By Eric Butler
In the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church, little wooden angels hang from the speakers. Back in the Sunday school rooms, children fit together pieces of wood into a hippopotamus or a camel marionette.
Visitors to the church are often handed a small wooden cross with the word “Jesus” on it — miniatures of a much larger cross which hangs in the church lobby.
Those carvings, done by Gary Kruckeberg, seem to be in every room of the church, and probably mean more to some members of the congregation than Kruckeberg realizes.
Then again, those pieces of woodwork may signify far more to Kruckeberg himself than the members can imagine.
Kruckeberg’s work includes a large (approximately 10 square feet) hanging with the Lord’s Prayer inscribed on it. Made out of birch plywood, ash, oak and walnut, it took about a year — “working on-and-off,” according to the craftsman — to make.
“Anything along those lines that helps us focus is good,” says Tom Wilson, pastor of Trinity Lutheran. “They’re just amazed by work — by the handiwork. They’re not amazed that Gary did it — they’ve seen his work — but they are amazed by the intricacy.”
Kruckeberg, 57, said he really hasn’t been carving for very long.
Nine years ago, while facing an alcoholism problem that threatened to drown his life away, Kruckeberg said set up some one-on-one meetings with a counselor at Mental Health Resources to talk about it.
“As soon as I got off work, it was nothing for me to go through maybe a case of beer an evening,” Kruckeberg says. “I talked to this guy and went there for about eight weeks. They showed you how it was your problem and you had to quit for yourself; you had to make up your own mind to do something about it.
“(The counselor) said, ‘Gary, what you need a hobby. Do you have a hobby?’ I said, ‘Not really,’ ” he adds. “So, in the Clovis News Journal, in this little section called Parade, there was an advertisement for a 100 patterns for a dollar. So, I sent off for them and, then, I needed a scroll saw and I got a cheap little one from Sears.”
After getting the advice on how to beat his alcoholism, Kruckeberg soon ferreted himself away at his family workshop to work on a variety of pieces.
These days, Kruckeberg does much of his work by fastening a pattern on a piece of wood and then carving into it with saw blades that can have a width as small as .022 of a centimeter.
Though he jokes that he is, “really good at making sawdust,” Kruckeberg said he has made items like a plaque in the form of a Bible with the words of John 3:16 engraved on it. That sits at his house, as does a much more secular item — a wooden logo of his beloved Minnesota Vikings.
Hailing from Owatonna, Minn., originally, Kruckeberg arrived in Clovis in 1967 through a stint in the Air Force. He and his wife Elaine have four children — Brad, Shawn, Kristin and Teri.
As owner of Gary’s Lawn Service, Kruckeberg has his own business to worry about aside from the wood carving projects he carries on. As for turning his hobby into another business, he doesn’t have any plans for that.
“If I start selling it, and there’s demand for it, then that turns into a job,” Kruckeberg says. “More stress and then it’s not my hobby anymore. That’s not therapy.”
The therapy, by the way, has been very successful — according to Kruckeberg.
“I’ve been dry now for at least eight years. Well, I can’t say I haven’t touched a drop,” he says. “I’ll have some communion wine and I’ll have some wine for Thanksgiving, Christmas — stuff like that, but I don’t guzzle it down anymore.”