Up for a Challenge

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Thursday January 12, 2012

If you ask Don Spawn what he does in a typical week, he might tell you that he worked in his wood shop on his latest furniture project. With a little prodding, you might get him to add that he went skiing at Smuggler’s Notch... a couple of times. When you say, “What else, Don?” he might mention that he practiced his musical instruments (of course), trimmed a few trees and found a good buy at a garage sale. Sounds like a productive week for anyone. But Don is no spring chicken.

Don has been around for a long time. A South Burlington resident since the 1960s, he moved here from upstate New York as a long-time employee of General Electric. Now retired, Don does not watch the grass grow, even for one second. His life is filled with enough activities to exhaust a younger man.

I visited Don at his home last week, eager to see his base of operation. His home is a reflection of his many interests and activities. It is furnished with a combination of his own handiwork and that of other fine wood, metal and stone artisans whom he admires. Part of the decor includes some of Don’s collection of tools. It is not every home that has a set of architect levels framing the archway between living room and dining room.

As an expert woodworker, Don has created, repaired or refinished many objects in his home. He eats on a walnut dining room table with graceful tapered edges that he built many years ago. His hand-made chests, cabinets and tables grace his living room with their multi-hued woods, dovetailed joints and sleek finishes. In his bedroom can be found a magnificent sleigh bed and an elegant six-drawer chest of his own making. I noticed framed photographs, many displaying magnificent landscapes, that appear on the walls throughout Don’s home. It turns out that he is also a fine photographer. And did I mention that Don designed the plans not only for this home but two previous homes as well?

The unique characteristic of Don’s wood work is his use of a variety of different woods in each piece to provide contrast of color, design and texture. His basement workshop contains a stock of wood in many shapes, sizes, colors and textures which line the walls waiting to be called into service for just the right project. Many of these wood scraps were gleaned through Don’s frequent outings to garage sales, where he has a knack for spotting the potential in seemingly useless objects. He puts everything to good purpose, creating functional and attractive pieces from other people’s discards.

As if woodworking and garage sale hopping were not enough, Don is a musician. He has been a trumpet player since he was a kid in Syracuse, New York. He practices regularly and frequently plays at the First Baptist Church in Burlington for Sunday morning services, performing everything from hymns to jazz. He also lends a hand as a ringer in the church’s bell choir.

When not playing music or working in his wood shop, Don is out and about. In warmer months, besides making the rounds of garage sales, he spends some “leisure” time at his camp in the Adirondacks with his children and grandchildren. It comes as no surprise that he refurbished the camp himself over the years. In the winter, Don may be found on the ski slopes. This winter, he is just waiting for some good snow.

Don is a modest man of few words. In response to my exclamations of awe at his handiwork and myriad activities, he merely said, “I like a challenge.”

Oh, did I mention that Don plays the flute? He found an instrument at a garage sale a couple of years ago and decided to get some lessons. He has done so well that recently he surprised parishioners at First Baptist by performing, not on his renowned trumpet, but on the flute. What next, Don?

SOURCE: Lois Price, Correspondent