaken?

“This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Not because I think I’m always right, but because I tend to think I’m probably going to be wrong. Several years ago, we hired a young lady that I thought would do a really good job for us. On the surface she did, but later on I found out that she had been stealing from us. It’s not a very profound example but it does stick out in my memory for some reason.”

What is the best dessert you’ve ever had and where were you?

“Every Christmas since Sabra and I got married we came home to my in-laws house to celebrate. My father-in-law always made sure to have an apple pie ready. Not a very exciting place, but arriving in Van Horn, Texas with hot apple pie waiting, and knowing that the most amazing person in the world made it for me, was definitely it.”

What do you see as your greatest achievement in life so far?

“I’ve actually achieved a lot of the things I wanted to in my time, and a few I never planned to. I became an officer, I got a bachelor’s degree, a masters and a PhD. But, the one thing that truly, truly makes me proud and will always be my achievement is raising my daughter. Sorry if that sounds sappy, every word of it is true.”

What has been the greatest adventure of your life so far?

“I must separate a great adventure from a fun adventure in order to articulate this answer. In 2012, I was deployed to the Middle East. While I was there, my boss, an Army Colonel, decided that I needed to see what was really going on in Afghanistan. He sent me on a mission into the heart of the turmoil in the Middle East and I spent two weeks flying from one city to another while I was there. I also had the opportunity to drive through downtown of the capital (Kabul). I had to carry a fully loaded and ready to fire pistol. That time was different, scary, and filled with adventure. I was never so happy as when I first stepped foot back into our great country.”

What are you looking forward to most in life?

“Watching my daughter grow into a young lady and meeting my grandchildren. That very first time I get to have chocolate snuggle buggle time with my grandbaby.”

What adventure are you looking forward to in the future?

“I really, really want to take my family to London and Paris. It is a fairly tame adventure, but one that I look forward to with great enthusiasm.”

What advice would you give to someone who has long since dreamed of a grand adventure but is having a difficult time finding the courage to make the commitment and go?

“Start small. Traveling takes a lot of energy and the more foreign things are the more overwhelming they can be. Start with places more like your norm and take it from there. Also, physically prepare for your trip! Get used to walking a lot before you go. Seeing a new place through a car window is not really experiencing it. I love, love, love to walk everywhere when I go to a new place. As I get older this is getting harder to do and it makes me sad since that has been my favorite way to travel.  And last, I used to tell myself that it was better to spend money on things because they stick around and a trip is only for a week or so. As I get older I realize that the experience of the trip stays with you forever and is worth so much more than anything you can buy. So, do it… go!”

How long have you been crafting things from wood?

“About two years now. I’ve always been able to easily sculpt things, like people, from clay and other mediums. It was one of the rare things, that I didn’t have to learn. It just came built in.”

Can you tell me the story of how you began as a woodworker?

“I was learning how to make tables and other box shaped pieces when I realized that I would need a leg for a table I was making and I wanted it cylindrical. I then did some research and learned that I needed a lathe to make a rectangle into a cylinder. That led me down the yellow brick road so to speak. I found that carving wood on the lathe was very relaxing and rewording, so I kept doing it. Soon I realized that I had a natural knack for turning wood.”

Have you taken any woodworking classes or had a mentor?

“No, I dearly wish that I had on both accounts. My dad used to like to work with wood, but he never really had the chance to focus enough on it to master the craft. He was always too busy working to share what he did know with my brothers and I.”

What has been the most challenging project of your life so far?

“This one is very easy to answer…Developing and testing the software that was the empirical study of my PhD dissertation was hands down the most challenging task I’ve ever taken on.”

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with this craft?

“I think the biggest challenge so far has been learning about all the different woods and now how to fabricate amalgamations of polyester acrylic with wood. It has been a shockingly difficult process to figure out.”

What do you wish for as a woodworker?

 “More than anything I wish to continue getting the same kind of enjoyment I get now from making things from wood. I also hope that I can build this new company to a point where I have a solid business to leave to my daughter someday.”

Do you plan to pass this trade on to others? 

“My college students are far more interested in my software teachings, but who knows, there maybe a woodworking class offered in the future. 🙂 I have been trying as hard as I can to teach Shelby as I learn. I really hope that no matter what happens in her life she will have this company as an option in her future.”

   You can view all of the items Kenny has available and make purchases from LaViers Crafts by clicking the button below:

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