Doug VanGordon cares about kids. He really cares. And because of his concern for Upper Rogue youth, VanGordon found a way to use a hobby to support the Cool Club— a concept he is all for. VanGordon designs and makes walking sticks. These are not run of the mill walking sticks but collector’s items embedded with stones, jewels and trinkets. The beautifully polished sticks have even found their way to Hawaii and Mexico.
When VanGordon and his wife, Patty, were camping last summer and using their walking sticks, a neighboring camper asked to buy one. And the idea was born to make and sell walking sticks to benefit the Cool Club. VanGordon, a retiree, says, “Making the walking sticks also is a way to keep me busy in the wintertime.”
VanGordon has collected hundreds of unfinished sticks from the northeast corner of Oregon and other places. Many of the sticks have knobs caused by a virus equivalent to a tumor in humans, giving a shapely, gnarled look to the wood. The sticks are Lodgepole Pine, Tamarack, Juniper, Diamond Willow and even cactus that VanGordon picked up on vacation, he says.
After VanGordon scrapes off the bark, sands the stick, cleans up the knobs with hand and dremel tools and applies three to four coats of varnish, the fun begins. Using stones with vivid colors such as green, purple, pink and tan and trinkets supplied by neighbor and friend, artisan Linda Hughes, VanGordon lets his imagination run wild. Here and there, he might embed a metal figure of a mountain climber, a whimsical red ladybug or several glowing colored stones. For one male friend, VanGordon engraved elk with a dremel and left the stick unpolished for a masculine look.
In his shop, VanGordon is holding a gold bumblebee and looking for the perfect spot on a stick. “I’m gonna get him on here somewhere,” he says. His delight is contagious and it is easy to get caught up in choosing stones or trinkets such as a coin. A gold heart that Van Gordon has will make a wonderful stick for a woman or a tiny metal bear for a child. He adds, “I never know how the stick will look when I get started.”
So far, VanGordon has donated $895 to the Cool Club from the ergonomically designed walking sticks. The sticks are free but VanGordon takes donations. He says, “I like to get $20 for a decorated stick or $10 for a “plain Jane.” For $5 more, he will throw in a child’s stick. All of the money is donated to the Cool Club and is tax deductible. His supplies such as polyurethane, stones and whatever else is needed come from VanGordon’s own pocket. He has about 40 or 50 sticks unfinished sticks left. When those are gone, VanGordon will cut down on volume. (He may be reached at 541-621-5000.)
VanGordon is aware of the statistics regarding the high poverty level and homelessness in the Upper Rogue. He feels the Cool Club is ideal to help youth find productive activities to keep them out of trouble. “It is a place for kids to relax in a safe environment. There are no predators and the kids are in the same age group.”
After touting the benefits of the computer room at the club, VanGordon plaintively says, “When I was a kid, if I had a room like that filled with computers, I might have been smarter.” This is a bit absurd as everyone knows VanGordon is a smart guy. But the statement does put a smile on the faces of those present. Smart or not so smart, Van Gordon is all heart when it comes to the welfare of Upper Rogue kids.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent