Hats Off: Janesville man uses woodworking skills to honor veterans
Who: Dave Wagner, 78, 3432 Portland Drive, Janesville.
Why: His tribute to veterans. Wagner, who is retired from the real estate business, makes handcrafted boxes to display American flags given to veterans when they die.
Why: Wagner makes the boxes in memory and appreciation of the veterans' services.
In 2002, Wagner found a pattern for the flag display boxes in a woodworking magazine. He figured many of the flags end up being tucked away. The boxes allow families to display the flags in memory of their loved ones, Wagner said.
Wagner's friend, Neal W. Schneider of Schneider Apfel Schneider & Schneider Funeral Home and Crematory, said he'd be glad to offer the boxes to veterans' families.
“I guess I thought that this was a way for a family to remember what the veteran had done,” Wagner said.
Wagner is a veteran himself, but he is quick to separate himself from those who served on battlefields. Wagner was stationed stateside, just missing the Korean War. He is reluctant even to stand when other veterans are recognized at events he might be attending.
Wagner recently visited Normandy and looked over the English Channel, recalling the bloodshed on D-Day. He thinks of the troops who fought in the Korean War, trying to survive in sub-zero temperatures even while under enemy fire.
He said he sometimes asks himself what he would have done in those circumstances.
Wagner figures he's made between 80 to 100 boxes since then, replenishing the stock when needed. Wagner planes the boards, cuts the wood, makes the box joints and sands and stains the boxes—about a four- to five-hour process—in his garage wood shop. He's built so many he no longer needs to follow plans.
Enlisting the help of others: Wagner puts a note inside each box, saying it was made in honor of the veterans. He also offers to put the veterans' names and dates of birth and death on the glass fronts.
Wagner had taken a box to Kurt Buggs of Signworks in Janesville to have information added, and Wagner had intended to pick up the cost of the work himself.
Buggs wouldn't have it.
“I figured if he was going so far as making those boxes and giving them to veterans, I'd be happy to donate the lettering,” Buggs said.
Buggs said the donation would be his own thanks to veterans, since he himself had just missed serving in Vietnam.
“I'm happy to miss that event,” Buggs said. “I do really appreciate what veterans have done for this country and continue to do.”
What others say: Schneider said funeral home staff make sure flags are folded correctly before being carefully placed in the boxes to show their stars and blue stripes. The backs of the boxes are screwed back on, and the glass is shined.
Funeral home staff tells families, “This is from Dave Wagner,” Schneider said.
“Families are very, very appreciative,” Schneider said.
Schneider's grandson, Neal W. Schneider, said similar display boxes cost about $75 in trade journals.
“It's a wonderful tribute that he can provide families,” the younger Schneider said. When staff at the funeral home show family members the wonderful displays, their eyes light up, he said.
The Stoklosa family received a flag display box after Walter Stoklosa, a World War II Navy veteran, died Jan. 20.
Stoklosa's son Mike said he was amazed to see the quality and craftsmanship of the box. It is a sentimental reminder of his dad for his family, Stoklosa said.
Wagner should be highly commended for his skill and thoughtfulness, Stoklosa said.
“He's got a big heart,” he said.
If you know somebody who deserves a “Hats Off” in The Gazette, call local news editor Sid Schwartz at 608-755-8293 or email The Gazette at email@example.com.