Redefining the word ‘craftsman’

Redefining the word ‘craftsman’

Blanchester’s Victor Teeters

Story and photos by Tim Colliver

For 73-year-old retired pastor Victor Teeters, the router he held in his hand was no different than the Bible he used to hold when he stood behind the pulpit — for they both have the capability to shape things.

With the skill of a master craftsman, Teeters can take the router and turn pieces of 150-year-old barn wood into a dining room table where family and friends can gather.

With the humility of a country preacher, he with the help of his Lord, can take that old Bible into a home and help turn around the life of a troubled soul.

Ever the craftsman, Teeters finds solace and retreat in his mortice and tenon, stick-built barn and woodshop just south of Blanchester.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with wood,” he said, remembering as a child attending the old Peasley Public School on Liberty Street in Cincinnati, where metal and woodworking was offered in shop class. “One of my first projects was a jewelry box and a pair of candleholders, both made out of mahogany that I built for my mother when I was 12 years old.”

A year before, he had made his mother a serving tray out of metal and ceramic tile, and a lifelong love of creating things from scratch began.

The serving tray is lost to history, but the jewelry box and candleholders still survive and are in the loving care of his oldest daughter, Kim, who lives in northern Kentucky.

Teeters’ father was a general contractor who built houses throughout greater Cincinnati, and like most boys growing up in the mid 1950s, he went to work with his father on weekends and put his talents to good use.

“That’s when I really began to do some serious woodworking,” he said. “We did a lot of it around the homes, replacing old wood with new wood, and it was then that I really began to appreciate the value of old, seasoned wood to make things out of.”

Every artist has their favorite medium to work in. For some it’s oils on canvas, for others it may be pen and ink, or clay and ceramics. For Teeters, it’s wood, and the older the better.

“You can shape wood, and it’s forgiving,” he said. “I really don’t like working with new wood so much, but the pleasure in working with old wood is you’re taking something that is neglected and weathered and turning into something that’s either useful or something that will be treasured for years to come.”

When in the process of building his creations, he said it’s easy to literally pour yourself into a project, and everything he did was in love with no expectation of anything in return.

He remembered a time when he took it upon himself to make some lazy Susans for his brothers’ and sisters’ kitchen tables.

“I must’ve made a dozen of those things since I come from a family of 15 kids,” he said. “And every time I see them, it makes me think of my family, or if I’ve built something else for someone, they will come to mind, too.”

It saddens him to think that what he does is becoming a lost and dying art.

“This generation and the next aren’t going to have any old furniture to pass down to their kids,” he said. “Much of what you buy at a Walmart or even some furniture stores is made of manufactured wood and came from overseas. How long do you think that glued together sawdust is going to last? I made a table for some friends a couple of years ago and I guarantee if they take care of it, their great-grandkids will be using it 50 years from now.”

Creating masterpieces of furniture, shelving and even walking sticks isn’t limited to the array of tools he has in his woodshop.

One year while vacationing in Tennessee with friends, it was discovered that no one had packed a rolling pin, and homemade buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy were on the breakfast menu for the next day.

“Sure, we could’ve gone to the store and bought one, but that would be like smart,” he said with a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye. “I’m just not that smart.”

Undaunted and armed only with his ever-present pen knife, he ventured outside the Gatlinburg-area cabin and found an appropriate sized tree limb on the ground and set about to whittling.

After about a half-hour of shaving and sculpting, what had been a rough piece of wood covered in coarse bark now had the appearance of a homemade rolling pin.

Breakfast had been saved.

Life has been good for the retired Nazarene preacher, but it’s also been rough.

He left home at the age of 15 after a fight with his father, two years later marrying the “love of his life,” Carleen King, who was 14 at the time.

They’ve been married for 56 years and Carleen said friends and family both told them that due to their young age, “it would never last.”

She is quick to point out that many of those same people were either divorced or separated later in life, but she and Victor took their marriage vows seriously and stuck it out through thick and thin.

“Try getting a good job when you’re still a teenager,” Victor said. “And you can only imagine the problems Carleen had when she was pregnant with our first child. It didn’t matter to the doctors that we were married, to them, she was just another pregnant little girl.”

Two miscarriages, three kids and 10 jobs later, Teeters landed a position as a millwright at General Electric in Evendale while pastoring the Newtonsville Church of the Nazarene for 25 years.

But it was prior to that, during the 11 years he spent at Serv-All Foods in Covington, Kentucky, the boy who never finished high school was able to go to night school and become a jack of all trades and master of several, as management paid for college-level classes that ranged from electricity, plumbing, welding, refrigeration and more, so long as he maintained a “B” average.

He was forced to retire from GE in 1999 after being injured on the job, and now chronic back and neck pain are a big part of his daily routine.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and retired from pastoring that summer.

Being the second youngest son of 15 children, he has over the years had to say goodbye to brothers, sisters and their spouses until now, he and two sisters are the only ones left of Harvey and Fannie Teeters’ offspring.

“Yeah, it’s been rough at times,” he said, tearing up when he remembered the recent death of his youngest daughter, Christine, who died unexpectedly Nov. 9 at the age of 47. “But it’s been real good, too. “

Parkinson’s brings with it symptoms of tremors and difficulties in concentration, and though it has slowed down the venerable carpenter, it hasn’t stopped him yet.

He is still hand-crafting items that will later become family heirlooms, with projects in various stages of completion scattered around the house.

He found a pair of antique chairs that had been discarded and headed for a landfill that he’s restoring to their pre 20th century glory, intended as a gift for a couple who over the years have become dear friends.

They’ll match the hand-crafted dinner table he made for them a few years back, constructed entirely out of old barn wood he knows to be at least 150 years old.

A rustic picture frame made from old barn wood rests nearby, ready for the old master’s final touches.

Remembering his years in ministry, Teeters can’t resist drawing an analogy when it comes to his favorite hobby and his faith.

“You know, Jesus and Joseph were both carpenters and made household items for sale and for pleasure in and around Nazareth,” he said with a smile. “So I guess I’m in good company.”

Salt Magazine