EXCHANGE: Bloomington man makes Popsicle stick art
In this July 16, 2014 photo, Kenneth Hock, 79, of Bloomington, Ill., sits with a 4-foot square farmstead he made completely out of tongue depressors, popsicle sticks and other various wood products at The Myerling, an assisted living group home. THE PANTAGRAPH, LORI ANN COOK-NEISLER — AP Photo
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — He tried hunting, but that didn’t trip his trigger. He threw out a line to try catching fish, but that wasn’t it either. He likes to read, but that doesn’t involve much use of the hands and, now at almost 80, he is diabetic and blind in one eye.
Yes, just being retired — and even better, happy — can be a trying time.
“I’m still active. I’m still mobile,” says Kenneth Hock. “I just don’t want my life to become getting a good seat by the window each day so I can watch traffic drive past.”
When younger, he was an electrician at Dow Chemical.
In time, he advanced and went into research and development of “thermo-plastic resonance.”
That is where, in the 1960s, he accomplished what he considers his life’s crowning feat — a piece of his thermo-resistant plastic flew to the moon as part of the NASA program.
But life goes on. Kenneth’s did.
His kids grew. His wife died. Alone, he began to enjoy a drink or two at night to ease the loneliness but in time realized that wasn’t how he wanted to close out his life. So, with the encouragement of a daughter, he moved to The Myerling, an assisted living group home east of Bloomington.
That’s where about a year ago — one night after dinner — he looked down at the plates and asked the residents around him to save their Popsicle sticks from dessert.
“I might make something with them,” Kenneth announced.
A guy who earlier in life had dabbled in making model cars and model planes, he sculpted a little wood house with the Popsicle sticks.
“Nicely done!” a Myerling employee, Steve Marthey, said. “My gosh, Kenneth, you should build more.”
So he did.
Inside a closet of his small, personal living area at the retirement home, he created a table on which to do his wood working and made a tiny cabin. Next night, he decided to sculpt a half-inch tall kitchen table and even tinier chairs. Then he made a miniature bed. And then a counter, a closet in which to hang clothes and a fireplace “where they could do the cooking.”
Then, because by now he decided to try replicating a farmstead from 100 years ago, he made a miniature outdoor privy with a quarter-inch-tall “one-holer” inside. Complete with the hole.
Suddenly caught up in his new-fangled passion, he began shopping. He found more Popsicle sticks at Michael’s, and non-sterile (“cheaper”) tongue depressors in lots of 500 he discovered at Merle Pharmacy.
Then he thought, what would a simple little cabin with furniture inside and a neighboring privy be without a barn?
So he built that, complete with miniature horse stalls, pig pens, cow stalls and wagons for the horses to pull the hay.
Then he thought, what would a barn be without a silo? Done! Then, using shish-kabob skewers from Cub Foods, he added a miniature ladder up the side of the silo.
Inside the miniature farmhouse, which he built next, he added a tiny flushing toilet. But a tiny flushing toilet also meant there was water on the farmstead. So he built a water tower. He added a windmill to pump the water that would be stored in the tower so that it could flush the toilet and water the garden. That’s what he added next, complete with toothpicks from which to build scale-model pole beans.
Included on what became a three-month project and a sprawling, 4-foot-wide scale model of an early 1900s farm, now on exhibit at The Myerling: In a far corner, a “family cemetery,” complete with grave plots and tiny headstones.
“Am I crazy?” asks Kenneth. “Sure!” he retorts, with a big, toothy laugh. “I like to say I’m just a highly active, 79-year-old, one-eyed dimwit. But to do all this — without spending much — takes a lot of planning and a lot of thought … and I fully enjoy that, especially now.”
Retirement boredom? Just sitting by a window in a retirement home patiently waiting for nothing but his own demise? Is that a way to culminate one’s grand life?