Brownstown man carving out a happy life



The winding road into Lake and Forest Club in Brownstown is lined with trees.

Sometimes, deer and wild turkeys can be spotted there, but who knew it might be possible to see bears at times?

Unlike the other wildlife in the area, however, the bears are made out of wood.

Waltz and the three bears

There are more than 80 lots at Lake and Forest Club, but the one with three bears in the front yard belongs to Don Waltz, who began carving the bears from the stump of a downed maple tree about a month ago.

“How this came about was I had a maple tree that was about half-dead, so I decided to have it taken down,” Waltz said. “I asked the guy to leave the stump about 8 feet high so I could carve a bear, and he just looked at me kind of funny.”

Waltz walks out on a scaffolding over the edge of the lake to work on his creation. Now, he is at the stage, where he uses a grinder to take off the saw marks and has put some stain on it to keep it from cracking, he said.

“I named the big bear Gladly because there’s a story about a little boy who went to Sunday school one day and his mother asked him what they did in class,” Waltz said. “The boy said they talked about Gladly, the cross-eyed bear, but the teacher had been referring to the Lord saying, ‘Gladly, the cross I’d bear.’ Nobody seems to get it, but I think it’s kind of cool.”

The bear and cubs, positioned along the shoreline of the lake, are a work in progress, which Waltz started carving with a chainsaw with the help of his son-in-law, Mike Hageman. Hageman is married to Waltz’s daughter, Melody.

Waltz has two other children, Joellen Waltz Martin and Tony Waltz.

Martin, who recently moved into the house next door to Waltz, said when her dad first spoke of the tree-carving project, she was a bit nervous.

“But it is actually turning out pretty good,” she said. “I think the fact that he is 89 and still able to do such a task is amazing.”

Melody said their dad has never had any kind of professional training or carving instruction, and even though he’s not on the level with the professionals, she admires him for what he does.

“If he wants to do something, he’s never afraid to try it. He has always had that quality, and it has served him well,” Melody said. “I’m impressed with the fact that he gets up every morning with a mission for the day.”

She said due to his age, they were skeptical about him standing on scaffolding that extended over the water and wielding a chainsaw, but as usual, he proved he could pull it off.

“He is very intelligent, well-read, witty and sometimes a bit eccentric, and that’s what we all adore about him,” Melody said. “He knew this tree was coming down this past winter, so his wheels were already turning as to how he could do something fun and interesting with the tree stump.”

Waltz retired about 20 years ago and didn’t play golf, and so he said he needed something to do. It was then that he decided to try his hand at carving.

“I started out carving dogs and miscellaneous things, like the Lord’s Supper and a couple of selfies, with a Dremel tool and a knife,” he said. “I try to pick different projects that are challenging instead of doing the same things over and over.”

Waltz doesn’t call himself a professional carver, but he has won recognition in carving contests in Sarasota, Florida.

“They classified me as intermediate since I’m a little rough around the edges,” Waltz said. “But I learned some tips from a friend, Jack Baxley, who is now deceased. He took a year just to carve an eagle, and it was beautiful.”

The early days

Waltz was born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression, and raised in Madison on a farm by his parents, the late Glen and Eloise Waltz.

They were farmers in Jefferson County and raised tobacco, tomatoes and other produce.

“In the 1930s during the Great Depression, we sold tomatoes to Morgan Packing on contract for $7 a ton,” Waltz said. “The going rate for picking tomatoes was 2½ cents a bushel.”

Waltz went to school at North Madison and played on the basketball team. He met his first wife, Peggy, at an away game in North Vernon. He was sitting on the bleachers in the gym with his teammates waiting for the first game to start when she walked in.

“I told my teammates, ‘I know that gal’ because I recognized her from going to a Baptist camp in Franklin,” Waltz said. “I said something to her, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember you,’ and it went from there.”

Waltz served in the Army Reserve from 1947 to 1956, and he worked with artillery, which affected his hearing. Back then, they did not wear any earplugs, he said.

“I spent some time in Germany, and at that time, we weren’t getting along with Russia very well, but it was good duty, just after World War II,” Waltz said. “I was a sergeant, so I got to take my wife, Peggy, and son, Tony, with me, so we spent a couple of years over there in Germany.”

Then he went to work for Dunlap and Co. in the business of building materials, but he felt like he was in over his head at first.

“I was surrounded by a lot of high-quality businessmen, but Dunlap saw something in me,” Waltz said. “They sent me to business school at Indiana University for a couple of years, and the rest of my education came from on-the-job-training. I spent 34 good years with the company.”

Building blocks

Waltz and Peggy were married 56 years before she died. He has been married to his second wife, Sandra, for the past 10 years.

“So I’ve had 66 years of married life. Sandra is out in California right now visiting her kids on a 14-day vacation,” Waltz said. “I used to travel that part of the country in the lumber business, to California, Oregon and Washington.”

Waltz would travel out west two or three times a year to buy lumber and plywood. He knew the country, and it was a good time in his life, he said.

“I don’t have a lot to brag about, but I enjoy life,” Waltz said. “It’s kind of an ordinary life, but life is good. I’m a professing Christian and not ashamed of my faith.”

Waltz said he loves all of his children, and he likes having them close by and really enjoys having Joellen right next door. He and Joellen share a hound dog named Charlie.

“When she’s at home, he will usually go over there with her,” Waltz said. “Charlie likes taking boat rides with me around the lake, though.”

Waltz said he has had a good 89 years, and he never gets bored for long because he always finds something to do.

“I’ve been involved in building all my life, and that’s my real theme,” Waltz said. “I bought this property back in 1969 and built here, and I love it. I’ve had what I think is an interesting life and a good one.”

The Waltz family

Melody Waltz Hageman, works part time at The Floor Store Carpet One and lives in Seymour with her husband, Mike, who formerly worked in finance and treasury for Closure Systems International Inc. and is now retired.

Joellen Waltz Martin is the owner of The Floor Store Carpet One in Seymour and Riverside Carpet One in Columbus.

Tony Waltz is the owner and manager of Madison Heights Apartments in Madison. He and his wife, Robin, also own the Waltz Animal Clinic in Madison, where she is a veterinarian.

Don Waltz has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren with an eighth on the way later this month.

Fun facts

Don Waltz helped build Seymour First Baptist Church and served on the building committee.

Around 40 years ago, he was given 100 cypress trees by a gentleman on the condition he would plant them, so he planted all of the trees along the shoreline at Lake and Forest Club in Brownstown.

Besides his wood-carving hobby, Waltz sometimes goes fishing, he grows tomatoes and grapes in his garden and he likes to read true war stories.

While in Sarasota, Florida, Waltz entered a contest with a carved-out Smokey the Bear sign and won a blue ribbon. It now hangs on the wall at Joellen’s home.


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