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Maher wrestles with wood

By Staff | Apr 11, 2010

Everybody needs something to do when they retire,” Richard ‘Dick’ Maher says. “For me, it is working in my shop. It gives me a good reason to get up each morning.

Maher is referring to his woodworking shop located behind his home on E. First Street in Blue Earth. He even has an official name for it – ‘The Corner Shop.’

It is there he creates a variety of items – mainly birdhouses and bird feeders.

“I took an inventory recently and counted over 100 bird houses and feeders hanging around,” he says with a chuckle.

Maher says most of the items are for sale, and he sells a few from his shop and during garage sale times.

“I don’t make a lot of money at it, but I sell a few,” he says. “I probably give away as many as I sell.

But, bird houses are not the only thing he works on.

Maher has built over a hundred wooden toys for his 10 grandchildren, dozens of clocks, signs and wooden furniture such as serving carts and rocking chairs.

“People sometimes bring me wooden items that are broken and I repair them,” he says. “They say, ‘take it to Maher, he’s cheap.’

After working as an educator, athletic director and wrestling coach for 35 years – 33 of those in Blue Earth – Maher retired in 1996. He decided he wanted to work on a hobby and not get a part time job like other retired people have.

Woodworking was his choice of a retirement activity.

“I actually built the shop in 1988,” he recalls. “But, I never had much time to spend in it, except in the summer months. And most summers I worked with Gary Armon and David Sparks as MAS Construction, doing a lot of shingling jobs.

So, he didn’t really get into the woodworking hobby until after he retired. That is also when he started serving as a Blue Earth city councilman.

“I have just always enjoyed working withwood,” Maher says. “I think I inherited that from my mother.

That’s right, his mother, not his father. Maher says his mother, Hanora, had taxidermy and woodworking as hobbies.

“We have an owl she stuffed,” Maher laughs. “Our kids were always scared to death of it.

Born in 1898 of Irish and English immigrant parents, his mother raised him and his twin brother and his sister after his father was killed in a car accident in 1957.

“She was born and raised on a farm in Iowa, the same one I grew up on. She only had a sixth grade education, but she had a lot of common sense,” he says. “And she was quite gifted in many ways, including working with wood.

That gene must have passed on to her son, Richard, because he has a gift for creating wood items without having a specific plan.

“I get my ideas from just looking at an item or a picture, and then I can make it,” Maher says.

He has a bird house that resembles four books on a shelf, one that is the one room school house he attended in Iowa, others that are a boot, an ax and a football.

“I don’t follow a written plan, it is just what I envision in my head,” he says.

Of course, he also makes the standard bird house style, or variations of it. But it is the unusual ones he is most proud of.

As far as the wood he uses, he says he scrounges most of it. He prefers to work with oak, but winds up with a lot of pine.

“I get a lot of my material from old barns,” he says. “People are always on the lookout for old wood I can have. I don’t buy much of it.

Some of that wood has been scraps, old pallets, or fence poles.

Maher was running out of room in his small shop to store his lumber and his finished products.

Last summer he solved that dilemma. He bought an old abandoned house located behind his shop, tore it down, but kept the attached oversize garage.

Of course, he kept a lot of the lumber from that house to turn into bird houses in his shop.

Now, he has remodeled the old garage, put in a lawn around it, and has a nice auxiliary building for his hobby.

It is a hobby that has grown over the past 12 years.

“I used to do a lot of golfing, fishing and bow hunting,” he says. “I still do some, but it has become less and less.

When he is on the golf course, he admits he is often thinking about an idea for a new bird house, and feels guilty he is spending time out of his shop when he could be constructing something.

“I had a torn retina once and couldn’t work in the shop for two weeks,” he recalls. “That about killed me, not being able to go out to the shop.

Maher says his wife, Shirl, has been supportive of his hobby.

“I think she likes getting me out of the house every day,” he chuckles. “It’s only when I come back in and drop sawdust all over the house that I catch hell.”