New spin on old toys


In an era of video games, computers, iPads and cellphones, it’s hard to believe a simple wooden race car or airplane toy would get much attention from kids.

But when a group of first-graders at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School recently was allowed to play with such toys, each child’s face lit up, and their imaginations took over.

The toys were lovingly made by Ruel West of Seymour, a member of the Central Indiana Woodworkers group. The club is made up of men and women who meet once a month in the Indianapolis area to share their interest in woodworking. Some are professionals, while many are just hobbyists.

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Throughout the year, club members make and donate wooden toys to hospitals, The Salvation Army and other organizations in Indiana that work with young children. The goal each year is to donate at least 10,000 handmade wooden toys.

“I love to do it,” West said of making the toys. “I hear people say when they retire, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’ I’ve been retired since Dec. 31, 2004, and I wonder how I have time to work.”

Last year, the club gave out 12,400 toys, West said.

He has been involved with the woodworkers organization for about 17 years.

“All those years, I would go (to meetings) and come back and say, ‘What can I do to get some of these toys to Seymour?’” West said.

He found the answer in the support of another local club he belongs to.

“It dawned on me one evening that I’m in the Lions Club,” he said. “We’re always having programs, so I thought it would be kind of neat if Mick Keller, who is the president of the woodworkers club, would come down and do a presentation about the toys to the Lions Club.”

The woodworkers group furnishes the wheels and axles, and each of the members has to come up with funding for the rest of the wood.

The Seymour Evening Lions Club donated $300 for the project.

During Keller’s presentation, West learned the club was working with four schools in Indianapolis, so Keller agreed to present the program to Brown Principal Tony Hack to see if it would be something the school might be interested in.

Hack loved the toys and thought they would be a great incentive for students to have good behavior, make good grades and be good friends to each other. He got the program approved by the school board in the spring.

All students in kindergarten through fifth grade will have opportunities to win a toy after every nine-week grading period.

The woodworkers group has committed to providing 70 toys per nine weeks.

“We’re going to end up with a lot of happy kids with toys,” Hack said.

The toys will be on display in the school so the kids see them every day and know what they are working toward, Hack said.

“It’s going to be a reward and incentive program for good character, good academics, social skills,” he said.

“Those run along with our theme, ‘The Golden Rule,’ treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Brown Elementary introduced “The Golden Rule” as its theme in 2015, and teachers and staff started handing out golden tickets to students who demonstrated kindness, generosity and respect to others. Those tickets could be entered for special prizes and rewards.

On Friday, West brought some of the toys to Brown Elementary.

Besides cars and an airplane, he also had wooden animals, including a snail, a dinosaur, a whale and a pelican. Some of the toys West had painted, while others kept their natural wood look.

“It’s difficult to find paint that is nontoxic,” he said.

West has recruited his neighbor, Bob McElhaney, who’s also in the Lions Club, to help make the toys for Brown Elementary. If they are unable to keep up with demand, West said other club members may have to help.

“We make 13 and get to keep one,” West said. The remaining 12 are given to the woodworkers club for distribution.

Each month, a new model of toy is featured for the club members to work on. West said there are 136 members with 75 to 80 who are active, so most members make multiple toys.

Hack said it was obvious from how the boys were playing with the toys that they truly enjoyed them.

“It’s amazing,” Hack said. “They really do appreciate them. Where we are in 2017, those are 6-year-olds, and I would be willing to bet they’ve never had a wooden toy in their hands, ever. There’s no cords, no animation and they had a great time with it. We’re super excited to offer this at Brown.

“The Golden Rule is the oldest rule known to man,” he added. “Now, we’re bringing back old toys, and we’re proving that in 2017, the most modern of times, some things never get old.”

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