“He was like a dad to me,” my former high school classmate Tim Gintner told me as he sat grieving next to me in a pew on Saturday. “We worked summers together doing carpentry projects all over. He was the reason I built my own house … everything but the fireplace. He always said, ‘If you’re going to do it … do it right … even if it takes a little more time.’”
We were in Frontenac at Friskel Funeral Home awaiting the start of the service for Charley Quenoy, who died March 18 at the age of 86. Charley taught us wood shop at Frontenac. You could tell he and Tim had a special connection from the start. Tim was an easygoing kid who seemed to have the hands-on carpentry sense of a 45-year-old when he was 14.
Mr. Quenoy’s relationship with me was a little more contentious. I ended up in the principal’s office more than once after getting caught pulling a prank or getting too cute and mouthy. No horseplay allowed! He took the responsibility of keeping 14-year-olds from slicing off their fingers while learning woodworking seriously.
But he taught me the basics of the craft nonetheless. In fact, I still use the pine shoeshine box I made under his tutelage in 1964. No doubt many others out there do too. And I’ll bet many mothers are still using oak cutting boards, cut in the shape of a pig, their sons crafted there.
Recalling my time in the shop off the boiler room brings an olfactory smile. I’m not only speaking of an obviously aromatic wood like cedar, but the more subtle, clean smell of pine, the musk of sanded oak and the tang of newly-cut walnut. Not to mention the intoxicating fragrance of stain and varnish wrapped around the burnt electric odor of drills, saws, and planers.
Charley also drove the west end rural schoolbus route daily through Dunkirk, Radley, and Capaldo. My wife, Linda, who rode with him, said he as always congenial – gave the kids nicknames and asked about their families as they rode along — but there was no messing around on the bus.
Bill Sollner was a high school classmate of Charley’s Arma High School where they played along side one another on the football team – Charley right tackle, Bill right end. “We beat Frontenac four years in a row,” Bill told me proudly. (Many reading this will remember the intensity of the Frontenac – Arma rivalry. Even a mediocre season could be salvaged by a win. Always the last game of the year, it was played in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day and drew fans from miles around.)
“Mr. Dependability,” was how Bill described Charley. “I liked him. I respected him. They say ninety percent of life is showing up. Charley showed up.”
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Everyone agrees Charley was a master carpenter; a man who could judge a wood’s quality — its color, weight and grain – at a glance. One in whose hands a hammer, saw, pencil, square, tape measure, drill, and plane became tools of creation.
Long after Tim and I left school Charley began taking students out of the school proper and into the community to build houses from the ground up, giving hands on experience to dozens of students who went on to careers in the building trades.
Nephew Mark Moriconi spoke of his kindness to his family, as well as Charley telling him that what he sought to teach students went beyond actual carpentry to skills and values that they could carry with them into life.
In his remarks, Rev. Verl Strong called Charley “a good man” – husband, father, neighbor, citizen; an active member (and he stressed “active”) of the American Legion, Methodist Church, Rotary, City Council and Homecoming Committee. It was in working on the homecoming with Charley that I got to know, appreciate and admire him as an adult.
Rev. Strong also spoke to the bible story of Lazarus, saying that, after being raised from the dead by Jesus, he told his father, “There is no death, only life. Death is but an interval in between.”
In closing, here’s an excerpt from a poem by James Whitcomb Riley, appropriately titled “A Good Man,” that speaks to the same idea.
A good man never dies / In worthy deed and prayer / And helpful hands, and honest eyes, / If smiles or tears be there: / Who lives for you and me / Lives for the world he tries / To help - he lives eternally. / A good man never dies.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com