The wood carving of the Gettysburg Address caught my attention as we were leaving the East Wing of the Glenview Park District Center at The Glen this past Saturday. We had spent the evening at the center in Glenview, Illinois, celebrating my brother’s marriage.
The wood carving was created by an older adult by the name of Manny Shellist. I met Manny a number of years ago while visiting the Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook affordable assisted living community that Gardant operates.
Manny came up and introduced himself as I was admiring the wood carving, which was on display at the time in the front lobby of the community.
Manny told me that he took up wood carving at the Glenview Senior Center when he was 92 years of age. He spent 3 ½ months at the age of 96 creating the wood carving of the Gettysburg Address, which stands eight-feet high.
Manny and I talked for quite some time about his growing up and living in the Chicago area and what prompted him to learn something new at the age of 92.
For many years, Manny said, he worked with his brother, who came up with the idea of selling health and beauty aids through the Mom and Pop grocery stores that were located in neighborhoods throughout the Chicago area.
After retiring for the first time, he found that a steady diet of pinochle and golf was not for him. He went back to work, this time for the Niles Township Sheltered Workshop, helping the organization serve men and women who had physical and mental disabilities.
Following his second retirement, he began going to the Glenview Senior Center.
Woodcarving was never in his vocabulary before he visited the center. To be a good woodcarver, the instructor told him, two things were needed – patience and the ability to count. Manny acknowledged having patience but was curious about the need to be able to count. Counting is very important, the instructor told Manny; having the ability to count insures that when you are done with a project all ten fingers are still in place.
As we sat and talked, we were joined by a resident who had grown up in Mississippi. Her mother was a slave. Both Manny and the other resident reminisced about the importance of memorization when they were in school.
“I memorized poems and read and re-read the Gettysburg Address so many times that it stuck,” Manny told me. He undertook the wood carving of the Gettysburg Address in conjunction with the celebration of the 200th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.
Manny chipped into basswood each of the 272 words in the Gettysburg Adress – 1,211 letters each ¾ of an inch in height. Two other members of the Senior Center, Bob Crampton and Paul Gotschewski, helped him with the finishing touches. One stained the wood and the other built a combination frame and easel so that the woodcarving project could be displayed throughout the state. Just prior to coming to Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook, Manny’s work had been on display at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
Manny had moved to Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook to be close to his daughter in Joliet. He had been living in Morton Grove, right across the street from Notre Dame College Prep, where I attended high school.
He told me that the move to affordable assisted living did not impact his wood carving. He spent a portion of virtually every day working on projects in his studio apartment.