- Associated Press - Sunday, December 27, 2020

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - In the Highlands neighborhood of Bloomington, small pink, blue and white Adirondack chairs, just the right size for children 5 years old or younger, are on porches, placed in backyards and tucked away in storage.

That’s because it’s common for Craig Allen, a 92-year-old World War II Navy veteran who lives in the neighborhood, to build the chairs in his garage, sometimes with three heaters to keep warm enough to continue working. Then he flags down families with children to offer free chairs.

“It’s been like a second lease on life,” said Susan Allen, his wife of nearly 60 years. “Craig has always been a very active, physical person. He managed the warehouse at a construction company. He was involved in union activities. And he was always go, go, go, and for him to have to slow down, this has been a godsend for us. It’s something that he does that no one else does.”

One day in the summer, Heather Gustafson was walking with her husband, Dan. The couple pushed a stroller with their daughter Rosemary, 1, as their daughter Josephine, 4, walked with them. They happened to pass by the Allens’ house, and Craig called them over.

“The oldest one, she always wears princess dresses and little wings and stuff,” Gustafson said. “She was running ahead of us and he probably saw her first.”



Allen asked if they’d like chairs for their daughters, telling them to come back later that week to get them. Gustafson said Josephine is shy, but when they brought the chairs home and put them on the front porch, her daughters crawled up on the chairs right away.

“Probably like everything else, that’s nice this year - it’s been a really hard year - it’s been really sweet to have an interaction with neighbors that’s uplifting,” Gustafson said. “Our little girls just love the chairs so much, they really do, they play with them anytime we’re outside and they love having something their size.”

When asked for an interview on a phone call, Craig Allen’s wife said he shook his head, but obliged with a shrug, giving her the go ahead to share why he does what he does. Susan Allen laughed and said her husband isn’t shy by any means, but he is hard of hearing, especially over the phone, and doesn’t want the publicity, fame or money.

Building and giving away the chairs is just what he does, she said. She said he’s been woodworking for about 25 years and used to make picnic tables, children’s swing sets and playhouses. As he got older, he developed heart and neurological conditions and couldn’t move around as much to carry large pieces of lumber. But for the chairs, which he started making around 15 years ago, he can do all of the work in a very small space, Allen said.

“Once he started, it was the kids that prompted it on,” Susan Allen said. “The kids just get so excited about it. I’ve seen 3-year-olds try to carry these chairs with them. And frankly, they’re heavy wooden chairs.”

Allen first built the small chairs, along with a children’s playhouse, for a preschool when the couple lived in the Southeast. Parents liked the chairs so much that the school decided to sell them in an auction, which raised enough money to buy four computers, Susan Allen said. At one time he sold them, but around a decade ago, started to just give them away, she said.

“He loves it,” his wife said. “There’s nothing like a baby’s smile to just set him for days. I think he gets more pleasure out of it than the children do.”

Many chairs are given to people who Craig Allen waves down as they happen to walk by with their children in strollers or riding small on bicycles, his wife and neighbors say.

“Everyone in the neighborhood knows them, and I have so many friends that have also walked by with little kids and he’s waved them down, too, and given them multiple chairs for however many kids they have,” Gustafson said. “It’s really sweet and generous.”

Brianna Bult, who lives across the street from the Allens, is among those who have been offered a chair by Allen.

“He flagged us down during Halloween last year and asked if he could make us a chair, and he explained that he makes them all for free,” Bult said.

“Some of the neighbors are giving out treats and we were giving out chairs,” Susan Allen said. “I think three of them went Halloween night.”

Bult said her 4-year-old son, Jonah, was so excited to receive his blue chair.

“He said, ‘Mommy, my very own chair!’” Bult said. “He was over the moon and he still sits in it all the time.”

Bult said throughout the pandemic she’s checked on the Allens and says they’re always “sweethearts.”

“I know that the chairs bring big smiles to everybody that gets them, and he doesn’t charge a thing for them,” Bult said. “What a blessing to everyone.”

Susan Allen said at this point, her husband has likely made hundreds of chairs. One neighbor tells another, and the Allens have sent some to schools and churches in other states where they’re connected through their grandchildren.

The Allens have lots of pictures of children in the chairs, and even knew a military family who took the chairs with them when they moved and used one to announce the impending birth of another daughter. They also receive thank you notes.

“At that age and size, they really can’t write, so for the most part, they draw pictures,” she said. “We get pictures of rainbows and little animals, flowers, and he keeps them all.”

But it’s not just the children and their parents who enjoy the chairs - grandparents who come to Bloomington to visit grandchildren have told the Allens they appreciate the joy the chairs bring to their grandchildren.

Allen said her husband keeps threatening to stop making the chairs, but then along comes another nice day and he’s off getting lumber with his son-in-law and it starts all over again. Between the couple, Susan Allen is the only one driving, so she just backs their one car out of the garage and Craig Allen uses the area as his work space.

“I honestly can’t see him quitting, I really can’t,” his wife said. “The children are just so much fun. My guess is as long as they’re having children in the neighborhood, he’ll be making chairs. And he will say for himself, ‘I don’t play golf. My beer drinking days are long gone.’ This is his pleasure.”

Every time there’s a scare with his health, Susan Allen asks doctors if he should stop making the chairs. They never tell him to stop, she said. And, of course, the Allens have given their doctors and nurses chairs for their own small children.

“I’m real proud of what it is that he does, very much so,” she said. “It’s made a big difference in these aging years. It’s amazing what we can do that we don’t realize.”

She hopes his story inspires others to realize that as well.

__

Source: The Herald-Times

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide