Upper St. Clair man donates hand-carved birds to Friendship Village residents

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A bird in the hands of Upper St. Clair woodworker Tom Parker becomes a comforting thing.

Parker, 79, a resident of Friendship Village of South Hills, hand-carves birds and donates them to residents in the retirement community's health center.

“His dedication is amazing. He's so meticulous, and he's passionate about his hobby,” said Russ Firewicz, administrator for the health center, which provides nursing care.

Parker was born in Vermont and grew up in Upstate New York, where he whittled as a Boy Scout and worked on farms as a teen.

“I learned that a little bit of baler twine and wire can fix anything,” he said, pointing out his handmade repairs to his original knife.

After college and military service, Parker worked as a mechanical engineer. He purchased the knife he still uses in 1980 for an adult education woodworking class in Mt. Lebanon High School.

The bird project began nearly two years ago when Parker read an article in Wood Carvers Illustrated magazine about Frank Foust, a carver who makes “Comfort Birds” and gives them away.

The birds are intended to provide comfort as they are held, and the smooth wood is stroked. So far, Parker has made several dozen birds from different types of wood. Each is unique.

“People just love them — they get big smiles on their faces when they receive one,” said Saundra Mead, the Friendship Village activities supervisor who distributes the birds. “People also enjoy looking at them on a windowsill.”

Parker has entertained audiences at the retirement community with his process.

“He shares all of the work involved from scratch to the sanding, staining and molding,” Mead said. “It's quite amazing. Then he passes around the birds to hold, and that is always a lot of fun, too.”

Each bird begins as a block of wood. Parker, a resident of Friendship Village's independent living area for four years, can cut two in one morning on the band saw in the village's wood shop.

He combines woodworking with his mechanical engineering skills in other ways to help the village.

He made wooden plant platforms for moving large plants in the greenhouse, display boards for the village art gallery and door stops for the linen closet.

One volunteer for the village's “Books for the Bedside” project needed a book rest that could sit on a reader's lap they sat up in bed. A book rest was available through a catalog, but the staff needed something lighter in weight, adjustable and hands-free.

Volunteer coordinator Mardi Centinaro showed Parker a picture.

“I told him what we needed, and he said, ‘I'm sure I can come up with something similar.' He did — and it's custom made,” she said.

His “Reader's Rest” uses easily available materials, such as a coat hanger.

“Mr. Parker's woodworking touches us throughout Friendship Village,” Centinaro said, and he is willing to help with whatever is needed.

In addition to the Christmas gifts he is working on for his grandchildren, Parker is fine-tuning a holder for menus and other items for chairs in the dining hall.

“Woodworking is something I truly enjoy doing, and seeing it appreciated makes it so worthwhile,” Parker said.

Jane Miller is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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