CERES — For more than a decade, Ceres resident Jim Gollnick has been sending a handcrafted piece of home to troops serving overseas.
Gollnick, 70, creates elegant pens made of pink ivory wood, tulipwood, walnut, cherry and other woods. Hes even made pens out of old .50-caliber machine gun casings.
The hobby started as a favor to a friend who collected pens and always wanted to learn to make them. A retired machinist, Gollnick got the tools and materials needed to teach his friend the craft.
I kind of got suckered in from there, he said.
Gollnick has made more than 2,000 pens for military personnel and veterans and hundreds more for friends and family.
A member of the Tuolumne River Woodworkers Association, Gollnick oversees a program that furnishes pens with engravings to the Modesto Vet Center and also donates pens to various groups that support active military.
He likes giving pens to the troops because it is something small that they can carry in their pocket that fits in their uniform.
With each Gollnick includes a signed note explaining how the pen was made and what wood was used.
Q: How do your pens get to military members?
A: I have a network of chaplains and some military people who make good use of the pens. One that comes to mind is a chaplain, now in Afghanistan, who goes to the outposts to minister and seeks out the soldiers there that do not have contact with home. There are many who do not have family. They get first pick of my pens. Our son-in-law is currently serving in Afghanistan and also passes them out. Its good for morale. I make Purple Heart wood pens usually reserved for recipients of the Purple Heart with a center strip of the Purple Heart wood and a strip of rosewood on each side. I gave many of the Purple Heart pens to a friend in Valdosta, Ga., who was passing them out at the local VA hospital where wounded soldiers were arriving from Iraq. She would go visit them, get their name and rank, laser-engrave it on the pen, and then return with the pens.
Q: How do you get inspiration for each pen?
A: A pen needs to be functional, and that limits the creativity one can use. Its not like making Christmas tree ornaments for decoration. I have a signature item on most of the pens for the troops. I put in a small red, white, blue stripe (polished plastic) band in the pen.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from the people who receive your pens?
A: I have a collection of letters and emails from happy pen recipients. Several Medal of Honor recipients have my pens. Ive had about 75 responses. I also hear from those handing them out how much they are appreciated. My favorite feedback was close to home. I gave a pen to my neighbors daughter who is an Army reservist and was called to duty in Iraq. I hand-delivered a hot pink pen to her before she left. I saw her again a year later jogging past my house and she gave me a big hug and then reached in her pocket and showed me the pink pen. Thats feedback! It brought tears to my eyes.
Q: Can you describe your favorite letter from a soldier?
A: It was an email from Egypt in 2007. It was a very nice thank-you note. The soldier described how hed just arrived and was assigned his room. In the desk drawer was the pen, case and description card. He was really impressed that someone from home cared and sent the note. He mentioned how nice it was that I supplied all the desks in the unit with pens when new men arrived. Well, thats not so. My son-in-law worked and passed out pens in that area some time earlier. The pen in question had been left, deserted if you will, by another previous occupant of that room. It told me not all are wanted, but I think most are.
Q: What is the most interesting material youve used to make a pen and for whom was it made?
A: Our son bought his first house some years ago. It was an older house from the 60s. I helped him replace the old torn-up oak toilet seat with a new one. I kept the old one and from it made a big oak pen for him. He still has it with him in his computer case he uses every day.
Q: Do you ever sell your pens or just donate them?
A: I dont go out of my way to sell pens. That makes it a job, not a hobby. When I support a group by giving out pens, they usually want to buy more. I will sell some, but the money just buys more pen kits that I need to build more pens. I have an expensive hobby. I have donated pen-and-pencil sets in a gift box for fundraising for various charities. They have sold for a very high price for the set at a silent auction. I feel good about that.
Q: Do you ever have help making the pens?
A: Yes. My wife helps by doing some of the handling, packaging and final inspection. She will make me fix something now and then. We work together on this, and though I do most of it, I couldnt do it without her support and involvement. We are a team. If she was not interested in what we are doing, it would not happen.
Q: Do you have a favorite or particularly special pen?
A: Yes. Two of the first pens I made for myself are still here on my desk. They are the larger pen made from exotic wood and with a diagonal accent strip of another wood going across it. They are both well over 10 years old. Time and use make them get dull, and they lose their appeal. A year ago, I took both of these pens apart and rebuilt them with new shiny hardware and then refinished the wood. Now they are like new again, and Im hoping for another 10 years of use.