If you're looking for a unique and meaningful gift this holiday season, a gift that also supports former military members from our state, you might consider a hand-crafted pen, made by a veteran.

While originally from Oregon, Gene Kelso served in the Air Force in the 1960s and was stationed in what used to be known as Dow Airforce Base. Aside from spending most of his career in public service, working at local police and fire departments, Kelso, having recently retired from all of that, has helped found a group of Veteran Woodturners. This group is creating hand-crafted pens but it's also helping to give Veterans a way to occupy both their hands and their minds.

Gene Kelso, Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

The Maine Veteran Woodturners started turning pens in February of 2020, but the group faced a few challenges in the beginning. They had to get creative with some of their training and teaching of the skill, as many veterans weren't able to meet in person because of social distancing.

Kelso says with the help of some instructional video sessions and DVDs, they made it work and started to train members on donated equipment.

Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

"We had 3 lathes donated to us. Mine was one of the first ones. And from there we started turning wood; making pens. Whatever money we get off of selling pens, we turn around and put that back into the program. That money is then used to buy additional lathes and supplies to get a person started."

Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

Kelso says a basic lathe and supplies can cost about $300. And the process and time to teach the veteran the new skill depend on that particular person and how much mechanical experience they have."

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"I usually bring them out to my house, get set up in the garage. I'll spend some time going through the process; how to make a pen from a piece of wood to the finished product. And then set up a small lathe and give them some guidance. It's kind of hands-on in the beginning and we go from there."

Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

They have put together a Maine Veteran Woodturners Facebook Page. There, you can take a look at some of the pens they have created and have up for sale. They've even created a Venmo account to make it easy for people to pay for their purchases.

Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

Kelso says he takes great pleasure in making the pens, as each one has a different story behind it. He also takes joy in watching other veterans learn a new skill.

"I guess I just enjoy doing this. I enjoy helping other people with this kind of stuff. And I can see some of the veterans have had problems, they've gone through rehab, and... this gives them something to do. It keeps their mind off other stuff. And that's the purpose, give guys something to do."

Maine Veteran Woodturners, Nick Wood

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