Winter Park couple plays part of Santa’s elves, makes and donates toys for children
December 10, 2007
Just last week, in nearly every room at the home of Diane Fisher and Bill Tucker, whimsical wooden bunkbeds for dolls, brightly painted hobby horses, step stools and toy tool boxes took up considerable square footage.
Some 630 toys in total ” the culmination of a year’s-worth of work.
This week, the retired couple reclaimed their living areas, and the toys are on their way to countless homes of under-privileged kids.
Cutting the wood in the garage, assembling the toys in the workshop, painting and stenciling them, sewing miniature pillows and quilts in the sewing room to be added to the little beds ” the Winter Park couple has repeated these tasks annually since 1993.
Each year they focus on the deadline: December, just in time for Santa.
It’s their hobby, they say. They never once have sold a toy.
Tucker is a white-haired man with a rosy smile, Fisher, the bride he married atop Parsenn’s Bowl, with a studied nature.
Both are easy-going, neither convinced that “retirement” means “lounging around and playing Canasta all day.”
“We get as much pleasure in giving (the toys) as kids get in getting them,” Tucker said.
The bulk of their goods are transported to “Toys for Tots” in Denver, an operation run by the Marine Corps Reserve.
There, they are distributed to children in need throughout Denver and beyond.
The rest of the toys are delivered to Grand County’s Mountain Family Center and end up in the hands of local children through the nonprofit’s annual Holiday Project.
Some are donated to nonprofit groups to help with fundraising.
Through the years, they estimate they’ve given away 9,000 or so toys.
The project originally started out small, a tradition of toy patterns they borrowed from the Lansing, Mich., Scheffel Memorial Toy Project that distributes around 6,000 toys to in-crisis and disadvantaged children throughout the Midwest every year.
The couple started the project here and increased production by adding two additions onto their home, solely for the purpose of building more toys.
“It’s just something we can do together as a joint project,” Tucker said.
“We ski a lot, but we can’t ski every day.”
The couple, former board members and founders of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, has little desire to watch television, they said, save for an occasional ball game or the news, so they fill up free time building and embellishing the objects of Christmas morning.
“This way, we’re never at a lack for something to do,” Tucker said.
In the last two months, toy making became “a full-time job” as December grew near.
They had hoped to make 700 toys this year, they said, but fell short of that goal.
Perhaps their other hobbies of square dancing and long-distance bicycle traveling interfered with production a bit, they added.
Friends and a quilting club to which Fisher belongs help out each year by sewing and stenciling. This year, as many as 32 community members volunteered.
Grand Woodworks in Tabernash contributes lumber scraps, which the company volunteers cutting to size. Grand Woodworks also lends use of a company truck to take stacks of toys to Denver.
Between them, Tucker and Fisher have seven kids, 15 grandkids and five great-grandkids. They strive to make toys “nice enough that we would want to give them to our own grandchildren,” Fisher said.
For paint and plywood, they spend about $2,000 a year and never expect, nor want, to recoup those costs.
They live modestly by way of possessions and spend more on plywood than they do on other things, Tucker said.
“We’re not big into shopping.”
Getting feedback on how the toys were received almost never happens, since the toys are distributed anonymously. But Tucker imagines the doll beds, sweetly adorned with designs selected out of the 300 of Fisher’s stencils, one-day being passed down from daughters to daughters.
As the last toy was brought into Our Lady of the Snow Catholic Church on Friday afternoon, to be picked up by families next week through the Mountain Family Center, the couple decided to celebrate another year of toy-giving accomplished.
They were headed to the Crooked Creek Saloon for prime-rib night.
But the sense of accomplishment, they know, will be short-lived. Soon, they will replenish their storage shed with plywood to start the process over for next year.
“I feel we’ve been given a lot in this life,” Fisher said, explaining why they take on the role of Santa’s elves, year after year.
“This is a way to give back.”
Tucker added, “And it has given me an excuse to go out and buy all the tools I’ve ever wanted.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.